When I was growing up in England, there was a famous sitcom called “Fawlty Towers,” written by and starring Monty Python star John Cleese. The plot focused around fictional Basil Fawlty (Cleese), an appallingly rude hotel owner. Only 12 episodes were ever made, and in 2000 the British Film Institute voted the series the best British Television series of all time.
There is an especially famous scene where Basil has a group of German tourists staying at his hotel, and he is obsessed with not embarrassing them by referring to World War II. In spite of repeatedly telling his staff, “Don’t mention the war,” he manages to alienate his German guests in a spectacular way. Today, this phrase serves as an inside joke to every single British person.
Seeing old reruns of this show during a recent trip to the U.K. made me think about the special and close relationship between Great Britain and the U.S. today. As every schoolchild knows, the American colonists rejected the British king and eventually won independence through the Revolutionary War which ended in 1783. Considering the bloody battles and real hatred between the new Americans and the British during the war of Independence, looking back over two centuries does prove that time really does heal all wounds.
I mention all this, because today, Jan. 8, is the 199th anniversary of the man who became president Gen. Andrew Jackson’s defeat of British forces that attacked New Orleans, marking an end to The War of 1812 between the U.S. and the U.K. The War of 1812 is often referred to as the “second war of independence” but seems to usually get overlooked in popular histories of the U.S. and is sometimes called the “forgotten conflict.”
For example, did you know?
• The War of 1812, was known by its critics as “Mr. Madison’s War” — referring, of course, to founding father and the fourth president of the U.S. who declared war against Great Britain in 1812 to right maritime grievances, force the British out of Canada, and end British support of Indians in the Northwest frontier.
• The U.S. Army’s land campaigns proved disastrous but the new and untested U.S. Navy won early victories against a Royal Navy, which ruled the world’s seas at this time. The legend of “old ironsides” was born during this war, a nickname for the USS Constitution that defeated HMS Guerriere — much to the shock of the British and most of the world.
• This war saw the burning of the White House in August 1814 and the defense of Fort McHenry the following month, which inspired Francis Scott Key’s composition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
There was a lot at stake in this war and America as a young republic barely escaped defeat, disunion and bankruptcy (www.history.com is a rich source of more information). Reflecting on the War of 1812’s impact on the nation of which I am now a citizen, I believe that the U.S.’ survival of this conflict demonstrated and solidified the proud national identity for which it is known today.
I leave you with a timeless quote from James Madison, fourth president and commander-in-chief during this war. While reflecting on the young republic that made up the 30-year-old USA of his day, he said “The happy union of these states is a wonder, their constitution a miracle, their example a hope of liberty throughout the world.” One of your newest citizens agrees, Mr. Madison!
God Bless America and happy New Year’s!
Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.