War Is Betrayal

 Persistent Myths of Combat

We condition the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites.

The poor embrace the military because every other cul-de-sac in their lives breaks their spirit and their dignity. Pick up Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front or James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. Read Henry IV. Turn to the Iliad. The allure of combat is a trap, a ploy, an old, dirty game of deception in which the powerful, who do not go to war, promise a mirage to those who do.

I saw this in my own family. At the age of ten I was given a scholarship to a top New England boarding school. I spent my adolescence in the schizophrenic embrace of the wealthy, on the playing fields and in the dorms and classrooms that condition boys and girls for privilege, and came back to my working-class relations in the depressed former mill towns in Maine. I traveled between two universes: one where everyone got chance after chance after chance, where connections and money and influence almost guaranteed that you would not fail; the other where no one ever got a second try. I learned at an early age that when the poor fall no one picks them up, while the rich stumble and trip their way to the top.

Those I knew in prep school did not seek out the military and were not sought by it. But in the impoverished enclaves of central Maine, where I had relatives living in trailers, nearly everyone was a veteran. My grandfather. My uncles. My cousins. My second cousins. They were all in the military. Some of them—including my Uncle Morris, who fought in the infantry in the South Pacific during World War II—were destroyed by the war. Uncle Morris drank himself to death in his trailer. He sold the hunting rifle my grandfather had given to me to buy booze.

He was not alone. After World War II, thousands of families struggled with broken men who, because they could never read the approved lines from the patriotic script, had been discarded. They were not trotted out for red-white-and-blue love fests on the Fourth of July or Veterans Day.

The myth of war held fast, despite the deep bitterness of my grandmother—who acidly denounced what war had done to her only son—and of others like her. The myth held because it was all the soldiers and their families had. Even those who knew it to be a lie—and I think most did—were loath to give up the fleeting moments of recognition, the only times in their lives they were told they were worth something.

“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’” Rudyard Kipling wrote. “But it’s ‘Saviour of ’is country’ when the guns begin to shoot.”

Any story of war is a story of elites preying on the weak, the gullible, the marginal, the poor. I do not know of a single member of my graduating prep school class who went into the military. You could not say this about the high school class that graduated the same year in Mechanic Falls, Maine.

Geoff Millard was born in Buffalo, New York and lived in a predominately black neighborhood until he was eleven. His family then moved to Lockport, a nearby white suburb. He wrestled and played football in high school. He listened to punk rock.

“I didn’t really do well in classes,” he says. “But that didn’t seem to matter much to my teachers.”

At fifteen he was approached in school by a military recruiter.

“He sat down next to me at a lunch table,” Millard says. “He was a Marine. I remember the uniform was crisp. All the medals were shiny. It was what I thought I wanted to be at the time.

“He knew my name,” Millard adds. “He knew what classes I was taking. He knew more about me than I did. It was freaky, actually.”

Two years later, as a senior, Millard faced graduation after having been rejected from the only college where he had applied.

“I looked at what jobs I could get,” he says. “I wasn’t really prepared to do any job. I wasn’t prepared for college. I wasn’t prepared for the workforce. So I started looking at the military. I wanted to go active duty Marine Corps, I thought. You know, they were the best. And that’s what I was going to do.

“There were a lot of other reasons behind it, too,” he says. “I mean, growing up in this culture you envy that, the soldier.”

Any story of war is a story of elites preying on the weak, the gullible, the marginal, the poor.

His grandfather, in the Army Air Corps in World War II, had died when he was five. The military honor guard at the funeral had impressed him. As a teenager, he had watched the burial of his other grandfather, also with military honors. Millard carried the folded flag to his grandmother after receiving it from the honor guard.

The pageantry has always been alluring. “We marched a long time,” Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who fought in World War I, writes in Journey to the End of the Night:

There were streets and more streets, and they were all crowded with civilians and their wives, cheering us on, bombarding us with flowers from café terraces, railroad stations, crowded churches. You never saw so many patriots in all your life! And then there were fewer patriots . . . . It started to rain, and then there were still fewer and fewer, and not a single cheer, not one.

And nearly a century later it is the same.

When Millard told his mother he wanted to be a Marine, she pleaded with him to consider the National Guard. He agreed to meet with the Guard recruiter, whose pitch was effective and simple: “If you come here, you get to blow shit up.”

“I’m seventeen,” Millard says. “I thought being in the military was the pinnacle of what coolness was. I was just like, oh, I get to blow up stuff! I signed up right then and there on the spot. But the interesting thing he didn’t tell me was that the ‘shit’ that he referred to would be kids.

“They don’t teach you when you’re in land mine school that the overwhelming percentage of victims of land mines are little kids. Because, like, in the States, a little kid will chase a soccer ball in the streets. And overseas, a little kid will chase a soccer ball into a minefield. Whether, you know, it happens in Korea or Bosnia or Iraq, kids get killed all the time by land mines. They get maimed by them. And that’s just a reality of our military industrial complex. We put out these mines. We have no concern for what they do.”

Not that this reality intruded on his visions of life in the military when he began.

“I just thought of it like this stuff you see on TV where cars blow up and stuff like that,” he says.

For Anthony Swofford—author of Jarhead, a memoir about being a Marine in the first Gulf War—the tipping point came when the recruiter, who assured him he would be “a fine killer,” told him he could book a threesome for $40 in Olongapo in the Philippines. “I’d had sex three times and been the recipient of five blow jobs and fourteen hand jobs,” he writes. “I was sold.”

But sometimes there’s no need for a recruiting pitch. The culture does enough to make war, combat, and soldiering appealing.

Ali Aoun was born in Rochester, New York. His father is Lebanese. His mother is from the Caribbean. He says he wanted to be a soldier from the age of nine. He was raised watching war films. But even antiwar films such as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket celebrate the power and seductiveness of violence. He wanted this experience as his own. He says no one pushed him into it.

“I enlisted,” he explains. “It was something I always wanted to do, although I got more than I bargained for. You never really know a woman until you jump in bed with her. It’s just like the Army: you never really know about it until you enlist. It’s not about defending the country or serving our people. It’s about working for some rich guy who has his interests.”

At first Millard liked the National Guard. He was able to enroll in Niagara County Community College as a business major, where he signed up for an African American studies class thinking it would be an easy A. He read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. He read Frederick Douglass.

“It was the first time I’d really started to read,” he says.

He was in the African American studies class when the attacks of 9/11 occurred. His wrestling coach came into the room to tell him he had been activated. He went home. He packed his bags. He thought about combat.

“I was pissed,” he says. “I was like, they attacked us. I was ready to go to war.”

But he was confused from the start.

“I really wanted to go to war with somebody, because we were attacked,” he says. “But the one question I couldn’t answer was, who were we going to go to war with?”

At first he did military funerals. Then he was called up for Iraq. He was by then a sergeant and was assigned to work in the office of a general with the 42nd Infantry Division, Rear Operation Center. He became, in military slang, a REMF—a rear echelon motherfucker. He was based in Tikrit, where he watched the cynical and cold manipulation of human life.

‘It’s not about defending the country or serving our people. It’s about working for some rich guy who has his interests.’

He relates the story of a traffic-control mission gone awry when an eighteen-year-old soldier made a bad decision. He was sitting atop an armored Humvee monitoring a checkpoint. An Iraqi car approached, and the soldier, fearing it might be carrying a suicide bomber, pressed the butterfly trigger on his .50 caliber machine gun. He put two hundred rounds into the car in less than a minute, killing a mother, a father, a four-year-old boy, and a three-year-old girl.

“They briefed this to the general,” Millard says. “They briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says: ‘If these fucking Hadjis learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen.’

“If you lift your rifle and you look through the sights and you see a person, you can’t pull the trigger,” Millard says. “But if you lift your rifle and you look through the sights and you see a fucking Hadji, then what’s the difference.

“That’s a lot of what I saw in Iraq,” he says. “These officers, high-ranking officers, generals, colonels, you know, the complete disregard. They knew all the stuff that happened. They got all the briefings. They knew what happened. And they either didn’t speak up, they didn’t say anything about it or they openly condoned it. When Iraqis got killed, to them, it was one less fucking Hadji around.”

Millard’s thirteen months in Iraq turned him into a passionate antiwar activist. He is the cofounder of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War and served as its president for three years. He has taken part in numerous antiwar demonstrations around the country, was one of the organizers of the Winter Soldier hearings, returned to Iraq on a humanitarian aid mission in 2011, and now directs a homeless veterans initiative.

The briefing that Millard and his superiors received after the checkpoint killing was one of many. Sergeant Perry Jeffries, who served in the Fourth Infantry Division in Iraq after being called out of retirement, said the killing of Iraqi civilians at checkpoints was routine.

“Alpha troop and Balad Ruz shot somebody at least once,” he says, referring to a troop detachment and to the soldiers manning a checkpoint in a small Diyala Province village. “Somebody else on what we called the Burning Oil Checkpoint, they shot somebody with a .50 cal, shot a guy once, and then several times.”

Killing becomes a job. You do it. Sometimes it unnerves you. But the demons usually don’t hit until you come home, when you are lying alone in bed and you don’t dare to tell your wife or your girlfriend what you have become, what you saw, what you did, why you are drinking yourself into a stupor, why you so desperately want to forget your dreams.

The disillusionment comes swiftly. It is not the war of the movies. It is not the glory promised by the recruiters. The mythology fed to you by the church, the press, the school, the state, and the entertainment industry is exposed as a lie. We are not a virtuous nation. God has not blessed America. Victory is not assured. And we can be as evil, even more evil, than those we oppose. War is venal, noisy, frightening, and dirty. The military is a vast bureaucratic machine fueled by hyper-masculine fantasies and arcane and mind-numbing rules. War is always about betrayal—betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians.

“The biggest misconception about the war is that the soldiers care about politics,” Jeffries says. “The right thinks the soldiers want support. They want to feel good. They want everybody to fly their flag and have a bumper sticker and go, ‘Rah! Rah! Rah! I support the troops. Yay, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’ The left thinks the soldiers all want to run off and get out of there, that they’re dying in a living hell. I think that most of the soldiers are young people that are having a decent adventure.”

But, he goes on, “They may be having a very hard time. They’re frustrated about the amount of resources they have been provided—how many hours of sleep they get, how nice their day is, whether they get to play their PlayStation or read their book at night or whatever. Like any human, you’d like to have some more of that.”

Yet, while soldiers don’t want to be forgotten, the support-the-troops brigade only maintains the mythology of war on the home front by pretending that we’re actually all in it together, when in fact it’s overwhelmingly the poor, powerless, and adrift who suffer.

Jeffries has little time for lawn chair warriors: “I remember hearing that somebody said, ‘Oh, we’re going to have a barbecue to support the troops.’ I heard about this when I was in Iraq. I said, how the hell is that going to support me? It’s not doing anything. Don’t drink beer. Send me the beer. It’s not doing me any good to have you drink it. I still don’t like the yellow ribbons.”

It is no surprise that soldiers sometimes come to despise civilians who chant patriotic mantras. Those soldiers may not be fans of the remote and rarely seen senior officers who build their careers on the corpses of others, including comrades, either. But to oppose the machine and risk being cast out of the magic circle of comradeship can be fatal. Fellow soldiers are the only people who understand the psychological torment of killing and being shot at, of learning to not think at all and instead be led as a herd of animals. Those ostracized in war have a hard time surviving, mentally and physically, so most service members say and do nothing to impede the madness and the killing.

If veterans speak of terrible wounds, of lies told to make them kill, of evil committed in our name, we fill our ears with wax.

Jessica Goodell came to understand that torment only too well, as she relates in her 2011 memoir Shade it Black: Death and After in Iraq. Goodell wasn’t poor. She grew up in a middle-class home near Chautauqua Lake in upstate New York. Her father was a lawyer, and her mother worked at home. But her “universe fractured” when she was sixteen and her parents divorced. She could barely continue “the motions of everyday existence.” She was accepted at Ithaca College her senior year, but just before graduation a uniformed Marine came to her high school. He told her he had come to find “tough men.”

“What about tough women?” she asked.

By that afternoon she was in the Marine recruiting office. She told the recruiter she wanted to be part of a tank crew but was informed that women were prohibited from operating tanks. She saw a picture of a Marine standing next to a vehicle with a huge hydraulic arm and two smaller forklift arms. She signed up to be a heavy equipment mechanic, although she knew nothing about it.

Three years later, while stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in the desert town of Twentynine Palms, California, she volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps’ first official Mortuary Affairs unit, at Al Taqaddum Airbase in Iraq. Her job, for eight months, was to “process” dead Marines—collect and catalog their bodies and personal effects. She put the remains in body bags and placed the bags in metal boxes. Before being shipped to Dover Air Force Base, the boxes were stored, often for days, in a refrigerated unit known as a “reefer.”

Her unit processed six suicides. The suicide notes, she told me in an interview, almost always cited hazing. Marines who were overweight or unable to do the physical training were subjected to withering verbal and physical abuse. They were called “fat nasties” and “shit bags.” They were assigned to other Marines as slaves. Many were forced to run until they vomited or to bear-crawl—walk on all fours—the length of a football field and back. This would be followed by sets of monkey fuckers—bending down, grabbing the ankles, crouching like a baseball catcher, and then standing up again—and other exercises that went on until the Marines collapsed.

Goodell’s unit was sent to collect the bodies of the Marines who killed themselves. They usually blew their faces off with assault rifles in port-a-johns or in the corners of abandoned bunkers or buildings. She and the other members of the Mortuary Affairs unit would have to scrape the flesh and brain tissue from the walls.

Goodell fell into depression when she returned home. She abused drugs and alcohol. And she watched the slow descent of her comrades as they too tried to blunt the pain with narcotics and self-destructive behavior. She details many of her experiences in Shade It Black, a term that refers to the missing body parts of dead Marines, which she colored black on diagrams of the corpses.

In a poignant passage, she talks about what it was like for her and a fellow Marine named Miguel to come home and see all those yellow ribbons:

We’d frequently pass vehicles displaying the yellow ribbon ‘support-our-troops decal,’ but we never once mentioned it. We probably passed a hundred or more decals—two hundred if you count the multiple decals decorating the cars of the more patriotic motorists—and yet neither of us even once said, ‘Look, more support from the citizenry. Let’s give the ‘thumbs up’ as we pass.’ . . . I knew that these people on their way to work or home or dinner had no idea what it was they were supporting. They did not have a clue as to what war was like, what it made people see, and what it made them do to each other. I felt as though I didn’t deserve their support, or anyone’s, for what I had done. . . . No one should ever support the people who do such things.

Stateside “support” not only reflects the myths of war, but it also forces Goodell and her comrades to suppress their own experiences:

Here we were, leaving the ribbons behind us as we sped up on our way to Hell, probably, where we would pay for the sins these magnetic decals endorsed. There was an irony of sorts shaping the dynamic between our ribbon decal supporters and us. They were uninformed but good people, the kind whose respect we would welcome—if it were based upon something true. It was when we were around them that we had to hide the actual truth most consciously.


Those who return to speak this truth, like Goodell or Millard, are our contemporary prophets. They struggle, in a culture awash in lies, to tell what few have the fortitude to digest. The words these prophets speak are painful.

As a nation we prefer to listen to those who speak from the patriotic script. We prefer to hear ourselves exalted. If veterans speak of terrible wounds visible and invisible, of lies told to make them kill, of evil committed in our name, we fill our ears with wax. Not our boys and girls, we say, not them, bred in our homes, endowed with goodness and decency. For if it is easy for them to murder, what about us? It is simpler and more comfortable not to hear, to wish only that they would calm down, be reasonable, get some help, and go away. We brand our prophets as madmen. We cast them into the desert. This is why so many veterans are estranged and enraged. This is why so many succumb to suicide or addictions. Not long ago Goodell received a text message from a Marine she had worked with in Mortuary Affairs after he tried to commit suicide. “I’ve got $2,000 in the bank,” the message read. “Let’s meet in NYC and go out with a bang.”

War comes wrapped in patriotic slogans; calls for sacrifice, honor, and heroism; and promises of glory. It comes wrapped in the claims of divine providence. It is what a grateful nation asks of its children. It is what is right and just. It is waged to make the nation and the world a better place, to cleanse evil. War is touted as the ultimate test of manhood, where the young can find out what they are made of. From a distance it seems noble. It gives us comrades and power and a chance to play a bit part in the great drama of history. It promises to give us identities as warriors, patriots, as long as we go along with the myth, the one the war-makers need to wage wars and the defense contractors need to increase their profits.

But up close war is a soulless void. War is about barbarity, perversion, and pain. Human decency and tenderness are crushed, and people become objects to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the scenes of eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the cries of the wounded all combine to spin those in combat into another universe. In this moral void, naïvely blessed by secular and religious institutions at home, the hypocrisy of our social conventions, our strict adherence to moral precepts, becomes stark. War, for all its horror, has the power to strip away the trivial and the banal, the empty chatter and foolish obsessions that fill our days. It might let us see, although the cost is tremendous.

By Chris Hedges

Israeli General Predicts New Lebanon Invasion After Collapse of Syria

Speaking to journalists today, Israeli Brigadier General Hertzi Halevy predicted another Israeli invasion of Lebanon would come soon, likely following in the wake of the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria.

Israelis promising another invasion of Lebanon is hardly news, of course, and the real meat of the interview comes when Halevy promised bloody attacks on dense populated areas, adding that “the damage will be enormous.”

“The Goldstone report will pale in comparison to what will be here next time,” Halevy said, referring to the 2009 UN report faulting Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip and documenting the large number of civilians killed.

Israel last invaded Lebanon in summer of 2006, killing a large number of civilians including some particularly ugly incidents involving killing scores of children in Qana and bombing of a house full of Canadian civilians who were vacationing at the time of the invasion.

By Jason Ditz

The War of 1812: When the U.S. Invaded Canada — and Failed

 Two hundred years ago on June 18, the U.S. declared war on Great Britain. What followed is known as the War of 1812, a conflict whose bicentennial will be marked very differently by the U.S. and Canada

“The scene witnessed,” begins a newspaper dispatch from the front lines of an American war, “was horrible beyond description.” Lying scattered across the battlefield were “the mangled limbs and mutilated bodies of the poor fellows who were exploded into eternity.” The correspondent for the Connecticut Courant continues, “Those who were alive were objects of the most wretched commiseration, they passed me in bodies of twenty and thirty, led to the water’s edge, their eyes burnt out, their faces perfectly raw and black.” The wounded men, the story concludes, were “living monuments of human misery.”

This did not take place in Normandy or Vietnam or Iraq, but by the shores of Lake Erie. And the “living monuments of human misery” were American soldiers and militiamen charged with a task that few of their descendants now remember: to invade and capture a land that was then British territory, and today Canada.

Two centuries ago on June 18, the U.S. Congress — the assembly of the then fledgling, insecure Republic — declared war on Great Britain. The plan dreamed up in Washington was simple: wrest control of Britain’s remaining territories in North America and then bring a humbled empire to the negotiating table. What followed is now known as the War of 1812, though the conflict — a largely confused, indecisive affair — dragged on until the end of 1814.

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As its bicentennial is commemorated, the war occupies a small, strange space in America’s historical imagination, cast in a shadow by the liberating glory of the earlier Revolutionary War and the trauma and horror of the Civil War, which followed five decades later. Some historians characterize it as a second chapter in the U.S.’s struggle for independence; others say it was a footnote to the great Napoleonic wars taking place on the other side of the Atlantic. And some just find it exasperating. Richard Hofstadter, the eminent 20th century American political historian, described the War of 1812 as “ludicrous and unnecessary,” the product of an era “of fumbling and small-minded statecraft” and “terrible parochial wrangling.” It’s almost an inconvenience, a story that doesn’t fit in the grand procession of American history.

For the Americans who know something about it, the War of 1812 is a string of myths, isolated, framed snapshots of heroism. It’s the smoke-shrouded naval bombardment that gave birth to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s when the British sacked Washington and burned down the President’s house — a humiliation somehow redeemed by First Lady Dolley Madison’s rescuing a painting of George Washington. And for those who were particularly attentive in school, it’s the war in which future President Andrew Jackson thrashed the British at New Orleans (a battle fought, unbeknownst to both sides, after American and British envoys had settled peace terms across the Atlantic).

Whatever snippets have been committed to memory, though, they don’t quite add up. “Americans have found a way of both forgetting and remembering various bits and pieces of the war,” says John Stagg, a professor of history at the University of Virginia and the author of The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. “But what they’re left with, in and of itself, makes no sense.”

Two-State Solution
North of the border, in Canada, there’s no shortage of mythmaking either, but the narrative there does make more sense. Rather than get swallowed up by the rebellious Republic to the south, the defiant British colonies that comprised Canada would peaceably emerge as an independent nation with a political system drawn much more from London than Washington. “It’s a very defining moment for Canada,” says Mark Zuehlke, a Canadian military historian. “If those invasions had succeeded, we probably wouldn’t exist.” From the war, Canadians gained an array of national heroes — not least Laura Secord, a dowdy housewife turned Paul Revere, who, as one fanciful account goes, crept past enemy lines with a milk pail in hand and cow in tow to inform the unsuspecting British of an approaching American force.

Even as it slashes spending and lays off public-sector workers, the conservative administration of Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper is pumping in funds — more than $28 million — to commemorate the war’s bicentennial. The Canadian government is minting special coins, issuing stamps, erecting new monuments, revamping museum exhibits, paying for dozens of historical reenactments and even launching its own War of 1812 smart-phone app. While historians applaud Harper for his interest in Canada’s heritage, some see a political agenda. “They wish to have Canadians identify with the military and conservative values,” says Terry Copp, director of the Laurier Centre for Military and Strategic Disarmament Studies and a leading Canadian military historian. “By the time we get through the fall, there’s going to be a lot of ink spilled, a lot of fireworks exploded.”

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In contrast, in the U.S., no national bicentennial commission has been set up to coordinate or fund a memorial. Maryland — home of Fort McHenry, the redoubt that inspired Francis Scott Key — is the only American state to take the war seriously. It has issued a commemorative license plate. The U.S. Navy has planned a number of ceremonies celebrating some of its surprising victories over the mighty British fleet. But the real arena of the war was on land, running along what’s now the U.S.-Canada border. And the U.S. Army remains conspicuously silent as the bicentennial approaches. “It’s very hard to commemorate blunders and what looked like fairly pointless exercises,” says Copp.

A Just War?
It’s also hard to commemorate a conflict whose origins are still debated and misunderstood. In a message coaxing Congress to war, U.S. President James Madison argued that Britain had pursued “a series of acts hostile to the United States.” With the Napoleonic wars raging across Europe, the British navy had taken to shanghaiing Americans in foreign ports and at sea to fill out its wartime fleets. Already bristling at laws intended to thwart American merchants from trading with France, many in the U.S. grew infuriated by what they saw as blatant disrespect of their young nation’s independence and neutrality — no small matter for a country whose future was still very much in doubt.

There were other reasons too. Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party drew much of its support from the landed gentry and rural folk of the South and what was then the American West — a vast borderland threading the Mississippi basin up to the Great Lakes. “An incipient kind of manifest destiny,” says Stagg, inflamed many here, and there was a growing desire to punish the British in Canada, who it was thought were abetting Native American tribes in the region hostile to American encroachment. A successful campaign against weak, sparsely populated Canada and its native allies could settle the future of the frontier.

Closer to home, Madison’s Democratic-Republicans also wanted a cudgel with which to beat their real enemies — the rival Federalists, whose base lay in the more developed, urban states of New England where trade and good relations with the British Crown mattered far more than westward expansion. “The war was brought on as much by internal tensions as external ones with the British empire,” says Alan Taylor, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and the author of The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Indian Allies and Irish Rebels.

In the heated buildup to the war (and indeed, while it was waged), the Democratic-Republicans saw the Federalists as crypto-Brits, Tory traitors who would sell out the American Republic and trade secrets and supplies with the enemy (some Federalists did aid the British in Canada while the war was fought). The Federalists, in turn, painted the Republicans as demagogic quasi-Frenchmen who would sooner ally themselves to the imperialist warmonger Napoleon — a figure who loomed large in the imagination at the time — than their real brethren in the U.K. (No one had any idea in 1812 that the ambitious Corsican would be defeated and imprisoned within three years.)

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Not one Federalist in Congress voted for what was called “Mr. Madison’s war.” Had three votes swung in the other direction in the Senate, the measure would not have passed at all. As the news of war trickled north, many Federalists reacted with anger and despair. The Courant in Connecticut, a paper with Federalist loyalties, published the lines, “Dissatisfaction, disgust and apprehensions of the most alarming nature have seized on every mind … The evil is here, it is upon us.” Until the Vietnam War, no foreign conflict would be as unpopular and divisive in the U.S. as the War of 1812.

The Future of a Continent
Those who supported the war did so with a fair amount of hubris. The sparse population of Upper Canada — now Ontario — was indistinguishable from the country to the south. “They were essentially Americans who crossed the border because land was plentiful,” says Copp, and the allegiance of these “late loyalists” was a source of concern for the British. Thomas Jefferson, a former President, boasted that capturing Upper Canada would be a “mere matter of marching.” A dispatch in the Palladium, a paper in Frankfort, Ky., invoked the noble cause of the Revolutionary War: “May the mighty spirit which animates the feeble frame of the veteran hero, diffuse itself among the military sons of our country, and enable them to tear from the ramparts of Quebec the last emblem of British power in America.”

But the first American invasion of Upper Canada ended in ignominy. “The U.S. needed a professional army in the worst way, but they didn’t have it,” says Taylor. “They had to fall back on calling up state militia, men who were complete amateurs, with virtually no training or discipline.” Nor did it help that the general in command, William Hull, was deemed later by one of his subordinates as an “imbesile [sic] or treacherous commander.” After grandiosely marching into Canada, Hull dithered, retreating back to Detroit, where a British counteroffensive smaller in size, led by Sir Isaac Brock and the Shawnee war chief Tecumseh — two other figures now mythologized in Canada — barely had to fire a shot before Hull opted to surrender himself and his 2,500 troops. Most of the captives were “paroled,” sent back to their homes after promising to no longer fight. The few hundred, including Hull, who were kept as prisoners were described by a British officer as “the poorest looking sett [sic] of men I have seen for a long time.”

This, in a sense, set the tone for the rest of the War of 1812. By the Great Lakes and over the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers, American and British forces — a motley combination of regulars, Canadian militia and indigenous war bands — bumbled and skirmished. Battles were by and large short-lived and inglorious, characterized more by confusion than strategy. Poor planning on the American side led to countless deaths as the result of disease, hunger and the cold — not bullets or bayonets. Militiamen drafted into the war effort thought it a justifiable occasion to loot and plunder: few Americans remember that the British raid up the Chesapeake and the burning of Washington in 1814 were, at the time, considered to be retribution for the 1813 American ransacking of York, now Toronto. Desertions were commonplace on both sides. Despite the sensationalism of the American press, there are numerous reports of whites, not just natives, scalping their enemies.

The war’s end was brought about less by the facts on the ground in North America — the U.S. was on the verge of financial collapse as a result of having to revitalize its military — than the British desire to focus its energy on combating Napoleon. On Christmas Eve, 1814, in Ghent (modern-day Belgium), British and American delegations settled for peace. “[The British] wanted out of the war and offered the U.S. a pretty sweet deal,” says Taylor — swapping vast sections of territory seized in Michigan and the Great Lakes for the modest inroads the U.S. had made into Upper Canada.

(PHOTOS: African-American Soldiers in the Civil War)

When the news of peace eventually reached Washington, the Americans were “giddy with relief,” says Taylor. The truce proved fatal, though, for the refusenik Federalists. Just months earlier, a bloc of vehemently anti-war Federalists had convened at a conference in Hartford, where the prospect of New England’s secession from the Union hung over proceedings. They decided against it, but agreed on a set of tough, non-negotiable demands to take to the American capital. When they arrived, the war was over and the mood ebullient. “They are treated with contempt and brushed aside,” says Taylor. The Federalists, never able to shed the stigma of their opposition to the war, suffered badly in the next round of elections and by 1820 were more or less dead as a political force.

But the war rang a far more tragic death knell for another set of people. At Ghent, the British didn’t negotiate any special dispensation for the confederation of Native American tribes that fought on the British side. “There’s a real sense of betrayal. The [Native Americans of the Western frontier] saw the War of 1812 as the last chance to actually hang on to their territory,” says Zuehlke, the Canadian historian. “Imagine how different the North American landscape would be had the British pushed for some kind of an independent nation for the [Native Americans].”

Instead, the U.S.’s westward expansion took flight. “There’s a fallacy,” says Stagg of the University of Virginia, “that some people assume because you have no decisive outcome, the war had no decisive consequences.” A new generation of American politicians and generals emerged following the war, trading on their service on the front. The 1813 Battle of the Thames, where a much larger American force defeated a cornered British and native contingent, and killed the charismatic Tecumseh, launched the political careers of one President (William Henry Harrison), a Vice President, four Senators, 20 Congressmen and three governors.

Rapidly in the years that followed, the Americans displaced and disappeared the indigenous tribes they once feared. The institution of slavery, which buoyed the then booming Cotton Belt, stretched across much of the lands whose security was guaranteed by the Treaty of Ghent. And as a result, the seeds of a new, far bloodier American conflict were sown.

Fuad Mohamed Khalaf Offers ’10 Camels’ as Bounty for Obama

Hillary Worth Chickens, According to Khalaf

Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, Al-Shabaab’s top fundraiser by US reckoning, mocked the US offer of massive bounties for the capture or death of his organization’s leadership, including the $5 million bounty for him personally.

Khalaf, whose audio statement was posted on several militant websites, also presented a counter-offer, offering livestock for “the whereabouts of infidel Obama and the lady of Bill Clinton.”

Khalaf went on to say that anyone who gave him information regarding “the idiot Obama” would get 10 camels, while someone who “reveals the hideout of the old woman Hillary Clinton will be rewarded 10 chickens and 10 roosters.”

The US has been backing various international invasions of Somalia targeting al-Shabaab, with an eye toward installing the self-proclaimed Somali government nationwide. US drones have also attacked the nation off and on in the past several months.


US Military Suicides Hit Highest Level Since War Began

154 Suicides in 155 Days

US soldiers are committing suicide at an alarming rate in 2012, according to new Pentagon statistics reported by the Associated Press. The rate was roughly one per day, with 154 suicides in 155 days. The rate is the highest since the latest round of wars began in 2001.

After hitting a record of 160 for all of 2009, the suicide rate was reportedly “leveling out” in 2010 and 2011. Official studies have struggled to explain the latest rise, attributing it to non-military causes like drug abuse and financial problems.

The military made very public its efforts to get the problem under control, particularly after reports showed that half of the soldiers had sought professional help beforehand, emphasizing programs aimed at eliminating reluctance to seek help. It seems however that those programs have had very little effect.

The soaring rate of deaths actually put the number of US soldiers killed in suicides so far this year slightly ahead of the number killed in the occupation of Afghanistan.

By Jason Ditz


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