This week apparently marks two hundred years since British troops captured Washington and burnt down the White House during the War of 1812. An eagle eyed reader would notice that 1812 was in fact 202 years ago but the war dragged on into 1814, proving that both nations couldn’t end conflicts quickly even then. The British Embassy in Washington tweeted about the anniversary of the burning and managed to bring the conflict into the news. The tweet by the Embassy featured a picture of a White House cake with the caption “Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time!” A number of US Twitter users were offended and two hours later the Embassy issued an apology although offending Twitter users is not the most difficult thing to do. When I shared the story with my wife she threatened to dump our tea into the toilet when she got home, so I hid it just in case!
This story made me realise that there are a lot of things that I have yet to learn about the history of my new country. The War of 1812 is not very well known in the UK, mostly because a grumpy Corsican with a dodgy hat and a penchant for invading other countries was stealing all of the limelight in Europe so the Napoleonic Wars are considered more significant. We all know about the Revolution and the Boston Tea Party but latter events are rarely mentioned in the UK. The United States tried to invade Canada and the British tried to invade the south and both failed. After two and a half years of war little changed and more British and American soldiers died due to disease than military action, which suggests that either shooting or medical care was pretty lousy at the time, or perhaps both. During my research I found out that as the British burnt down the President’s home, they also ate his dinner which must have added insult to injury! Neither side really lost as the Americans didn’t take Canada and the British didn’t stop American expansion into the west, although it has been noted that sadly Native Americans were the real losers of the conflict.
A little more delving into the history of the two nations reveals they almost fought a war over a pig! In 1859, ambiguity between the ownership of the San Juan Islands that lie between Washington State and British Columbia almost led to conflict when a Irishman’s pig ate a American farmers potatoes on the island, leading to the farmer shooting the pig. When the British authorities threatened to arrest the gun happy American (nothing has changed right?) the American settlers called on their military for protection. Soon enough 461 American soldiers were faced by 5 British warships with the troops from both sides trying to provoke the other to open fire. Fortunately when news of the standoff reached Washington and London both governments decided that fighting a war over a pig was not the brightest idea and decided to negotiate with a boundary being agreed between the two nations. Presumably the pig was delicious. You can read about the standoff here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_War
Nowadays the closest there is to a war between the two countries is arguing about healthcare and the spelling and pronunciation of certain words. I would like to state that in my opinion, colour and flavour are much better with a u and that autumn is more elegant a term than “fall”. My wife would disagree of course but such differences are what help to make Transatlantic relationships so much fun. The next time someone complains that the US and UK are too close and always invade other countries together you can point out that the British burned the White House down in 1814 and that the two nations nearly fought a war over a pig. Don’t say that I never teach you anything!