I confess I am very conflicted about the War of 1812. The emerging anti-war consensus seems to be that it was entirely a war of choice with possibly exaggerated concerns about impressment used as a justification for a war of conquest (Canada). The problem is that whether or not the War of 1812 was justified depends largely on who you listen to/believe, and there are people whose opinions I usually respect and trust on different sides of the issue. Also, the people I normally view as the bad guys (Yankee industrialist and Federalists) are portrayed as the good guys in the anti-war scenario, and the guys I normally see as the good guys (the Agrarian South, Jeffersonian Democrats and Calhoun in particular), are portrayed as the bad guys. Obviously the truth stands on it’s own regardless of my own emotional attachments, but my emotions do admittedly make it harder for me to accept this new revisionism at face value.
At the least, whatever the truth may be, it is likely more complicated than the simple morality tale the new anti-war revisionists make it out to be. I would actually like to see an intra-paleo debate on this issue since there is generally a broad consensus on most things within paleo circles that there is not, from my sense, on the War of 1812.
But whatever anyone may think about the War of 1812, one thing is certain, it was NOT the “First Neocon War” as the Salon article calls it outright and some revisionists seem to suggest. This reading of the War coincides with neocon Robert Kagan’s take in Dangerous Nation. I don’t know how anti-war revisionists think they are helping the cause by aping Kagan’s theme.
Kagan’s assertion is that America was never the mind-our-own-bussiness republic that the anti-war conservatives would have people believe. He suggests that America was expansionistic from a very early point and that this represents a sort of proto-neoconservatism that has always been part of the American character. The problem with this suggestion is that, as often happens, it ascribes modern thoughts and values to people in the past. To whatever degree Kagan’s assertion may or may not be true, undoubtebly there were Americans in the past who had expansionistic designs – Canada, Cuba, the Philippines, etc. But this was a time when powerful nations such as England and France had empires. The expansionistic designs of some Americans were motivated by the good ol’ fashioned illiberal imperialism that was common at the time. They wanted to be like the big boys and have an empire of our own. To the degree that it might have been ideologically, so to speak, motivated it was to bring Christianity to some benighted parts of the world. This is a far cry from the supposedly benign hegemony watched over by America and the ushering in of liberal democracy that the neocons envision.
Whatever take the anti-war folks want to have on the War of 1812, they should be careful that they don’t give aid and comfort to the Kagans of this battle by parroting their talking points. Whether the War of 1812 was just or not, it was NOT the first or any other kind of neocon war.