Some dates are more important than others in the timeline of a war. In the War of 1812, July 30th, 1812 is a relatively trivial date: 200 years ago today.
The war had been declared on June 18th.
The first casualty was recorded almost a month later. It’s the death of British Private James Hancock in the Skirmish at River Canard.
In an ambush at Turkey Creek on July 25th six Americans died.
And so, while we’re accustomed to reading of battles with immense body counts, that’s not what the War of 1812 is like. From beginning to end it consists of tiny skirmishes. A big battle would entail a few hundred on each side. Does that make it insignificant? Not at all. Are the deaths somehow less important? I’d argue that in a war where the entire body count for encounters could be measured in a single digit (as in the 1 at River Canard & the 6 at Turkey Creek skirmishes), the lives committed to the struggle were never more precious.
What happened on July 30th? That’s the day that the British found out that they were at war. War had been declared on June 18th. The speed of information transmission at this time is almost incomprehensible to us today. Forty-two days elapsed between the declaration and the news getting to London. The skirmishes and deaths I spoke of that happened after June 18th, each have their own variable passage to London. Some were faster, some slower, depending on the timing of vessels carrying correspondence homeward across the ocean.
I wonder if we can really understand war at this time, when decision making on the ground (or lake) was also slower than what we experience today. Battles were determined by flukes of communication –or miscommunication—determining the fortunes of battle.
And again, although the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December 2014, the biggest battle of the war was still to be fought, namely the Battle of New Orleans in early 1815.
I wonder, now that the transmission of various sorts of messages is now virtually instantaneous, whether we can say that we have progressed. Nowadays one can take one’s mobile phone right into the middle of an atrocity such as a shooting inside a theatre. Our weaponry and our communication appear to be superior.
At one time I hoped that the increasingly interconnected web of media in the world might hasten a kind of utopian world because war would not be tolerated. I hoped that watching atrocities on television made war unthinkable.
But I was naïve. War was always undesirable. I wonder: is life more or less precious in 2012….?