The Very Stupid War of 1812

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ICYMI, Adam Chandler has posted a very wry look at the various screw-ups committed by America before and during the War of 1812. The whole thing was, as they say, avoidable:

Congress finally declared war on Britain, with impeccably bad timing: Just a few days earlier, the British foreign minister had decided to rescind the policy towards American trade that had caused all of the hullabaloo to begin with. But word did not reach America in time, and ill-equipped U.S. forces fecklessly staggered into Canada to show the British not to mess with American trade (and to possibly snag some of Canada's sweet farm land). Aided by a confederacy of Native Americans, Canada mostly repelled the invasion and won a large number of battles.

The most ridiculous moment of all featured the United States surrendering the entire city of Detroit without firing a shot in defense. "It was the most colossal screw-up of the war," Alan Taylor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian explained in an interview. "And it comes at the worst possible time in the first major invasion. The Madison administration was counting on winning a quick victory in invading Upper Canada from the western end via Detroit to render the war popular. And instead, he got a catastrophic defeat."

While the loss of Detroit hardened opposition to the Madison administration and set the war effort back a year, American forces (surprisingly) fared better in crucial naval engagements with the British in the Great Lakes, some of which remain battles of national legend. But the most storied moments in the War of 1812 -- the Battle of Baltimore and the penning of the National Anthem by Francis Scott Key, the British invasion of Washington, D.C., and the Battle of New Orleans -- were almost certainly a product of America's military failures earlier in the war.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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