City Journal Winter 2016

Current Issue:

Winter 2016
Table of Contents
Tablet Editions
Click to visit City Journal California

Readers’ Comments

Ryan L. Cole
The Revisionists’ Red Glare « Back to Story

View Comments (30)

Add New Comment:

To send your message, please enter the words you see in the distorted image below, in order and separated by a space, and click "Submit." If you cannot read the words below, please click here to receive a new challenge.

Comments will appear online. Please do not submit comments containing advertising or obscene language. Comments containing certain content, such as URLs, may not appear online until they have been reviewed by a moderator.

Showing 30 Comment(s) Subscribe by RSS
Mr. Cole - In your third paragraph you refer to the "canons blasting" which to me sets the tone of your diatribe. Is your piece all in jest or is it representative of politics and culture in Indianapolis?

"The War of 1812" is not the only attempt at revision by PBS. One need look no further than its "Islam: Empire of Faith" for another example. Viewers should take their "documentaries" with a bag of salt.
Anyone with a real interest in the War of 1812 must read "Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy". The U.S. didn't win that naval war of 1812. That was far beyond the capacity of America versus the dominant naval power of the age (the UK). However, we did fight the British to a draw.

America's victories against the vastly superior Brits astonished observers of the era and showed the world that America was a rising power to be reckoned with. A quote from a book review.

"The fledgling navy quickly proved its worth in the Quasi War against France in the Caribbean, the Tripolitan War with Tripoli and the War of 1812 against the English. In holding its own against the British, the U.S. fleet broke the British navy's "sacred spell of invincibility," sparked a "new enthusiasm for naval power" in the U.S. and marked the maturation of the American navy."

We lost the battle of Washington. However, victories in the North West shattered British forces. The U.S., not the Brits prevailed in the end.
After reading my daughter's AP US History book, I can skip this PBS Special.

I am perfectly aware that the "enlightened" prefer socialism, capitalism left the poor and helpless behind (until FDR).

I now know that the US is one long list of sorry mistakes and egregious intrusions on helpless people everywhere, TR was a racist, Lincoln really meant only to preserve the Union (for what its not clear), and we only have photographs of good presidents, like FDR, Truman Kennedy and Obama.

Black are victims only: Their unswerving loyalty to the US --their country--never mentioned as such. The Tuskegee pilots of the USAAF who heroically wanted to and did serve their country with great courage and gallantry? Yawn. A sentence at best. The red ball drivers and loaders who assured the Normandy landings would win the war? Not mentioned.

Asians in the US? After being forced to build the railroads, most were incarcerated in WWII. That's it.

Oh and the most critical document ever prepared in the US is the Senneca Falls Declaration.

No wonder kids detest history now: its taught as a rebuke to everything and everyone that led up to them.

There is no poetry in US history for PBS. No dreams. No heroism. Ugh, I so detest this professorial nitpicking they call history.
I saw the PBS show and I hate revisionism with a passion. I didn't feel it was as bad as you stated. I felt it had less to do with revisionism and more to do with omission. Unfortunately, PBS is liberal bias and will continue to present wonderful shows, but if there is a political point to be made it will always fall to liberal viewpoint, usually by not presenting an opposing argument.
Watching history shows on PBS is like reading Pravda was for Russians in the day. You have to read between the lines. That said, the War of 1812 show was not as bad as some of the fodder served up.
The War of 1812 propelled Andrew Jackson to the status of a national hero, making him a presidential candidate in 1824 and president four years later.
Can it be that the "documentary" makers--I haven't seen it--failed to point out America as an imperialist power for invading Canada? They must have!
The presentation on the War of 1812 was wonderful, especially for folk that have never been exposed to documentaries about historical subjects.

So all the comments of 'Been there, done that' , were fresh to the folks who haven't heard a whisper about the war of 1812.
Johnny Horton probably educated more folk about the war than anyone else. Anyone else out there game enough to compose another tune? Perhaps with a video?

Anyone who is surprised by the revisionist PBS program has probably never reviewed a US history high school text book or questioned high school students on their knowledge of US history. In 2001 I had such opportunities and found
-more pages dedicated to the Clinton administration than Washington, Jefferson and Adams combined.
-the students most important knowledge about Washington and Jefferson was they owned slaves, they knew more about Adams's wife than they knew about him and Lincoln was probably gay. So much for America's history written by PC academics.
occupy wall street chairman October 13, 2011 at 2:49 PM
comment moderated due to extremely obscene language and defamatory content
Add in the complete ignorance of the British occupation of Florida. The British advanced through the panhandle and were on the verge of conquering the Gulf Coast with a victory in Louisiana.

While Florida was not part of the United States until The Florida Purchase Treaty made with Spain-not Mexico-Spain, the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans was instrumental in the Spanish-British negotiations.

Eventually, the British settled for trading occupied Florida for occupied Jamaica.
Its easy to understand why Ryan Cole is so hot and bothered by this new (for most Americans) take on the War of 1812. This new take is one of the most even handed to date.
American History Professor Donald Hickey states in his recent book (Don’t Give up the Ship: Myths of the War of 1812): Who Won the War? "there are actually five groups of participants that must be considered: The biggest winner was Canada; then came Great Britain; and then the Indians living in Canada. The biggest losers were the Indians living in the United States [98% of them were exterminated by the end of the 19th Century]; after them came the United States itself, which ... for the first time in its history lost a war.”

When the War of 1812 started America's leaders thought an invasion of Canada would be "a mere matter of marching," as Thomas Jefferson confidently predicted. How could a nation of 8 million fail to subdue a struggling colony of 300,000? Yet, when the campaign year of 1812 ended, the only Americans left on Canadian soil were prisoners of war. Three American armies had been forced to surrender, and the Canadians were in control of all of Michigan Territory and much of Indiana and Ohio.

After two more years of War and another seven invasion attempts, none of Canada was occupied by American Forces and Canadian/British/Native forces occupied large chunks of land within the U.S..

By the end of the War U.S. trade had been strangled to practically nothing, the economy was grinding to a halt, the US Navy was blockaded in port, the US Army faced increasingly hostile odds on land, and the nation's capital city lay in ashes. ... And the issue over which America had gone to war -- the impressment of British seamen -- was tactfully ignored in the peace treaty and the captured American territory returned. Too soon, the construction of reassuring myths in the immediate aftermath helped transform a futile and humiliating adventure that aimed to conquer Canada into one of defending the republic.

Sources: books by Pierre Berton (2001), Donald Graves (1999), Jon Latimer (2007), James Elliott (2009) and Donald Hickey (2008).

Yours respectfully,
Harold Cockburn
Not Chicken Little October 13, 2011 at 2:03 PM
Well, PBS is always where I go for an unbiased and fair look at absolutely anything...ha ha ha ha ha .

Can we please cut off any and all public funding for these so-called 'public' abominations who only seek to advance their anti-American agenda?
Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin October 13, 2011 at 1:55 PM
To learn about the War of 1812 and what it was "really" like directly from the participants, one needs to read the actual newspapers of the day! In agreement with this article, the newspapers present a much clearer day of the divisions in our country, the deprivations not only in the battles but on board the many, many British prison ships around the West Indies. Sadly, not until now have so many of the newspapers of the time ever been publicly available. They are now, in a searchable database that is nowhere yet complete but will continue to grow over the coming months. It can be found at There at least one can find some of the events in the words of those who participated or were affected by the War of 1812.
Mr. Cole's criticism is incoherent, often petty, and ultimately unclear. What's his beef? The film was like all such TV documentaries: an overview. More is needed, but, hey, go read a book or two as followup. That said, the filmmakers and talking heads did a fine job in less than two hours of touching on many if not most of the main events and issues -- military, political, diplomatic, and cultural -- while incorporating some of the latest research.
McHenry is a fortress, not a has a moat
Did they mention the War of 1812 impact on the money supply and prices? How so much money was created by war bonds to pay for the war that it reduced Americans purchasing power by 66% - just like today by the Fed.
The War of 1812 was not a stalemate, and the Battle of New Orleans was in fact crucially important to the future of this nation despite the prior signing of the Treaty of Ghent. If Jackson had not done so well on the Southern front, the United States would never have had a Gulf Coast, at least not until the U.S. had a war with Spain. The position held by most of the world, indeed the legally correct position of the time, was that the lands ceded by Spain to France, and subsequently sold to the U.S. as the Louisiana Purchase, were still properly Spanish, as Spain's deal with France explicitly reserved to Spain the right to them if France gave them up. Our occupation of these lands made a legal case moot, but if Britain and Spain (along with various Indian allies) had held the Gulf Coast and a wide swath of neighboring lands at the end of the war, the peace treaty returning sovereignty to the status quo ante bellum would not have given them to the U.S., because to Britain and Spain (and of course the Native Americans), the U.S. never had legitimate claim to them. Had they won at New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, the occupying British would not have felt compelled to vacate these lands even under the most scrupulous reading of the Treaty, as they saw it.
It's 'cannons' unless they were snapping explosive photos.
For PBS to suggest that we take pride in our history as a nation would go against everything they stand for. All this article does is reinforce that.
Once again, PBS gets it wrong. More than any other American war, dissent was not suppressed. No one, including the vociferous anti-war New Englanders, went to jail for their views. Instead, their party, the Federalists, paid the price at the ballot box. As president, the "nebbish" Madison must take some of the credit for that.
Wonderfully written. At what point will the Center-Right ever have a voice cinematically? It seems the Identity-Politics Left controls the industry, so every documentary becomes "Ken Burns-ized". Thanks for the piece.
eat your heart out Johnny Horton . .
owen - new orleans October 09, 2011 at 1:02 PM
Since the subject of music has taken the stage here, its time to enjoy Andy Jackson's favorite tune "Possum up de Gum Tree," as performed today by the Woodstove Flapjacks. The General and wife Rachel were said to have "hopped all over the dance floor" when the band struck it up at the New Orleans battle victory ball, Jan 1815.
It is on UTUBE and i will provide the link under separate cover.
Jordynne Olivia Lobo October 09, 2011 at 12:24 PM
Dear Mr. Cole,

Did you know that Johnny Horton recorded at least two versions of "The Battle Of New Orleans"? There was the version released in the US, and a cringeworthy sanitized version released in the UK. (If you you'd like to hear the UK number, I've got both versions.)
And I thought it was all about "free trade and sailor's rights".
"The film offers little that would substantially change our views about this war or cause us to see the events of the next two centuries in a different light."

What about the film's revelation that New England teetered on the edge of secession, warded off really only by victories at Plattsburgh and and Baltimore? And did you somehow miss that in your sweeping conclusion describing the war's legacy all but parrots the film itself?
owen - new orleans October 09, 2011 at 2:42 AM
thanks for the heads up - i will skip the show and my blood pressure will bethe better for it - US histories on PBS are predictable exercises in self-flagellation - how they keep making them with a straight face . . .
Oh my, "revisionists' red glare"...revisionist because the characters are not painted a doctrinaire black & white? I'll reserve judgment till I see the piece. To my ear this reviewer's take seems a touch strident...closer to purple. Here's another fact to label revisionism: the Star- Spangled Banner did not become the the US national Anthem till 1931.
Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was asked late in life what he thought his legacy would be. He responded by describing a conversation he said he had with Chou En-lai in the early seventies, where he asked the Chinese Prime Minister what he thought was the impact of the French Revolution. Chou supposedly said "It's too soon to tell."

For us in Canada, the war was the start of years of disputes with America, over oregon in 1844 and the Alaska panhandle in 1903. After that, we had a hundred years of peace and cooperation and pretty open borders.

Now, the borders are thickening again. Homeland Security is proposing a monster fence across the entire northern border. The IRS is chasing dual citizens who have lived in Canada for decades, trying to fine them for not filing tax returns. Tourism on both sides of the border is being destroyed. Commerce and trade relations are being compromised.

The war of 1812 and the continuing obstreperousness of Fenian raids and border disputes pretty much led to the creation of Canada in 1867. I wonder what the effect of the new border thickening, the fences, the entry taxes and the climate of fear that this is all generating will have in the future. But as Chou said, it is too soon to tell.