1812: The War That Forged A Nation

Author:  Walter R. Borneman

Published By: Harper Perennial

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            Iím a history nut.  As such, I probably know a great deal more about the wars this country fought than your average American.  Thatís a shame when you think about it.  Americans should be very interested in their history - the wars that shaped the nation and what makes them Americans in the first place.  But I digress.  Being a history buff and loving the sales at Barnes & Noble, when I was offered the opportunity to buy two books and get one free, I chose 1812: The War That Forged A Nation as one of my three selections.  I wanted to see if historian/author Walter R. Borneman had any new bits and pieces of information on the War of 1812 that I didnít already know.

            As I began reading this book, I realized that Borneman was as fascinated by history as I was.  So fascinated by the various machinations that go on behind the scenes of some of Americaís most famous historical events was Borneman, that he included various political wranglings and events that led up to the actual declaration of war in 1812.  Depending on your level of interest in this sort of thing, you may become bored within the first chapter.

            Fortunately, I have always been interested in the greed and misguided notions that have often pushed our founding fathers into acting on things that probably should have been left alone.  If asked why the United States of America declared war on Britain, sadly, many Americans probably couldnít give you an answer.  Those who can give you an answer will probably say that the United States wanted to stop the impressment of American sailors by British (the act of snatching up sailors from American vessels and pressing them into His Majestyís service).  They would only be partially correct.  As we learn in Bornemanís book, a great deal of the War of 1812 rested upon Americaís desire to expand as a nation.

            So what was it that America so coveted that it was willing to go to war with a nation it just won its independence from?  Canada!  Americans wanted to conquer Canada - imperialism at its worst.  Actually, it could have been possible but for the ineptitude of many of our leading strategists.  In fact, as you read 1812: The War That Forged A Nation, you begin to wonder how it was that we ever won this war.  But, of course, ineptitude is not something that only preyed upon American leaders.  British strategists, generals and admirals often suffered the same fate in this war.

            Quite honestly, after reading this novel, it occurred to me that America never really truly won this war.  Neither did Britain.  As far as I am concerned, the only real losers besides those killed and/or seriously wounded on either side, were the Native Americans who lost their lives in defense of a land that was stolen from them.  The only real victory for us - besides heretofore mentioned land - was the inspiration of a feeling of unity that prevailed toward the end of the war and continued as a fledgling bundle of states truly became a nation.  Oh, and then there is the fact that until this war, the United States didnít boast much of a navy, but during the war, the U.S. discovered that it wasnít half bad at naval warfare.

            Did Borneman have any new information to offer me about the War of 1812?  Actually, yes, he did.  I wasnít aware of all of the things that led up to the war and probably would have answered that earlier question as to why the war started with the word impressment.  I now know that the war meant so much more.  I was also unaware of some of the bits of intrigue that took place during the war putting both sides at disadvantages throughout.  Once I got into the battle section of the book, the reading picked up pace and I finished it rather quickly.

            1812: The War That Forged A Nation should be required reading in school.  This is the real story of the War of 1812, not the watered down version I was taught in school.  I believe in that adage about those who refuse to study history being doomed to repeat the same mistakes of old.  This book discusses a piece of history which greatly influenced what this country has become and is an important read for any American, young or old.


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