A Documentary a Day III: The War of 1812

(Ed: Scoring system explained here)

The War of 1812 (History Channel, 2004) **
Save yourself the time. Watch PBS instead.

If you love Baltimore, New Orleans and Washington D.C. and hate Tecumseh, Decatur, Macdonough, and Perry, then watch this film. If you think America chased off the British with two battles, then watch this film. If you think it’s important to dwell on the British raping and burning the Chesapeake coast while giving one sentence to America doing the same in Canada, then watch this film. If you think an English admiral with an axe to grind is “obsessive” while an American general with the same is just “looking for payback,” then watch this film. If you want re-enacting and computer graphics, then watch this film. If you want to learn something, watch PBS’s The War of 1812 instead.

The War of 1812 (PBS, 2011) ****
I typed the above review without ever having seen PBS’ The War of 1812. Thankfully, it was as good as I expected. Where the History Channel went focused on two battles and a handful of men, PBS tried to tell the entire story, incorporating American, British, Canadian, and Native-American History together in a fascinating examination of this weird, small, forgotten stalemate.

The most interesting part of the program is their examination of the historiography of the war. The War of 1812 looks at the myths that grew from the war and how every nation involved seemed to perceive the conflict differently. Americans, British, and Canadians all have reasons to claim victory, even if the result of the war was 4,000 KIA and a return to the status quo. The only thing everyone seems to agree upon is that Native-Americans were the primary losers. Following Tecumseh’s death, tribal nations lost massive tracts of land and would never again come together to stop America’s expansion westward.

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