The White House

Washington, D.C.

The Day We Burned Ole D.C. Down? It was today, actually.

But if this was big news 204 years ago, when the fire was actually lit by the Royal Marines and sundry British Army regiments — revenge for the Americans burning down York, now part of Toronto, as a matter of fact — it doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact in Washington today.

Bigger fish to fry, I guess.

The United States capital is now the Imperial Planetary Capital, of course, or so the occupants of this place seem to believe. So why would they worry about the War of 1812, which they firmly believe to a man and a woman they won anyway. (This is the 19th Century version of “fake news,” which over time eventually solidifies into “fake history.”)

The place has only been occupied by a foreign power once, and we Canadians have been taking credit for it so long that we own it now, even though as far as anyone knows there were no Canadians here on the night the British burned down the White House, the Capitol and a few other government buildings, and if there were, they came by way of Bermuda aboard ships of the Royal Navy.

At any rate, no crowds of angry Americans were camped outside the British or Canadian embassies earlier today with pitchforks and torches, infuriated that the British soldiers mocked their nascent democracy by taking a vote in the halls of Congress on whether or not to burn the place to the ground. (The Ayes had it.)  

In fairness, there was a small crowd of angry Americans at the White House, but they were going on about something else.

By the same token, there were no mobs of drunken Royal Marines or Canadian hockey hooligans terrifying the locals as they celebrated their (our) fiery depredations of 204 years ago.  

No, those events are, as the Americans say, history. Which is to say, almost completely forgotten within the borders of the United States of Amnesia, as Gore Vidal famously called the place. Irrelevant. Of no consequence.

If you want to know how much importance Washington puts on this event, the Post mentioned it in a 30-word today-in-history notation on Page 2, the worst page in any newspaper — and got the number of years since the blaze wrong, apparently because someone concluded the War of 1812 must have been over by 1813.

As for the numerous Americans I obsessively queried about their history, none of them had any idea what had happened. Apparently everyone’s too caught up in the current drama, waiting to learn when — and how — President Donald Trump will be removed from power.

Indeed, it’s sort of weird that President Trump — or someone on his staff, at any rate — actually remembered the occasion, if only to give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a gentle poke on the NAFTA file. Obviously, the president’s heart wasn’t in it, or he would have called the PM a dog or an animal or something.

As previously noted in this space, I blame former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper for Mr. Trump even having taken notice. Mr. Harper’s government spent $30 million in 2012 on a U.S.-style binge of militarism to celebrate the War of 1812, which was about one big fire away from petering out completely by 1814.

If you ask me, we all would have been better off if the (modern Canadian) Tories celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act or the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both of which fell in the same year as the War of 1812 bicentennial. But conservatives always do love a military parade, speaking of Mr. Trump, as we were. (He’s not getting his, by the way, as alert readers will recall.) And they hate Liberals, who were responsible for the two actual accomplishments listed above.

Anyway, there it is. No one here except the today-in-history guy at the Washington Post even noticed the passing of the occasion, as far as I can tell. They probably wouldn’t have noticed if we’d lit celebratory bonfires along the border either.

Our American Cousins would simply conclude it was smoke from burned forests in California drifting in on the hot winds of global climate change — except here inside the Beltway, of course, where human caused climate warming is not acknowledged to be a thing, and won’t be as long as the Republicans hold the Senate and the House. In other words, until November.

All’s quiet at the White House tonight. Or, at least, if it isn’t, it has nothing to do with us!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David Climenhaga

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David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...