On the 200thanniversary of the War of 1812 Monday, NPR’s “Morning Edition” noted that this obscure conflict resulted in the sacking of Washington in 1814, but also gave us the Star Spangled Banner. This reassuring balance of costs and benefits makes for a tidy historical footnote while managing to gloss over the few reasons why the War of 1812 still matters today.
It matters mostly as an occasion for patriotic pomp and circumstance in the mid-Atlantic states and Canada where the war was fought. Maryland has issued a commemorative license plate, complete with bombs bursting in air. Replicas of the tall ships of that era are sailing in Baltimore Harbor. But the war also has some historical relevance. In Foreign Policy, James Traub calls the War of 1812, the “most important war you know nothing about.”