Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The War of 1812

The War of 1812 was also known as the Second War of Independence and last week we celebrated the bicentennial of the start of it. It is largely a forgotten war today for the two main belligerents, the United States and Great Britain. It is forgotten in the U.S. because it achieved little--the peace basically restored the status quo ante. It is forgotten in Britain because it was a sideshow, in entertainment parlance a spinoff, of the Napoleonic wars that were the main action. Only in Canada, where it was partly fought, is it remembered today. This is for several reasons. First, it is the last major war to be fought on Canadian soil. Second, the war also ensured that Canada would not be swallowed up by its southern neighbor. 

The war did have several important effects for the young American republic. First, it led to the destruction of the last Indian coalition capable of limiting the growth of the Republic--at the Battle of the Thames on Lake Ontario in October 1813. The Treaty of Ghent basically abandoned the North American Indians to the settlers. Second, because the Federalist Party was centered in New England, which was opposed to the war, it led to the destruction of that party and the end of the First Party System. There was approximately a decade of pause until the start of the Second Party System as the Republican Party split into opposing factions in 1825--the National Republicans, later to become the Whigs, and the Democratic Republicans who became the Democrats.

The war also produced the beginning of a seventy-year long tradition of war heroes at the national level. The American Revolution produced George Washington, James Monroe, and Anthony Wayne as politicians, but the trend quickly died out by the end of the 1780s except for Washington. The War of 1812 revived this with two Indian-fighter presidents: Andrew Jackson (1829-37) and William H. Harrison (1841). Harrison died after only a month in office but he was eventually followed by the last United States Indian-fighter president, Zachary Taylor, in 1849. Taylor also died early in office but he was followed by a number of Mexican War veterans for the United States and the Confederate States. Franklin Pierce from 1853 to 1857, Jefferson Davis from 1861 to 1865, and Ulysses S. Grant from 1869 to 1877. Grant started a string of former Union generals who served as Republican presidents after the war that ended with Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of William Harrison, in 1893. So for a century from Washington to Harrison there were a series of waves of war heroes with each wave, except the first, ending with a veteran of one war who was also a veteran of the next war. 

Reproducing this national trend on a smaller scale was a similar one in Tennessee (the Volunteer State), which lasted from statehood in 1796 until the early 1840s. The first major war hero politician was John Sevier who fought the Cherokee in Virginia and Tennessee during and after the American Revolution. He was followed by Andrew Jackson who fought the Cherokee as a young lawyer in the early 1790s and then the Creeks in the War of 1812 and finally the Seminoles in Florida in 1818. Throughout the 1820s all state governors were veterans of the War of 1812, William Carroll and Sam Houston. This trend then continued on a less rigid basis up to 1842. There was also Congressman David Crockett who after serving two terms in Congress was defeated by another War of 1812 veteran. Crockett and Houston then supply the link to Texas, the other state in the 19th century that had many Indian fighters as politicians.

This American tradition gives us a reference point to examine the phenomenon in Israel where former generals have played a major role in Israel politics since the mid-1950s. If one accounts for the fact that Israel had major wars about three times as frequently as did the United States, then the phenomena are very similar.

Here is a link to another modern angle of the War of 1812, the war hawk phenomenon. The author provides another link to a summary of the effects of the war.

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