Unprovoked French aggression of 1812?

Living in the USSR, I was brought up to view the Great Patriotic War of 1812 as a clear-cut case of French perfidy. Evil Imperial French and their dozen allies invaded Russia…ok, invaded the part of Poland previously occupied by Russia, and proceeded to loot, burn and pillage. Then they were defeated by the Russian army and poor logistics.

Somehow, no connection was made with the equally unproductive Russian foray into Italy and Switzerland in 1799, where Suvorov’s troops fought the French. Or the 1807 battles fought in Germany. Or the scuffle over the control of ┬áPoland which precipitated the first Great Patriotic War the same was the 1941 event was made easier by the re-absorption of the Russian Imperial possession by the USSR in 1939, producing an extended common border with Germany.

Orwell’s 1984 had plenty of grounds for Eastasia/Eurasia switching roles as enemy and ally. Russia fought a war involving England in 1807, yet the two were allied against France by 1815. England condemned the German invasion of Denmark, but the same 1807 war saw an unprovoked bombardment of Copenhagen a hundred thirty years before Guernica. It’s only an atrocity when “they” do it, right?

France, for all of its numerous insane domestic policies, at least had dispensed with serfdom. So casting it as the purely evil empire while presenting Russia as the divinely directed innocent bystander, was at the very least ignoring certain nuances. With that in mind, I am curious how American culture treats its own history…are we overlooking unflattering details as well?

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14 Responses to Unprovoked French aggression of 1812?

  1. Thorn says:

    I don’t doubt. I think you don’t have to go much deeper than Columbus and the early colonies to find that the early pioneer treatment of the American Indians was derogatory at best, and yet when I was growing up it certainly wasn’t presented that way – at worst a neutral “squatter’s rights” takeover, and at best an amicable trade of goods and guns for land.

    • Jeff Dege says:

      For me, the most insightful report on the treatment of Native Americans in the US was de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”.

      Accord to him, most of the land transactions were voluntary, in a limited sense of the word. The problem was that intensive agriculture screwed up the game patterns for 10-30 miles beyond the actual cultivated areas. Whites would buy land from the natives, farm it. As a side effect, the game that the natives depended on for food would disappear, leaving the natives little choice but to sell their land and move further into the wilderness. Usually using the proceeds to buy firearms that they could use to dispossess the prior residents of the areas they were moving into.

      The actual land transactions were voluntary, but the circumstances left the natives little choice.

  2. ElfDragon says:

    I generally shudder and grit my teeth when people talk about the way “early American colonists” treated the Indians and then go on to say it’s a shameful part of American history. Let’s be factual. Prior to the mid-1700’s, colonial America had colonies that were Spanish (Florida), Dutch, Swedish and English. And during those years, not only were the native Americans viewed as savages but their numbers were ravaged by diseases brought from Europe.

    From about 1760 until 1776, the British controlled the colonies and it was their doctrines that prevailed regarding native Americans. After 1776 and the formation of the United States, many of those doctrines remained or were slow to change, mostly because our founding generation were basically British at heart.

    Our country’s early history is painted as one of exploration, pioneer settlement and development. Lost the educational overview is how business and industrialists made huge sums often exploiting workers and land owners. It’s only mentioned casually in reference to Robber Barons of the early 1800’s. Plenty of other misdeeds have no doubt been glossed over.

  3. Hobie says:

    In my genealogical research of my family, many branches of which go back to the very first colonization of North America, I see a wide range of behaviors by my ancestors ranging from slave-ownership (in New England) and hatred of Native Americans (at least) to active resistance of the slave trade throughout the country and pro-Native Americans.

  4. Walt says:

    One may also look at the wars of aggression against Mexico. The 1847 war and the actions of Pershing during the Pancho Villa era. Then depending on your point of view, the Spanish-American war including the Phillipine occupation, forays into the central americas in the ’20’s and ’30’s and more…

  5. ctd says:

    little is said of the Japanese internment camps of WWII.

  6. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit says:

    Yes. Scads. As you point out, it’s only an atrocity or terrorism when “they” do it to Americans.

  7. Lyle says:

    As was said above, there was a wide range of behaviors. One must be careful when discussing what “America did”, not to conflate the founding principles with the evil deeds of flawed men. It has been in failing to understand or embrace or uphold those principles that America has perpetrated evil. Don’t be tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water. Understand what made America great and understand equally where America has failed.

    Every case of failure, injustice and government-imposed suffering has been a case of arrogant or foolish departure from the basic, simple principles of human liberty. It is almost axiomatic that once an organization, any organization large or small, becomes established, it’s attention immediately begins to drift away from the principles of its founding. Ideology gives way to growing and sustaining the apparatus and it’s power and influence. Nobility gives way to bureaucracy. Principles give way to “pragmatism” and “security”. This touches the founders themselves. It doesn’t take even a generation. And there’s always a “reasonable” excuse at the time, for every transgression, usually along the lines of “we have to do this now, even if it seems bad, in order to preserve the union, or club, or business, or political party, etc. It stems from a lack of faith in that very thing, that one and only thing, which gave rise to the organization in the first place. Almost the instant it wins, it begins to lose, because PEOPLE in their pride and arrogance believe it was THEY who did it and not the adherence to principal.

    We make statues and write books about great PEOPLE rather than upholding the great principles that led them to accomplish things. That’s where we always fail, and we’re still doing it at every stage.

  8. Lyle says:

    Maybe we should back up a little bit and ask; what is America? Is it the real estate? The fruited plains, the spacious skies, the purple mountains’ majesty? Is it the People collectively? Is it the politicians, the businesses? The national parks? The Socialist Security system? NO! It is none of those things. Even the most despotic shithole of a country has all of those things. America is an ideal, no matter who upholds it or where they might be.

    So when we talk about evil deeds perpetrated by “America” we’re making a mistake right there. The ideal didn’t do it. Fools who abandon the ideal do evil things. Don’t blame the ideal.

  9. Rolf says:

    It depends.
    There are some (the government-loving, grievance-mongering, group-identity-labeling, perennial victim sort) that sees nothing BUT the blemishes and problems of the nations (broadly defined) past. They don’t see European settlers bringing civilization to the savages, the war and disease Hernan Cortez spread in Mexico. They conveniently fail to note the mass human sacrifice, where the still-beating hearts were cut out, then the victims skin peeled off, dried, and worn as a religious “garment,” was stopped by Cortez. They see the indian reservation and say “we stole it,” failing to note the incessant tribal warfare, starvation, and brutally short life expectancy.
    There are others that see nothing but the good things “we” have done, saying all’s well that ends well, or “can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. They gloss over all the little details, forgetting the invasion was cause by the blockade, which was caused by the sanction, which was caused by the trade agreement, which was caused by the pact, that was the result of the previous war.
    Some, like myself, note than virtually ALL great nations, and even most of the minor ones, have a pretty sordid history WRT human rights if you go back a ways. China’s Great Leap Forward (40 million bodies), Russian pogroms (20 million +), Turkey’s Armenian genocide, Japan in SE Asia (most famously the Rape of Nanking, but that was only one of many), Arab slave traders across Africa for the last two thousand years or more, Muslim Persians in the Hindu Kush (named for the tens of millions of Hindus they slaughtered in wars there), a thousand years of constant European tribal wars, the Ottoman Empire’s treatment of Christians, Australia’s treatment of the Aborigines, etc., etc., etc.
    The question is: do the people of the nation acknowledge it, try to understand it, and do their best, within the limits of the flaws of human nature, to do better moving forward without feeling guilty about something they themselves did not do? Those that refuse to acknowledge the facts of the past cannot learn from them. Those that try to make me feel guilty about something *I* have not done, and indeed may not have even been alive to see, are pushing an agenda, not seeking actual progress in civilization.

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