Lessons Not Learned
This last weekend Toronto celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of York
during the War of 1812
. Before it was called Toronto the main settlement in that part of Ontario (Upper Canada) was know as the town of York. The land for this settlement had been purchased from the Mississauga of New Credit aboriginal band.
In 1812, York was a community of 600 or 700 people. It had both government administrative offices and private home and business. It also had a fort, Fork York, where a garrison of British soldiers was located. There were also navy ships in the harbour.
It is interesting to keep in mind how small this community was. Any yet, everything was small by today's standard. The British has 6,000 troop in the Canada's and the Maritime colony's to protect them. The Americans mustered 7,000 militia (as the did not have a standing army and had to reinstate retired officers from the Revolutionary War, dust them off, and have them lead this attempt to occupy the rest of British North America.
The Battle of York was an attack by about 2,000 American troops who crossed Lake Ontario. from Sacket Harbour, New York, in order to capture Fort York, defeat the British troops there and (as it turned out) lay waste to the town of York. For the Americans it was a success, virtually the only success they had in the war, until they defeated the British at New Orleans (a few days after the war was officially over.) There was a first attempt to frustrate their advance on the Fort by a small group of Mississaugans (about 50). The British has problems organizing a counter offense and the forces decided on a retreat to Kingston, Ontario (A larger garrison and Fort). Before abandoning the Fort the blew up the munitions left behind. This killed several American soldiers including Zebulon Pike
the leader, for whom Pike's Peak is named . A truce was signed and the American troops burned down the government building and stole items from the government and private homes. (It was not until 1934 that the Mace
from the parliament was returned. ) To their credit the officers were shocked that soldiers had stolen books from the library. They recovered as many as they could and returned them to York. This year the town of Sacket Harbour returned a few books of the type and vintage of one's stolen 200 years ago. After about a month's stay the American troops returned to the US side of the lake.
Fort York as it is today. It had been rebuilt after it was destroyed in 1813. It is now jammed between the Gardiner Expressway and the rail lines. I have never visited it in spite of growing up in the Toronto area. I must put it on my bucket list.
In support of the invasion of Canada the Americans thought that it would be easy and the many British subjects (Canadians) would welcome them and the British would be easily defeated. They misjudged the willingness to of the British North Americans to defend their home and country. The Native population believe their best interest was served by siding with the British. They were hoping for a territory of their own in what is now North Central United States from Ohio or Wisconsin. They were lead by a great leader Tecumseh. The British soldiers were professionals and not just volunteer militia. The were well lead by General Brock as skilled leader. The settlers were fighting for their home and farms, always a strong motivation. Black former fugitive slaves had their own reasons to resist capture by the Americans and remain part of British North America. And the French, who might be thought of as a fifth column in British North America were largely loyal to the British because the Establishment French class has prospered under the British and did not trust the Americans.
There was some sympathy for the Americans that might have been worked with if the Americans has not behaved so badly. The sacking of York (Toronto) and Newark (now Niagara on the Lake) strengthened the resolve of the population to resist the American invasion.. It turned out that the United Empire Loyalists who fled the United States after the Revolutionary War and settled in Upper Canada, had little interest in becoming part of the United States. The British were outraged at the destruction of these towns which inspired them to attack Washington. DC and burn the White House down.
The Battle of York is an example of how not to invade a country if you hope to be accepted as an occupying army by the locals. Army in dealing with civilians and their property need to be polite and respectful. The history of victorious armies raping and pillaging as a right for winning the war is the wrong behaviour if you hope to stay. Most armies of invasion seem to ignore this lesson. The Americans in Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq failed to behave well enough to gain long term acceptance by the local population.
To their credit the invading forces Argentina, in the War of the Falklands, were instructed to treat the local people well as they were to be seen as Argentinian citizens. For the most part they behaved themselves, unfortunately the Islanders were never going to accept being anything other than British.