First Invasion: The War of 1812
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The First Invasion: The War of 1812

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As with many of my generation while taking American History there are a few pages wedged in between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War that dealt with the War of 1812. While many relegate this war as a little interlude between those admittedly ground breaking times, few seem to place the importance this time deserves. Until I viewed the History Channelís ĎFirst Invasioní I didnít give this conflict much thought. I freely admit that I am a History Channel addict, considering the trash that occupies space on most of the other channels they provide insight and intelligent commentary in an always entertaining fashion. The First Invasion: The War of 1812 is one of their finest works to date. The format will be familiar to any regular viewer of the channel, the Ďtalking headí experts that provide a depth of understanding in an enjoyable way, intertwined with reenactments that provide drama and action. Included in this documentary are many details of not only the war itself but many of the surrounding events and major players on the world stage at that time. Some were included in those few pages in my old text book but the manner of presentation always held my interest.

At the beginning of the 1800s the fledgling nation, The United States of Americaí, was not the world power we know today. To the west was a vast wilderness populated by irate and hostile natives, to the east a cold, unforgiving ocean. The county was actually more a loose association of states than a cohesive nation. Each state strongly defended their own interest with little regard to the interests of the young nation. While the north eastern states, New England, made a living out of commerce by means of ships of the sea, the southern states moved towards agriculture to the point where crops where no longer for self sufficiency, they where the major export. Normally this created an atmosphere of interdependency but as the new century began animosity grew.

Internal conflict was not the only problem the child nation faced. England was in the midst of the Napoleonic War, a major drain on their seafaring man power. Since they did not consider the right of their former subjects to renounce their British citizenship, the British ships of line began to kidnap American sailors and impress them into British service. This situation became a major sore point escalated to the President, James Madison. Now Madison was not a physically impressive man. Standing only five foot four and weighing about one hundred pounds you would not look at him as a leader. Actually, this small frame held one of the finest minds of the day. As one of the founding fathers Madison was now faced with the first test of the nation he helped to create.

When the British ultimately invaded the United States they faced a loose association of men more used to constabulary functions than a force of war. The British where a young fighting force, harden by battle in Europe while the Americans where the sons and grandsons of those that knew how to wage war. It seemed that on all fronts the American where once again the underdogs.

The War of 1812 was one of mistakes, miscommunications and misconduct. The most famous battle, The Battle of New Orleans was actually fought after a peace treaty was signed. The conscription of American citizens by the British was formerly ended two days before the American declaration of war was signed. In this modern day we take instant access and communication for granted but then the slow pace of letters and shops cost many lives.

In the usual fashion for the History Channel none of these events or facts comes across as dry or tedious. True to their claim they truly bring history to life. At times the presentation is more like contemporary news than history. The experts they employ show their love for the subject matter and are able to convey that passion to the audience. They make their wealth of information accessible to the audience like a favorite college professor. The reenactments are nothing less than incredible. I have always enjoyed these segments on the other History channel programs but here they really did a great job. These scenes are more like mini movies than filler segments. The attention to details in costuming, weapons and tactics transforms your television set into a portal to the past.

The editing of this documentary is excellent. In the hour and a half of the production there were no lags at all. The pacing was better than most films I have recently reviewed. The overall feel of The First Invasion is one of professionalism in every aspect of the production. The lighting, color balance and even the audio was better than most televisions shows today. Not only does this network know how to inform and entertain at the same time they do it better than any one out there.

Donít be turned off by the subject, the War of 1812. This conflict far more than supply the inspiration for the national anthem, it took a small, weak nation and helped to set the stage for the world power we enjoy today. This is not a dry recitation of facts; itís a drama that shaped the nation we live in now. If you arenít already a die hard fan of this channel then check out this presentation. For those that like me are hooked already, get ready to proclaim a new favorite installment in a long line of excellence.

Posted 8/21/04

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