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The Dice-Spangled Banner

Not pictured: the thousands of people who died of dumb things like disease, because wars are always like that. Nobody paints pictures of the amputation tent.

The War of 1812 suffers from an asymmetry of memory. In America it became part of a triumphal national myth. In Britain it became a footnote. In fairness to the former, resolving a war in stalemate despite having your capitol sacked is an achievement. In fairness to the latter, everything becomes a footnote when you’re trying to depose Napoleon. Neither side properly won. No borders were redrawn. No major concessions were granted, and the minor ones went largely ignored. The real losers were the American Indians and the Spanish, both of whom found themselves ceding more territory to the expanding Republic.

In Dawn’s Early Light, David McDonough evinces the pointless fury of this conflict largely by wrenching any gains back toward the status quo. It’s hard to conclude whether this is because he’s an exemplary teller of history or a cruel maker of games.

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