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Invade Canada! A Brief History of the War of 1812

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Two centuries ago, the U.S. declared war on Britain, and invaded its closest colony. Why was the War of 1812 fought, and who really won?

War of 1812 Re-enactors/

Who started the war?

The United States was the first to declare war, though after repeated British provocations. At the time, the Napoleonic wars were raging across Europe, and the Royal Navy had taken to seizing American sailors at sea and press-ganging them into their undermanned fleet. Already infuriated by British attempts to prevent the U.S. from trading with France, President James Madison and the so-called War Hawks in Congress urged the country to go to war and defend its recently won independence. But the June 1812 vote to go to war only narrowly passed the House and the Senate, and critics condemned "Mr. Madison's War" as a foolhardy adventure, motivated less by crimes at sea than by a lust for land. Indeed, the American offensive began with a land invasion of Canada.

Why invade Canada?

It was the closest British colony, but Madison also had political reasons for targeting America's northern neighbor.

His Democratic-Republican Party drew much of its support from the rural South and what was then the American West — the territory stretching up the Mississippi basin to the Great Lakes. Frontier inhabitants were eager to strike at the British in Canada because they suspected them of arming Native American tribes that were standing in the way of America's westward expansion. Many Americans also believed that the invasion would be a cakewalk, and that ordinary Canadians were keen to shake off their British overlords. The "acquisition of Canada," predicted former President Thomas Jefferson, "will be a mere matter of marching."

How did the invasion go?

Terribly. At the outbreak of hostilities, the U.S. Army was a poorly equipped force of fewer than 7,000 men, many of them "complete amateurs with virtually no training or discipline," said historian Alan Taylor. It didn't help that the initial offensive was led by the aging Gen. William Hull, later damned by a subordinate as an "imbesile" [sic]. After an abortive foray across the Detroit River into Canada, Hull fell for a bogus report that a vast Indian war party was heading his way and surrendered his 2,500 troops to a much smaller force. With the war only a few months old, the entire Michigan territory had fallen into British hands.

Did the U.S. have any victories?

Yes — strangely enough, at sea. In 1812 and 1813, the tiny U.S. Navy bested the supposedly invincible British fleet in a series of duels on the Great Lakes and in the Atlantic. "It is a cruel mortification to be beat by these secondhand Englishmen upon our own element," a British minister declared. But in 1814, Britain decided to teach the upstarts a lesson, and launched a counteroffensive along the mid-Atlantic coast, overwhelming small American gunboats. Some 4,000 Royal Marines marched into Washington, which American officials had abandoned so hastily that an uneaten banquet for 40 was left laid out in the White House. The Marines downed the food and wine before torching the White House and the Capitol building — vengeance for the earlier American ransacking of York (now Toronto). But the British offensive stalled outside Baltimore, where a small American garrison at Fort McHenry withstood a 25-hour naval bombardment — a sight that inspired a young lawyer, Francis Scott Key, to scribble out the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the back of a letter.

How did the war end?

It was essentially a stalemate. By late 1814, the U.S. government was almost bankrupt because of the expense of the conflict, while Britain wanted to end what it regarded as a sideshow to the larger war against Napoleon. So on Christmas Eve, 1814, the two sides signed a peace treaty in Ghent (now in Belgium) that restored the prewar borders of the U.S. and Canada, without even mentioning the maritime issues that had started the conflict. But news of the peace deal didn't reach the 5,000 British troops gathered outside New Orleans in time. They attacked the city on Jan. 8, 1815, but were easily repulsed by some 4,000 defenders led by Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson. By the end of the day, the British had lost 291 men, the Americans only 13. The military triumph restored U.S. pride, and Jackson was hailed as a national hero.

What was the war's legacy?

Everyone declared victory. Canadians could celebrate that they had repelled an invasion, an achievement that united them in a new sense of nationhood. "We were refugees, American loyalists, British soldiers, First Nations, a mixed bag of people who realized they had a common land to defend," said Thom Sokoloski, a Canadian artist who organized a recent 1812 art exhibit in Toronto. For America, meanwhile, the late victory at the Battle of New Orleans was a major morale booster. "The war had become a glorious re-declaration of independence," said historian James Lundberg. "Its missteps were forgotten, and a new generation of national heroes was born — Andrew Jackson first among them." The only real losers were Native Americans. Ravaged by the conflict and abandoned by their British allies, the tribes along the frontier would soon be outnumbered and pushed aside by a wave of American settlers.

The Americans are coming!

The War of 1812 produced its own Paul Revere, except this folk hero was a woman who served the British. On the evening of June 21, 1813, Laura Secord overheard American officers billeted at her home, in Queenston, Ontario, plotting a raid on a nearby British outpost. The 37-year-old mother of five hiked for 18 hours through mosquito-infested swamps and forests to reach the redcoats' camp. Armed with her information, the British and their Indian allies were able to ambush the American force, capturing 462 soldiers. Secord received no recognition or compensation for her part in the victory until 1860, when the Prince of Wales stopped in Queenston to pay tribute to the veterans of 1812. Told of Secord's heroism, he awarded the then 85-year-old 100 pounds as thanks for her bravery.

Every so often, we'll reprint something from our sister publication, The Week. This is one of those times.

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10 Surprising Facts About The Babadook
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In 2014, The Babadook came out of nowhere and scared audiences across the globe. Written and directed by Aussie Jennifer Kent, and based on her short film Monster, The Babadook is about a widow named Amelia (played by Kent’s drama schoolmate Essie Davis) who has trouble controlling her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who thinks there’s a monster living in their house. Amelia reads Samuel a pop-up book, Mister Babadook, and Samuel manifests the creature into a real-life monster. The Babadook may be the villain, but the film explores the pitfalls of parenting and grief in an emotional way. 

“I never approached this as a straight horror film,” Kent told Complex. “I always was drawn to the idea of grief, and the suppression of that grief, and the question of, how would that affect a person? ... But at the core of it, it’s about the mother and child, and their relationship.”

Shot on a $2 million budget, the film grossed more than $10.3 million worldwide and gained an even wider audience via streaming networks. Instead of creating Babadook out of CGI, a team generated the images in-camera, inspired by the silent films of Georges Méliès and Lon Chaney. Here are 10 things you might not have known about The Babadook (dook, dook).

1. THE NAME “BABADOOK” WAS EASY FOR A CHILD TO INVENT.

Jennifer Kent told Complex that some people thought the creature’s name sounded “silly,” which she agreed with. “I wanted it to be like something a child could make up, like ‘jabberwocky’ or some other nonsensical name,” she explained. “I wanted to create a new myth that was just solely of this film and didn’t exist anywhere else.”

2. JENNIFER KENT WAS WORRIED PEOPLE WOULD JUDGE THE MOTHER.

Amelia isn’t the best mother in the world—but that’s the point. “I’m not a parent,” Kent told Rolling Stone, “but I’m surrounded by friends and family who are, and I see it from the outside … how parenting seems hard and never-ending.” She thought Amelia would receive “a lot of flak” for her flawed parenting, but the opposite happened. “I think it’s given a lot of women a sense of reassurance to see a real human being up there,” Kent said. “We don’t get to see characters like her that often.”

3. KENT AND ESSIE DAVIS TONED DOWN THE CONTENT FOR THE KID.

Noah Wiseman was six years old when he played Samuel. Kent and Davis made sure he wasn’t present for the more horrific scenes, like when Amelia tells Samuel she wishes he was the one who died, not her husband. “During the reverse shots, where Amelia was abusing Sam verbally, we had Essie yell at an adult stand-in on his knees,” Kent told Film Journal. “I didn’t want to destroy a childhood to make this film—that wouldn’t be fair.”

Kent explained a “kiddie version” of the plot to Wiseman. “I said, ‘Basically, Sam is trying to save his mother and it’s a film about the power of love.’”

4. THE FILM IS ALSO ABOUT “FACING OUR SHADOW SIDE.”

IFC Films

Kent told Film Journal that “The Babadook is a film about a woman waking up from a long, metaphorical sleep and finding that she has the power to protect herself and her son.” She noted that everybody has darkness to face. “Beyond genre and beyond being scary, that’s the most important thing in the film—facing our shadow side.”

5. THE FILM SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE EXORCIST.

In an interview with Uproxx, William Friedkin—director of The Exorcist—said The Babadook was one of the best and scariest horror films he’d ever seen. He especially liked the emotional aspect of the film. “It’s not only the simplicity of the filmmaking and the excellence of the acting not only by the two leads, but it’s the way the film works slowly but inevitably on your emotions,” he said.

6. AN ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT SCORED THE ROLE AS THE BABADOOK.

Tim Purcell worked in the film’s art department but then got talked into playing the titular character after he acted as the creature for some camera tests. “They realized they could save some money, and have me just be the Babadook, and hence I became the Babadook,” Purcell told New York Magazine. “In terms of direction, it was ‘be still a lot,’” he said.

7. THE MOVIE BOMBED IN ITS NATIVE AUSTRALIA.

Even though Kent shot the film in Adelaide, Australians didn’t flock to the theaters; it grossed just $258,000 in its native country. “Australians have this [built-in] aversion to seeing Australian films,” Kent told The Cut. “They hardly ever get excited about their own stuff. We only tend to love things once everyone else confirms they’re good … Australian creatives have always had to go overseas to get recognition. I hope one day we can make a film or work of art and Australians can think it’s good regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.”

8. YOU CAN OWN A MISTER BABADOOK BOOK (BUT IT WILL COST YOU). 

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In 2015, Insight Editions published 6200 pop-up books of Mister Babadook. Kent worked with the film’s illustrator, Alexander Juhasz, who created the book for the movie. He and paper engineer Simon Arizpe brought the pages to life for the published version. All copies sold out but you can find some Kent-signed ones on eBay, going for as much as $500.

9. THE BABADOOK IS A GAY ICON.

It started at the end of 2016, when a Tumblr user started a jokey thread about how he thought the Babadook was gay. “It started picking up steam within a few weeks,” Ian, the Tumblr user, told New York Magazine, “because individuals who I presume are heterosexual kind of freaked out over the assertion that a horror movie villain would identify as queer—which I think was the actual humor of the post, as opposed to just the outright statement that the Babadook is gay.” In June, the Babadook became a symbol for Gay Pride month. Images of the character appeared everywhere at this year's Gay Pride Parade in Los Angeles.

10. DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A SEQUEL.

Kent, who owns the rights to The Babadook, told IGN that, despite the original film's popularity, she's not planning on making any sequels. “The reason for that is I will never allow any sequel to be made, because it’s not that kind of film,” she said. “I don’t care how much I’m offered, it’s just not going to happen.”

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NASA Is Posting Hundreds of Retro Flight Research Videos on YouTube
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If you’re interested in taking a tour through NASA history, head over to the YouTube page of the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, in southern California. According to Motherboard, the agency is in the middle of posting hundreds of rare aircraft videos dating back to the 1940s.

In an effort to open more of its archives to the public, NASA plans to upload 500 historic films to YouTube over the next few months. More than 300 videos have been published so far, and they range from footage of a D-558 Skystreak jet being assembled in 1947 to a clip of the first test flight of an inflatable-winged plane in 2001. Other highlights include the Space Shuttle Endeavour's final flight over Los Angeles and a controlled crash of a Boeing 720 jet.

The research footage was available to the public prior to the mass upload, but viewers had to go through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection on the research center’s website to see them. The current catalogue on YouTube is much easier to browse through, with clear playlist categories like supersonic aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. You can get a taste of what to expect from the page in the sample videos below.

[h/t Motherboard]

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