Vietnam - The Second War the United States Ever Lost
It is a commonly accepted truth that the Vietnam War was the first war the United States ever lost. Every book on Vietnam, even those written by professional military men who have attended the War College and other institutions of higher learning, says that Vietnam was the first war America ever lost. This very idea was one of the major causes of the continuation of that conflict. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who once was a history teacher, was quoted as saying, "I'm not going to be the first president to lose a war," when advisers suggested that he pull the troops out.
But Vietnam was the second war the United States ever lost (if you don't count the southern states during the Civil War). The War of 1812 was the first loss. During the War of 1812, the British enemy attacked Washington and burned the White House, forcing the first family to flee. Does that sound like victory, attacking the nation's capital and burning the White House to the ground? Americans felt the Vietnam war was lost when enemy troops invaded our Saigon embasssy for a few hours during the Tet Offensive in January 1968. How do you think they felt when the White House was burned and the President was on the run?
Except for a few surprising naval victories in the beginning of the war, the United States' military record was an unbroken string of defeats until the Battle of New Orleans, which was actually fought after the peace treaty of Ghent had been signed.
The War of 1812 was popular in the west and south. The west wanted to conquer Canada and the south wanted to take Florida from Britain's Spanish ally. But the north-east was vehemently against the war. The British blockade strangled New England. Farmers in New York and Vermont continued to sell food and cattle to the enemy troops in Canada. Not only did New England continue trading with the enemy in Canada all through the war, but at one point a Convention was called in Hartford, Connecticut which many thought was a prelude to New England seceding from the United States.
The British had captured Detroit and occupied a large portion of Maine. The United States was near bankruptcy, while the end of the Napoleonic wars in Europe meant that the British could send their experienced troops to fight in America.
The War of 1812 is remembered today only because the Star Spangled Banner was written during that conflict. James Madison, who was president during the War of 1812, is known primarily for his work on the United States Constitution. No historian considers Madison a great war president, along the lines of Lincoln, Wilson, or Roosevelt.
Madison's Secretary of State, James Monroe, who became one of only 12 two term presidents in United States history, has not even been honored with a paperback biography available in local bookstores. James Monroe was, in addition, a hero in the battle of Trenton during the War for Independence. Why is James Monroe rated so poorly by historians and scholars, when he is the father of the Monroe Doctrine which has successfully guided United States foreign policy in the western hemisphere for over a century and a half? It is because the War of 1812 was an aggressive war, started by the United States primarily to conquer Canada with impressment of sailors as a causus belli, and is best forgotten.
Psephology, specifically the determination of the greatest presidents, led to the discovery of the War of 1812 being the first war the United States ever lost. Clearly, one of the major causes of the Vietnam tragedy was ignorance of American history. An accurate understanding of history is essential for rational policy making in the present and future. Nations that think they have never lost a war can easily be forgiven the error of thinking that because it always has won in the past, therefore it will always win in the future.
Even though the War of 1812 and the Vietnam War were separated by 150 years, they are united by the fact that the famous Massachusetts merchant and banking families of Cabot and Lodge were intimately connected with both disasters.