whitehouse burnt

An open letter to the British.

Dear Great Britain:

Let me preface this letter by saying that I love your country. I really do. London’s an awesome place–the pubs are great, the sights are great, you gave us Saxon, Iron Maiden and Lemmy Kilmister, and you’re a really fun place to hang out. I have some great British friends. I hope to be back there soon. But hey, I think we’ve got a little bit of unfinished business.

One hundred and ninety-nine years ago today, on August 24, 1814, you sent a cadre of troops under the command of Rear Admiral George Cockburn sailing up the Potomac, where you ravaged the city of Washington, D.C., burnt down our Capitol Building and even torched the White House. You missed our President, James Madison (at four foot nine, he was easy to miss), but his wife, Dolley, barely escaped with a portrait of George Washington under her arm. It is said that your troops conducted a mock session of Congress in which you voted to torch the place in mockery of our democratic institutions, which admittedly were pretty radical in 1814. It’s not recorded how many Americans were killed in this action, but there were probably a few.

Look, I’m not really that pissed about it. I mean, we were at war, and it is true that we, the United States, declared war on you in 1812, for a number of complex reasons–chief among them you kept kidnapping our sailors and impressing them into the British Navy. Now, that’s not very sporting, is it? I admit, the War of 1812 was generally a bad idea. We really wanted Canada, and we wanted to prove you couldn’t push us around. I understand you were still pretty sore for losing the Revolutionary War, and even though you were distracted with Napoleon at the time, you were game for a rematch.

But burning down the White House? Was that really necessary? You don’t think that was just a little bit of overkill?

capitol burnt

The Capitol building, post-1814. Okay, I admit, I can’t blame them for wanting to burn down Congress.

I would say that in the years following 1814 we Americans have been remarkably charitable toward you lot. Technically the war was a draw, so we agreed to just call it even (the Battle of New Orleans notwithstanding). And all those ships and planes we “Lend-Leased” you in 1940 to fight Hitler–you have to admit that was a pretty sweet deal. I won’t deny that you’ve been good to us. We’ve had that base of ours up in Lakenheath for how many years now? And those other favors you constantly do us–seriously, thanks. You Brits are all right.

But burning down our freaking capital??!?!? Really? After we were already losing the war? You couldn’t just occupy Washington for a few days, declare victory and then be on your merry way?

Okay, I’m not one to hold a grudge. I mean, it was 199 years ago, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. How about this? The next time I’m in London, maybe a couple of your nice chaps could spot me a beer and say, “Here, mate, this one’s for the White House.” That’s all it would take. Then I’ll feel like our business is completely settled.

So how’s about it? Is it a deal?