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How to Defeat America – A British view


In researching “Forgotten Adventures of Dolley Madison” I noticed that every book covering the burning of Washington City  and the invasion of New Orleans had many references to a book written by the Chaplain General of the British Army (Rev. G. R. Gleig) about his adventures as a Lieutenant with the British Infantry.   The very last section contains his advice on defeating America should the British fight us again, and is presented below.

My thoughts . . .

1. Although Gleig was probably an Anglican chaplain, he sounds like an Iranian mullah issuing a fatwa.

2. Gleig did not understand the sluggishness of the US “democratical Government” in responding to the wishes of the people. Then or now.

3. The Nazi Germans may have followed Gleig’s advice in trying to subdue “democratical” Great Britain with the V-1 and V-2 missile attacks during World War 2.   It didn’t work.

Neil Garra

Excerpt from:
The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans 1814-1815
by Rev. G. R. Gleig, M.A., Chaplain-General to the forces, 1879

We have long been habituated to despise the Americans as an enemy unworthy of serious regard. To this alone it is to be attributed that frigates half manned were sent out to cope with ships capable of containing them within their hulls; and to this also the trifling handfuls of troops dispatched to conduct the war by land. Instead of fifteen hundred, had ten thousand men sailed from the Garonne under General Ross, how differently might he have acted! There would have been then no necessity for a reembarkation after the capture of Washington, and consequently no time given for the defence of Baltimore; but, marching across the country, he might have done to the one city what he did to the other. And it is thus only that a war with America can be successfully carried on.

To penetrate up the country amidst pathless forests and boundless deserts, and to aim at permanent conquest, is out of the question.  America must be assaulted only on her coasts. Her harbours destroyed, her shipping burned, and her seaport towns laid waste, are the only evils which she has reason to dread; and were a sufficient force embarked with these orders, no American war would be of long continuance.  A melancholy experience has now taught us that such a war must not be entered into, unless it be conducted with spirit; and there is no conducting it with spirit, except with a sufficient numerical force.

To the plan proposed of making desert the whole line of coast, it may be objected, that by so doing we should distress individuals, and not the Government.  But they who offer this objection, forget the nature both of the people whose cause they plead, and of the Government under which they live.  In a democratical Government, the voice of the people must at all times prevail. The members of the House of Representatives are the very persons who, from such proceedings, would suffer most severely, and we all know how far private suffering goes to influence a man’s public opinions.

Besides, the principle upon which the advocates for the sacredness of private property proceed, is erroneous. Every one will allow that, in absolute monarchies, where war is more properly the pastime of kings than the desire of subjects, non-combatants ought to be dealt with as humanely as possible. Not so, how ever, in States governed by popular assemblies.

By compelling the constituents to experience the real hardships and miseries of warfare, you will compel the representatives to a vote of peace; and surely that line of conduct is, upon the whole, most humane, which puts the speediest period to the cruelties of war.

There are few men who would not rather endure a raging fever for three days, than a slow and lingering disease for three months.  So it is with a democracy at war.

Burn their houses, plunder their property, block up their harbours, and destroy their shipping in a few places; and before you have time to proceed to the rest, you will be stopped by entreaties for peace. Whereas, if you do no mischief that can be avoided, if you only fight their fleets and armies wherever you meet them, and suffer the inhabitants to live in undisturbed tranquillity, they will continue their hostilities till they have worn out the means of one party, and greatly weakened those of both.

Should another war break out between Great Britain and America, this is the course to be adopted by the former.