I know this has been debated several times on this board, but was having an interesting discussion with a friend of mine who is a military historian, and thought I’d bring the discussion here to see what 'dopers think.
According to my friend, deciding who win’s or loses a war isn’t about how many battles were fought and won, nor how many casualties were inflicted, but about whether or not the goals of the conflict for the various nations involved were fulfilled. My friend asserts that the British war aims were unfulfilled, while the US’s war aims were actually fulfilled before the conflict even started, which means that the US ‘won’ the war.
The discussion went something like this: The British war aims were, A) To contain the US, to prevent it’s further expansion and (optionally) B) to bring the US back into the fold of British direct domination.
The US’s war aims were, A) To have the British stop supporting Native American tribes who were in conflict with the US, B) to stop the British from impressing US sailors, and C) to respect the US’s rights to free trade. Optionally, and as an after thought by the war hawks in Congress, the US wanted to hurt the British in Canada and possibly acquire some of the British possessions in Canada or even bring some or all of Canada into the US sphere of influence or even as part of the union.
Given the above, my friend asserts that the US clearly fulfilled it’s own war aims (the optional invasion of Canada was not, according to my friend, a central war aim of the US, but more an afterthought and ‘just something the US could do at the time to strike at the Brits’) even before the conflict started, since the British had already conceded most of them before the war began. The British did not fulfill any of it’s own war aims, despite the fact that they managed to burn the Capital and succeeded in a series of early battlefield victories in Canada during the debacle of an invasion by the US early on. The critical victories that impacted the war aims of the two countries, according to my friend, were in Baltimore and New Orleans, where the British were soundly defeated…and where those defeats directly impacted the Brit’s aims of containing the US and possibly forcing major concessions that would either bring us back into their direct sphere of influence or at the minimum directly contain any future expansion of the US either southward or westward, relegating us to a being a small sea board nation in the original 13 colony area.
Myself, I was arguing against the above (myself, I called it a draw or a small British victory), but I admit my friend knows a lot more about this stuff than I do (most of my knowledge on this subject comes from a college history course and the fictional novel 1812), and I have to admit that the argument is compelling, from my non-historian perspective.