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Steven Maffeo - Lecture

On June 23rd from 11:00 am-12:00 pm, Steven Maffeo will provide a lecture on the significant sea battles in the War of 1812 in the Jack Murdock Auditorium at the Naval Undersea Museum.
Mr. Steven Maffeo is a retired Navy Captain who is the Associate Library Director at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has published The Perfect Wreck: Old Ironsides and HMS Java - A Story of 1812 (2011) and authored the USS Constitution timeline for www.ussconstitution.navy.mil, along with other studies on Lord Nelson and Trafalgar. Following Mr. Maffeo's lecture at the museum, there will be a book signing and reception in the lobby.

The interview below addresses topics to be covered in the presentation and also Maffeo's thoughts about the importance of U.S. Naval history to current and future sailors.

Steven Maffeo - Interview

Can you tell us about how the Bicentennial for the War of 1812 is being remembered around the country?

In general, probably not as much as would be nice! I'm afraid that it's very much a forgotten war; not emphasized in schools and not well-remembered even if taught. I also think that the farther west one travels from the Atlantic coast, the less the awareness. There are, however, a considerable number of efforts around the east coast, which makes sense as it was an Atlantic Ocean war, and an east coast war. The government itself is doing some significant promotion and organization of events: From 2012 to 2015, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard will commemorate the Bicentennial of the War and the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner. To facilitate this effort, the Navy has partnered with the International Council of Air Shows, the Navy League, the Naval Historical Foundation, and Operation Sail (OpSail) to create some world-class events. There will be celebrations around the country, with significant events in New York, Baltimore, Norfolk, New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, and Cleveland.

This is a war that is often forgotten or overlooked. What made this conflict so pivotal for our new nation?

That's a great question, and almost controversial with some people. Some might argue that it wasn't pivotal, or at least not in the sense that one might at first think. When all was said and done, it was fought on the one side for some questionable reasons, and on the other as a distraction from "more important" world events. And, when all was said and done, the war ends with virtually no achieved goals for the Americans, and a sense of "thank the Lord this irritating thing is over" on the part of the British. What was, perhaps, pivotal, was less tangible. There were political issues raised and partially resolved internally in the U.S., particularly in regard to the relationships of the states to the federal government, and the relationships between the major political parties. The other aspect, on an international level, is that even though the U.S. did not beat the British, there was a certain amount of international respect garnered for this little, new country, which did boldly stand up to a world power and in so doing displayed a creditable amount of fortitude and proficiency.

What made this conflict pivotal for the Navy?

This was an opportunity for the Navy to show its mettle, and for the most part it did much better than the Army. Due to a number of factors, the Navy won some spectacular battles, in the blue water as well as on the Great Lakes. On a conscious and subconscious level Navymen gained a quantum of pride and confidence, and even if the naval war morphed into a static non-war as an overwhelming blockade of vastly superior numbers virtually terminated activity, that pride and confidence was there to stay. The resulting legends of great activity, predominately from the earlier parts of the war, became part of the Navy's heritage which is certainly still with us.

What will be some of the larger historical contexts addressed in the lecture?

I certainly have in mind laying background and context from political, military, and strategic points of view. I'll particularly focus upon the first year of the war, and show how those events set the stage for the remainder of the conflict.

What is the war's impact on our fledgling navy?

The initial successes of the Navy (Constitution vs. Guerriere, Essex vs. Alert, United States vs. Macedonian, Constitution vs. Java, Hornet vs. Peacock) were huge in terms of the Navy's morale and esprit de corps and by the way, huge in terms of the country's as well. U.S. military activities, during the same period, were a string of defeats and misadventures, so the Navy's successes were crucial beyond any material gains.

Why should the modern sailor know and understand the significance of the War of 1812?

Firstly, I think that every sailor needs to have a reasonable grip on the history of the Navy. Even though the War of 1812 accomplished very little, the role of the Navy was significant and is for the most part, one in which we all can take a good deal of pride. Many traditions and watchwords (such as, "Don't give up the ship!") come from this period, and our official "National Flagship" (the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and still today looking marvelous in Boston Harbor) became forever famous in this war.

What is the best way (in your opinion) to educate new sailors about the Service's rich history?

I think it's fundamental that new sailors in boot camp, as well as new midshipmen in ROTC, OCS, and the Academy, need to early-on have a brief but carefully crafted introduction to naval history. Moreover, I think that there should be even a little more to it: it wouldn't hurt to make sure that U.S. naval history is reasonably grounded in world naval history. A former CNO, Admiral George Anderson, once said that, "The Navy has both a tradition and a future--and we look with pride and confidence in both directions." I think that can be taken a step farther, such that we try to inspire our navy men and women to see that they've entered a proud service and profession that goes back for centuries regardless of nation or culture, and will go forward - perhaps with fleets into space. If we can initially catch a new person's interest in this history, and convince them that they hold a place in a long continuum of important work, I think it will stimulate them to learn more and enhance their pride of service.