Will Obama visit start a second Pig War?

The president's visit to Britain has sparked a new Oregon controversy.
The president's visit to Britain has sparked a new Oregon controversy.

The Oregonian's Katy Muldoon reports that the Brits are miffed at American briefing papers describing the United Kingdom as "slightly smaller than Oregon." Which, of course, is true land-wise. The CIA's researchers, Muldoon says, frequently compare foreign counties to the size of states to give Americans a quick sense of scale. Oregon is just over 98,000 square miles; the UK is a tad over 93,000. Note also that we, rather quaintly and rightly, still measure in miles, not meters.

But such a thumbnail sketch apparently rubs some Brits raw, still sore over losing the last vestiges of the Oregon Territory to the United States in the aftermath of the 1859 conflict known as the Pig War, a border dispute that came about when an American settler on San Juan Island shot a rather fine pig belonging to an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company. That shot brought American troops and British warships to the brink of war. The British had hoped originally to lay claim to the land north of the Columbia River, but settlement and an 1846 treaty pushed British territory north of the 49th parallel. The Pig War was over the final section of boundary through the San Juans.

Peace, more or less, has reigned since. There's even a Peace Arch in Blaine to commemorate the fact that there are no hard feelings, but apparently, there still are a few. Muldoon dug into the comments thread on the UK-Oregon comparison on the Daily Telegraph Website and found this from commenter Nick R: "Would that be the Oregon basically grabbed from the British in 1846 by a bunch of sabre-rattling Yanks during their big 'Land Grab' known as Manifest Destiny?"

The answer to that is, um, yes.

Revised briefing book to read: "The United Kingdom is a country slightly smaller than Oregon but with a very long memory."


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.