British humor and politeness battled for supremacy online this Sunday, the 200th anniversary of one of the signature events of the War of 1812. But in this social media battle, unlike the War of 1812 itself, there was a clear loser: The funny side blinked.
It's been exactly 200 years since the British burned down the White House. It has now been less than 24 hours since the British Embassy in Washington tweeted a joke about it.
Tweeting an image of a cake adorned with British and American flags, the Embassy staff joked yesterday that it was "commemorating" the destruction of the White House two centuries ago — but it was “only sparklers this time!”
Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time! pic.twitter.com/QIDBQTBmmL
— British Embassy (@UKinUSA) August 24, 2014
Apparently, diplomats missed the fact that a cake celebrating the destruction of a U.S. national symbol might be viewed by some as a bit -- well, undiplomatic. Some 4,000 retweets later, it became clear: 200 years after the fact, the stateside reaction to the White House blaze anniversary may have cooled down a bit -- but some Americans' feelings about the fire tweet still run hot.
Good to know the US isn't the only country with a mentally deficient diplomatic corps that doesn't know how to tweet. @UKinUSA
— Film Ladd (@FilmLadd) August 24, 2014
Marie Harf, a spokesman for the State Department, also weighed in on Cakegate. Her reaction: #itsComplicated:
Hours later, in a Monday morning tweet, the British Embassy dialed down the snark and apologized:
And so the social media dustup — much like the War of 1812 itself — ended with more or less no change to the status quo.
@ukinusa FYI it was your best tweet ever
— Rodolfo Rosini (@rodolfor) August 25, 2014
This isn't the first time the British government has issued a War of 1812-related apology. In his 2003 speech to Congress, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized for the British attempt two centuries before to burn down the Library of Congress. "I know this is kind of late, but sorry," he said.