It just goes to show that nobody wins a trade war.

We should remember this in 2012, as we approach Election Day. In the months ahead, expect to hear a lot of tough talk from both Democrats and Republicans, especially on trade with China. There will be calls for limiting imports, demands for federal contractors to “buy American,” and so on.

It’s hard to believe these policies would spark a hot war with China, but the world is full of surprises. The first foreign-policy crisis of George W. Bush’s presidency involved a mid-air collision between a naval intelligence aircraft and a Chinese jet, forcing the American crew to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island, where they were detained.

A year from now, a new president could face a similar confrontation, perhaps involving a political or military crisis over oil-drilling rights in the South China Sea. It’s impossible to plan for every possibility–but it’s also essential to avoid creating the conditions that can lead to a fiasco.

This is what American leaders failed to do in the run up to the War of 1812.

In fairness, the United States had a few proud moments in the struggle. Oliver Hazard Perry won the Battle of Lake Erie. Andrew Jackson prevailed at New Orleans. And after watching the botched British bombardment of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key penned our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Yet if we’re going to learn anything from history (and isn’t that the point of studying it?), then we should recognize what may be the most important lesson for the War of 1812’s bicentennial.

We should make trade, not war.

Reg Clause owns a 4th generation family farm near his home in Jefferson, Iowa.  His next generation grows corn, soybeans and cattle and the 6th generation is there too.  Reg volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology.