July 4, 2017

AND WE HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE TO BE FIGHTING PEOPLE WITH SHARED IDEALS:

America's shockingly violent birth (George F. Will, June 30, 2017, Washington Post)

Some American history museums belabor visitors with this message: You shall know the truth and it shall make you feel ashamed of, but oh-so-superior to, your wretched ancestors. The new Museum of the American Revolution is better than that. Located near Independence Hall, it celebrates the luminous ideas affirmed there 241 Julys ago, but it does not flinch from this fact: The war that began at Lexington and Concord 14 months before the Declaration of Independence was America's first civil war. And it had all the messiness and nastiness that always accompany protracted fratricide. [...]

 The war caused "proportionately more" deaths -- from battle, captivity and disease -- than any war other than that of 1861-1865. The perhaps 37,000 deaths were about five times more per capita than America lost in World War II. Sixty thousand loyalists became refugees. "The dislocated proportion of the American population exceeded that of the French in their revolution," Alan Taylor tells us in "American Revolutions: A Continental History." The economic decline "lasted for 15 years in a crisis unmatched until the Great Depression."

After the second civil war, William Tecumseh Sherman declared that "war is hell." Hoock demonstrates that this was true even when battle casualties (only 23 patriots died at Yorktown) were small by modern standards. He is, however, mistaken in suggesting that he is uniquely sensitive to our founding mayhem. Consider two recent books that examine the anarchic violence on both sides.

Nathaniel Philbrick's "Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution" (2013) recounts a patriot mob's long torture, in January 1774, of loyalist John Malcom, a Boston customs officer, who was tarred and feathered: The crowd dislocated his arm while tearing off his clothes, then daubed his skin with steaming tar that parboiled his flesh. Paraded for many hours through Boston's two feet of snow, he was beaten, whipped and finally dumped "like a log" at his home, where "his tarred flesh started to peel off in 'steaks.' "

Taylor's "American Revolutions " (2016) hammers home the war's human costs. A Connecticut critic of the Continental Congress was tarred, carried to a sty and covered with hog's dung, some of which was forced down his throat. Connecticut loyalists were imprisoned in a copper mine, in darkness 120 feet underground. Georgia patriots knocked a loyalist unconscious, "tied him to a tree, tarred his legs, and set them on fire" and then partially scalped him. Some courts ordered loyalists "branded on the face or cut off their ears" to make them recognizable.

It's pretty hilarious when folks whinge that the establishment of democracies in the Middle East seems too difficult or too bloody. If the End of History was easy there would have been no world wars after 1776.

Posted by at July 4, 2017 7:58 AM

  

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