N.Y. Times: What Would George Celebrate?


Ross Rogers, Jr. forwards a New York Times (7/3/04) editorial, "What Would George Celebrate?" by Fred Anderson, from which here is an excerpt: "For George Washington, at least, the Fourth of July seems never to have been as significant a date as the third. Indeed, in a letter Washington wrote on July 20, 1776, as he awaited the British invasion of New York, he made no mention of the independence proclaimed two weeks earlier, but noted only his "grateful remembrance" of "escape" at the battle of Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754. That defeat, in which a French and Indian force wiped out a third of Washington's Virginia Regiment, helped precipitate the 18th century's greatest conflict, the Seven Years' War.

Because France and Britain and their allies fought in North America, the West Indies, Europe, Africa, India and the
Philippines, some have called it the first world war. Today Americans barely remember it, and know it (if they speak of it at all) only as the French and Indian War. In fact this great war was a watershed in North American history. It began when Washington, acting in the name of King George II (and also on behalf of the land-speculating gentry of Virginia), tried to exert military control over the forks of the Ohio River, where Pittsburgh now stands. Because the river represented the main avenue to the heart of the continent, the empire that controlled the forks would in all likelihood determine North America's future.

The French, whose fragmented settlements stretched from the St. Lawrence River to the Mississippi River, understood this only too well. They also understood wilderness warfare much better than Colonel Washington, and had little trouble trapping him and his men in Fort Necessity, a pathetic stockade near what is now Farmington, Pa. At the end of a murderous day, Washington had no choice but to accept the terms of surrender that the enemy commander dictated in the rain-drenched dusk of July 3, 1754. Over the next three years, the French and their Indian allies continued to advance. They made big gains along Anglo-American frontiers - from the Carolinas to Maine -driving settlers back to within 100 miles of the Atlantic.

In 1758, however, the tide began to turn in Britain's favor. The shift did not come without sacrifice: it came only after the heroic mobilization of colonial populations, huge commitments of British military resources, phenomenal amounts of British money spent to subsidize the colonies and determined diplomatic efforts to woo the Indians away from their French allies. But the efforts paid off. Quebec fell in 1759; the following year, Montreal, France's last bastion in North America, surrendered. Fighting continued for two more years in the Caribbean, Europe and the Philippines, producing further triumphs and further expenses. The Treaty of Paris, signed in early 1763, ended France's empire in North America. Britain emerged as master of everything from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.

The French and Indian War had convinced the colonists that they had achieved full partnership in a British empire that stood for liberty and individual rights - especially property rights - under the rule of law. When Parliament
tried to impose order on the colonists between 1763 and 1775, however, it treated them not as partners but as mere
subjects. The colonists' sense of betrayal was palpable not because they understood themselves as Americans at the time, but because they saw themselves as British patriots who had shed their blood to preserve the rights that Parliament now seemed determined to destroy. When Britain responded to their protests with force, it seemed only to make manifesta tyrannical intention to destroy their liberty and expropriate their property.

The 250th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Necessity reminds us that imperial victories can endanger the victor
as much as the vanquished. Success in the Seven Years' War convinced Britain's leaders that their nation possessed the world's greatest military power. From that accurate perception, they drew the fatal inference that they had
nothing to lose by using force against colonists whose genuine affection for British institutions, rights and
liberties had hitherto constituted the empire's strongest bond. In this light, the Revolution can be seen as an unintended and perhaps paradoxical consequence of imperial victory: an empire shattered when leaders, backed by tremendous military might, failed to understand that their only enduring basis of control lay in the consent of the
governed".
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/03/opinion/03ANDE.html?ex=1089966983&ei=1&en=986bb5621b4d0702

RH: This article is important because Americans tend to think that the history of the US began in 1776, to which a contemporary spin has been given. The Revolution was backed at first by a small minority, which grew to perhaps one third (the figure usually given) and then to a majority after Washington's victory. In the July 4 celebrations there is no mention of the Loyalists who were forced to flee to Canada or to England. Many of those who remained were tarred and feathered. Revolt against taxation to pay for war. a cause of the Revolution, was repeated in the Whisky Rebellion, which George Washington suppressed.

Washington and his family were loyal to the crown. Mount Vernon is named after the British admiral under whom, George's brother fought. George himself was a colonel in the British army. He was blamed, perhaps unfairly, for the defeat of General Edward Braddock in 1755 in the war against the French. He later applied three times for a commission in the British army but was turned down, partly because of that and partly because he was "a colonial". This was one of the British mistakes which led to the revolutionary war.

Is Anderson making a sly reference to the war in Iraq, suggesting that our hubris may have consequences similar to those of other victorious armies, be in the Spaniards, the French, the British or the Germans? I have just had a conversation with a highly intelligent colleague who despises Bush. His solution in Iraq is simply for the American troops get out of Iraq right away. He was not interested when I pointed out possible implications. American politics is no polarized that the Iraq issue is often judged simply on the basis of party affiliation. The American Revolution should have taught us that war and peace are more complicated than that.

 

Ronald Hilton -


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