THE MYTHOLOGY OF AMERICA FOR AMERICANS – Marilyn Armstrong

Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  — slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

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American history is no different. It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens. Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity.

Getting the people excited enough to take up arms is hard work.

All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want a war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons:

      • Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships
      • We were ill-equipped to fight a war
      • We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns
      • Our population was too small to sustain an army
      • We had no factories, mills or shipyards
      • We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain
      • We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. First of all, there was no America to be part of … and secondly, we wanted to be British. We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections as equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” (remember that?) didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on which taxes we paid. And how much.

We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was not at issue. Everyone pays taxes. We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out okay.

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical things:

      • British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively
      • French ships and European mercenaries.

Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had battleships with guns and trained seamen to man them.

We didn’t.

Near home, in a ritzy Boston suburb.

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not overly eager to slaughter people they considered fellow Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they could have … and if they had? Who knows how it would have worked out?

Did we really win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

I side with those who think that the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom a short time before they had been friends and with whom they hoped to be friends again. Many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, not unlike a civil war.

Many British citizens sympathized with the colonists including a goodly percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. So they did as they were ordered but without enthusiasm.

Then there was a huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths and we are no exception. But as grown-ups, we can apply a bit of healthy skepticism, read a couple of books. Learn there’s more to the story than the stuff we learned when we were eight. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary war known as “The War of 1812.” Part two of the Revolution which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

This is why our current government is more than a mere miscalculation, a bad election. It’s not something we’ll “pull out of” after which everything will go back to normal. I’m not sure we have a normal to go back to.

It’s not only how the evil underbelly of America has been exposed for all to see. It’s also that the planet is under attack. Americans — and everyone else — need to fix it if we want to continue to live here.

We need to be very careful about how we move “forward.” We have to tread carefully. We have to work with our allies and our non-allies because everyone needs to put their shoulders to the wheel to keep our world livable.

We used to have the good fortune to live in a nation of laws but I’m not sure this is a nation of laws anymore. I’m not sure what we are. I’m not sure what the world is or whether there will be a world in another 100 years. Or for that matter, in another thirty.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom. And our current government is the enemy of education, learning, and truth.



Categories: American history, Education, Government, History, Marilyn Armstrong, Politics

Tags: , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Marilyn, this is such a fine piece of historiography. You should send it to the publishers of public school textbooks. You might want to change a word or two, but, hey, it’s THAT good.

    Like

    • Unfortunately, public schools aren’t particularly interested in “real” history. They like mythology. They WANT mythology. Their entire curriculum is built on “good guys” and “bad guys,” heroes and evil-doers. I wanted to “get into” the textbook production thing, but they are interested more in the vocabulary (you wouldn’t want a child to learn a word that isn’t on “the list of official words for the grade”) than the facts. It is very difficult to break into the field. A very small group of people control textbook production AND purchasing them. That is also why textbooks are so absurdly expensive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A former colleague objected to the word ‘sated’ in the draft of the Prayer of Confession to be used the following Sunday. “They don’t know that word,” objected the colleague. My response was, might I say, less than pastoral” “They will now!”

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  2. It’s interesting to speculate on what might have happened if England had a more rational monarch than George III. I have read a little about him and of course, seen the film “The Madness of King George”. As a child in school, I was taught that he was mad but the truth is much more complicated than that. It’s no wonder that a man who had so much physical and mental pain made bad decisions. I guess it’s possible that he may have acted in the same manner if he had been well, the colonists were asking for representation that the aristocracy was not yet willing to give many Englishmen living in England. It would have been a difficult war and as you say a lot like a civil war in some ways because of family ties. So many young Englishmen set off to try their luck in the colonies how could they not feel it was like taking arms against their own family.

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    • He was kind of nutty, but mostly, he was very old-fashioned, stuck in his version of Truth and was determined to make the future be JUST like the past. Not unlike modern politicians.

      And, of course, most of those young British recruits DID have family in the colonies — U.S. and Canada — and they did not want to fight. George never even considered that a nation that doesn’t want war won’t fight like a country that feels it is in real danger.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    Like

    • At this point, it looks like the whole world. It’s all the lying, you know? Lying didn’t start with Trump. They’ve ALL been lying about what happened in which wars around the globe. It’s just that some liars (Charles DeGaulle, for a good start on the group) are more believable. Trump is such a blatant liar, no one believes him. If today, he decided to tell the whole truth and nothing but, I’d still doubt it.

      I own one amazing book (Post-War – (Dr.) Tony Judt – UK, but worked most of his life at NYU) which sets it all out amazingly well. Available paper and audio — and it is a world-changer. Was for me. It’s long, but it is mesmerizing. Not light reading, but he deals with not just the war, but culture, music, art — literally everything — and it isn’t just a timeline. It’s a lot more and different than that.

      The book changed my outlook on modern history. His way of looking at World War II why it occurred and why, whether Hitler knew it or not, it worked. They got rid of pretty much all European Jewry. AND a lot more, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow. Lots of work in this one, Marilyn. Well done.

    Like

    • I really did have to work on this one. I started working on it just about when Garry was going to bed … and it was getting close to dawn when I finally realized I was done. Why do I always do this stuff in the middle of the night?

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a good start on the real history of your country.
        Leslie

        Like

        • At some point, anyone who is really interested in history has to start tweezing apart the truth from what really happened. That’s not easy. ALL high-level politicians lie. They lie to protect the honor of those who died, or those who lived. The lie to protect themselves, their friends, the nation’s “official” heroes and heroines. They lie because they believe people are better off not knowing the truth and this is not only true in the U.S. It is equally true in every European country, Australia, most of Africa and Asia. THEY ALL LIE. Some are more believable than others because some of the liars mix truth with the lies, making it even harder to figure out which is which. But don’t believe what “they” tell you. Find out for yourself.

          Liked by 1 person

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