Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I read a review...

...of the book, Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence, by Joseph J. Ellis, in the Times yesterday. I was struck by one word, which I have emphasized, in the following paragraph:

Throughout this book, Mr. Ellis weaves together the political story of how the 13 colonies came together and agreed to secede from the British Empire with the military story of how the British “delivered a series of devastating defeats to an American army of amateurs” on Long Island and Manhattan, but “missed whatever chance existed to end it all.”

And I thought, boy, history really is written by the victors.

Compare that passage with an opinion piece in the Times this morning, "Why the Civil War Still Matters," by Robert Hicks (again, my emphasis):

Even a decade ago, it seemed as if those who dismissed slavery as simply “one of the factors” that led us to dissolve into a blood bath would forever have a voice in any conversation about the war.

In contrast, recent sesquicentennial events have taken pains to more accurately portray the contributions made by blacks to the war, while pro-Southern revisionists have been relegated to the dustbin of history — a reflection of the more inclusive society we have become. As we examine what it means to be America, we can find no better historical register than the memory of the Civil War and how it has morphed over time.

Then again, these changes also imply that the war is less important than it used to be; it drives fewer passionate debates, and maybe — given that one side of those debates usually defended the Confederacy — that’s a good thing.

Now, all I'm saying is imagine if George Washington and his cohorts had failed in their rebellion. Would history treat him as some sort of Benedict Arnold? Conversely, if Robert E. Lee had succeeded at Gettysburg and the South had prevailed in the War, wouldn't he be thought of as a patriot?

Just sayin': The victors really do write the history.

Happy Fourth!

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