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Was the American Revolution Such a Good Idea?


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#1 sierraleone

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Posted 14 May 2017 - 09:24 PM

I first grinned at the title of The New Yorker article, but it was a pretty interesting article.

We Could Have Been Canada;Was the American Revolution Such a Good Idea?
The Revolution is the last bulwark of national myth….

I don't think they said it explicitly but it made me reflect on how when the U.S. declared and fought for its independence perhaps it wasn't just making a new country/State, but a new nation as well (though not overnight).

Country and State are interchangeable and refer to apply to self-governing political entities (lower-case states refers to smaller parts that make up a country). A nation is basically a group of people that share a common identify (composed of shared culture, languages, customs, institutions, religion, and history).
A nation may or may not have sovereignty. Commonly nations don't actually have States (the Kurds, Tibetans). Some nations may technical sovereignty but it is complicated in practice (Native America/First Nation tribes). Some nations have their own State and are called nation-states, where a single nation accounts for most of a State population (Japan). Many states may be considered multi-national States now-a-days, especially with mass migration.

Anyways, as I said, it seems like the U.S. didn't just make itself a new State via violent revolution, but perhaps a new nation as well. Off the top of my head I can't think of any other revolution that had done this. As much as people have been wanting to change their society in various ways, they weren't trying to largely drop their old identifies and create new ones. I figure typically because these nations were in their ancestral land still (whether revolution against oppression within one's nation, or against another nation that were colonizers). But America seems to have formed an sense of identity that has little-to-nothing to do with its British roots (nor other "founding nations"). Nor does it seem to think of itself as a multi-national State (the Nation of immigrants / melting pot sensibility).

My understanding of Latin American history is probably lacking, (took a course, and it appears all forgotten!), but I think it would have been quite different not just because Spanish colonialism was different from the English, as it was from the French, etc, but also because of the much larger portion of the population was bi/multi-ethnic, so was part indigenous. The only similar revolution that created a new nation-state of people not in their ancestral land that I can think of is the Haitian one. Basically, in the short term, a successful slave revolt, so very different from a colony fighting for independence from basically their own nation.

I will probably embarrass myself more if I pontificate further, as I am sure my history is lacking somewhere in humanity's diverse and long history. Though this is assuming I haven't embarrassed myself already, which is never a sure thing ;)


The writer of this article spent 1/2 of their elementary/secondary school in the U.S. and half in Canada, add in some other sources they draws on, they have an interesting perspective on American myth. Here is some of their schooling shared:

Quote

We were taught that the brave Americans hid behind trees to fight the redcoats—though why this made them brave was left unexplained. In Canada, ninth grade disclosed a history of uneasy compromise duality, and the constant search for temporary nonviolent solutions to intractable divides. The world wars, in which Canadians had played a large part, passed by mostly in solemn sadness. (That the Canadians had marched beyond their beach on D Day with aplomb while the Americans struggled on Omaha was never boasted about.)


Here is some of their schooling shared: It is hard to pick apart this lengthly article for quotes, so here is a long one:

Quote

Indeed, that abolitionism burned brighter in Britain than in the independent States, as historians have argued, had at least something to do with America’s triumph: Britain could demonstrate that it was better, more honorable, than its former colonies at a time when such a demonstration was urgently sought. Then, too, the separation of the Southern plantation owners from the West Indian ones weakened a formidable lobbying force within the Empire. Still, if history is not always written by the winners, it shapes itself to the slope of events: had the episode arrived at a different outcome, as it easily might have, the American rebellion could well have come to be seen as the French Revolution often is, if on a far smaller scale—a folly of Enlightenment utopianism unleashing senseless violence.

In confrontations between empire and rebels, though, our hearts are always with the rebels. We take it for granted that rebels are good and empires bad; our favorite mass entertainment depends entirely on the felt familiarity of this simple division. But there is a case to be made that empires can be something other than evil. People mocked the beginning of the “Star Wars” cycle, turning as it did on a trade dispute, but trade disputes are real, and begin wars, and whom would you really rather have running the government when a trade treaty has to be negotiated on a galactic scale: Senator Palpatine or Han Solo?

The authoritarian reformers—the empire, in other words—have something to be said for them; and what is to be said for them is, well, Canada. Our northern neighbor’s relative lack of violence, its peaceful continuity, its ability to allow double and triple identities and to build a country successfully out of two languages and radically different national pasts: all these Canadian virtues are, counterintuitively, far more the legacy of those eighteenth-century authoritarian reformers than of the radical Whigs. This is literally the case; the United Empire Loyalists, as they were called, the “Tories” who fled from the States, did much to make Canada. More than that, Canada is the model liberal country because it did not have an American-style revolution, accepting instead the reformers’ values of a strong centralized, if symbolic, monarchy (the Queen is still there, aging, on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill); a largely faceless political class; a cautiously parliamentary tradition; a professionalized and noncharismatic military; a governing élite—an establishment.

The Canadian experience was not free of sin—as the indefensible treatment of the First Nations demonstrates—and was, as well, not free of the “colonial cringe” that bedevils so many countries overattached to the motherland. (London and Paris, in this view, meant too much for too long to too many ambitious Canadians.) Still, there is something to be said, however small, for government by an efficient elected élite devoted to compromise. The logic of Whig radicalism, in whatever form it takes, always allows charismatic figures undue play; there’s a reason that the big Whigs remain known today while the authoritarian reformers mostly sink into specialists’ memories of committees and cabinets.

Edited by sierraleone, 14 May 2017 - 09:51 PM.

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#2 yadda yadda

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Posted 14 May 2017 - 09:32 PM

I think it was. Look at the way it has played out. I can go down to McDonalds right now and get a large iced tea for only a buck. If we'd let old King George keep taxing the tea who knows what it might cost? All in all, a good decision.

#3 sierraleone

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Posted 14 May 2017 - 09:49 PM

^ *laughs* I think I will deal with expensive tea (iced or not) over unaffordable or inaccessible health care, but that is just me ;)
Besides, I don't think my tea is exorbitant, so both my tea and my health care is affordable and accessible.
And if you haven't come across this information from my previous posts yet, I am a Canuck :)

ETA: Or these could be imperialist lies! :D

Edited by sierraleone, 14 May 2017 - 09:53 PM.

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#4 yadda yadda

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Posted 14 May 2017 - 10:05 PM

Well, it's apparent that one can have affordable accessible healthcare or one can have tea. We went the healthcare route back in '09-'10, and a lot of people liked that. Then the Tea Party activists decided that providing affordable health care was an atrocious government overreach and did their utmost to get rid of it. I guess the bottom line moral is you can have tea, but not health care. There's no room for both. So if I've got to die from some preventable disease or infection, at least I should be refreshed and my thirst quenched in the meantime.

#5 Elara

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 04:22 PM

Any time one looks at the past, it is easy to see possibilities or what ifs. For instance, possibly there would have been no slaves in the US, if the Revolution happened in the 1600's (the first Africans brought by a Dutch Man of War, were indentured servants). Or, there may have still been African slaves since they were still being taken from Africa by ships from England.

Saying that he was taught that the Americans were brave by hiding behind trees, seems like it is leaving a lot out. Perhaps he thought bravery was had by being the first ones to be shot, while they were forced to stand properly in formation? I don't see sacrificing men, as looking any better, but I am crazy that way.
Not to mention, and admittedly I don't know, but when Canadian soldiers of modern times go into battle, do they simply stand out in the open to be shot? Or do they "stand behind trees" (oka: shelter from being shot)?

I do have to chuckle when I read statements like this:

Quote

That the Canadians had marched beyond their beach on D Day with aplomb while the Americans struggled on Omaha was never boasted about.

Yet, I read comments such as that quite often. A backhanded boast that Canadians don't boast, is still a boast. Proving that we are all the same.

Brian Stauffer has an interesting take on history, but it does seem a bit slanted in Canada's favor (barely touching on the First Nations, for instance). As he points out, history is written, or influenced, by the winners. In this case, he very obviously prefers Canada, and that is fine. I am not so thrilled with the US all the time (barely, at the moment), but I prefer to live here, and if I took the time, I could point out the good that is here.

Limited time, so I didn't get through the entire article, yet. Maybe I will change my opinion when I get to read it all.
And, this is not me putting down Canadians. I think they are good people. :nod:
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#6 sierraleone

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 05:17 PM

View PostElara, on 15 May 2017 - 04:22 PM, said:

Saying that he was taught that the Americans were brave by hiding behind trees, seems like it is leaving a lot out. Perhaps he thought bravery was had by being the first ones to be shot, while they were forced to stand properly in formation? I don't see sacrificing men, as looking any better, but I am crazy that way.
Not to mention, and admittedly I don't know, but when Canadian soldiers of modern times go into battle, do they simply stand out in the open to be shot? Or do they "stand behind trees" (oka: shelter from being shot)?

I think it he was suggesting was more about romanticizing violent conflicts (and their heroes) over a much more nuanced view of history that emphasized difficult compromises among and between different people (or nations) to avoid unnecessary conflicts. Important work that rarely gets noticed, acknowledged, or recognized, as most of the work is behind the scenes. And that an uneasy co-existence may not be justification for revolution. Though I am sure it is a matter of degrees.

I suppose that is another way to look at it, which is touched on elsewhere a bit in the Article, was the Revolutionary War *necessary*. They say in there that few argue WW2 was necessary, but was the Revolutionary War necessary? I suppose one could posit an alternative history where Great Britain clung on to their colonies for much longer since if it won the Revolutionary War, and delayed their actual democracy.

Quote

I do have to chuckle when I read statements like this:

Quote

That the Canadians had marched beyond their beach on D Day with aplomb while the Americans struggled on Omaha was never boasted about.

Yet, I read comments such as that quite often. A backhanded boast that Canadians don't boast, is still a boast. Proving that we are all the same.

I haven't, but I'll trust that you are relaying your experience honestly.

I am not sure I would say all humans have similarities mean that we are all the same. Though I doubt you mean the same to mean to mean duplicates ;)

How does one decide what is a boast and a matter-of-fact observation? Would it depend on whether someone felt they were being treated unfairly? They could hardly be objective (the other person neither). I don't know if there is an objective sure-fire way to put things not the neutral observation - biased evaluation - constructive criticism - unfair criticism - condemnation spectrum (or whatever labels one wants to put in there).

Edited by sierraleone, 15 May 2017 - 05:37 PM.

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#7 sierraleone

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 05:31 PM

Here's another quote from the article, one which touches upon ideas I mean in my original post in this thread.

Quote

This account cuts against the American specificity of the Revolution—the sense that it was a rebellion against a king and a distant country. No one at the time, du Rivage suggests, saw what was happening as pitting a distinct “American” nation against an alien British one. Participants largely saw the conflict in terms of two parties fighting for dominance in the English-speaking world.

So it seems, over time, people started to identify Americans as a different nation or people, and had to make the Revolution into not just the creation of a country, but the creation-myth of a people, of a nation. (and I am not knocking myths, all peoples have creation-myths). I don't know that other revolutions have been used that way, as I said in my original post. It feels like other revolutions were more often considered a continuation of the same people(s) that made up the population affected by the revolution, even as they were agitating for change.

The Wikipedia page on the Pledge of Allegiance seems to support that too. Not so much the revolution part, but the promoting of patriotism to ensure Americans saw themselves as a separate people to ensure loyalty to their new country. It is interesting how between the two different early versions of the Pledge of Allegiance, existing in parallel a while, one mentioned country, and one mentioned nation, and nation won out.

Quote

We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!

Quote

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The writer of the second one had considered incorporating the French revolution slogan, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, but thought the last two would not fly due to racism and sexism in the country (and the fledgling movements for the rights of people who were black and/or women). The "under god" got added later.

Edited by sierraleone, 15 May 2017 - 06:38 PM.

Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#8 gsmonks

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 06:39 PM

If the US hadn't pried itself away from England, it would probably have had a history more resembling that of South Africa. Been there during apartheid (where I met my ex-wife and her family), seen that. No thanks.
Capitalism is a pyramid scheme run by the 1%.

#9 sierraleone

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 06:51 PM

View Postgsmonks, on 15 May 2017 - 06:39 PM, said:

If the US hadn't pried itself away from England, it would probably have had a history more resembling that of South Africa. Been there during apartheid (where I met my ex-wife and her family), seen that. No thanks.

I remember reading one time that, in recent history (say the last 50 years, but during the Apartheid era), the economic inequality was greater between African Americans and European Americans, than between black South Africans and white South Africans. I am sure there were a number of factors contributing to it, but it is an interesting fact none the less (though perhaps it is a factoid, my memory and/or sources may not be correct).
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#10 gsmonks

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 10:52 PM

My ex-wife's family was living the good life in an estate supplied to them by Kilborn, mining division. My father-in-law was a chemical engineer. I asked him one time where the garden boy lived. His reply? "In the garden shed with the tools." They had a house boy and servants. I have no idea where they lived, but it wasn't in the house. The house in question was huge, two-storey, shaped like a square-cornered "U" with a swimming pool in the middle, with a red-tile roof. Looked like a Roman villa.

I saw plenty of blacks living in squalor in the townships who were fighting to get a job, any job, so that they could support their families. All the whites I met were living in houses, had jobs, a fairly high standard of living.

Inequality was the main reason for the uprising that got rid of apartheid.
Capitalism is a pyramid scheme run by the 1%.


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