Most of what passes for American history in popular literature is just myth polishing. I have been researching and writing about the Founders for many years, and long ago recognized neither editors nor readers seemed to want to know the truth. Maybe we don’t understand ourselves because we are constantly lying to ourselves. Anyway here is a little truth and clarity for the Fourth.
ERIC HERSCHTHAL – Slate
These new pop histories of the Revolution are oblivious to the war’s global dimensions, as well as the quotidian reality of ordinary colonists, despite their claims to the contrary. They naively indulge the Revolution’s idealistic rhetoric, even if they dutifully note how those words failed to be put into practice. It makes sense; after all, there’s nothing’s less romantic than the complicated, disheartening truths of war-torn societies. The irony is that these new histories all try, rightly, to make the Revolution seem relevant again. Yet paying more attention to the new scholarship would show how much more similar the Revolution was to our own wars now.
Perhaps there’s a lesson we could learn from the Revolution’s losers, the British, for instance. They took on what looked like an easy war abroad to patch over partisan divisions at home, yet nonetheless lost the war because of imperial overreach. Or perhaps we could learn something from the vast majority of ambivalent colonists, the ones unsure whether the war was even worth it. The Revolution scared them, or held false promises. Their experience provides a sobering lesson about the hubris of war, but one we can still thank them for today.