I’m not sure why colonial Americans thought they could succeed at blowing off the British to make their own country or countries, but that they needed to do something was obvious to a lot of people during the middle of the 18th century. In the end, it would turn out that the American Revolution was a little like a lot of other things that have happened in history (and prehistory): Very unlikely to have come out the way it did, because at so many junctures something quirky or unlikely happened, and shaped the course of events significantly. It might have been inevitable that the British living in the Americas would try out the whole Revolution thing, but once it got going there was no reason to expect it to work, and in fact it failed badly at many points. Many of the most important successes that would eventually be strung together in the post-hoc narrative we now tell as our country’s origin story were actually very lucky breaks.
For example, the British had under-staffed a fort in New York, the Hessians in Trenton were hungover and unprepared for a sneak attack, and a good number of the British forces directed to what would become the Battle of Saratoga never arrived for utterly stupid reasons. These unplanned circumstances led to the first substantive victory of the war in Boston, a turning point for Washington’s army that would allow the war to continue after a series of defeats, and of course, a Colonial victory in most important battle of this or almost any historically known war.
These details are important.
It would appear that Sarah Palin thinks differently. You’ve seen the YouTube video of her explaining that Paul Revere’s ride was all about warning the British that the Americans would have none of their shenanigans. You’ve probably read about how she later defended this mistake, insisting that she was not wrong about American History. Paul Revere was shouting his message to the British, who were the oppressors of the Americans, to warn them off, according to her.
When I saw the video of her butchering the facts about what happened in Boston, Cambridge, Lexington and Concord and other communities in April of 1775, and I saw her empty eyes, windows to a vacuous skull, and heard her empty pallid words and non-meaningful utterances modulated on her fake good-ol’-girl accent, I became rather enraged.
You see, most Americans know something about the Revolution, and to the extent that they don’t know stuff, most Americans are content to live with a vague outline in mind, to know that there are a few places, names, events, that signify and that others know the story well and can fill the rest of us in when necessary. Valley Forge, Boston Tea Party, “One if by land, two if by sea” (even if you don’t know which it turned out to be), The Green Mountain Boys, Yorktown … But some Americans are special. Quite a few of them. Me for instance. And my friend Leslie who is a college teacher re-orienting her American History class to “… focus on American history and historical memory, with an emphasis on the political uses of history … Particularly fertile ground in the midst of the rise of the tea party and the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.”
Leslie has a special knowledge because she’s a history professor. I could claim specialness because I’ve actually done a fair amount of archaeology of actual Revolutionary War sites. But I’d rather claim specialness simply because I lived there. I lived in more than one domicile a short walk from Paul Revere’s route. When friends and relatives came to visit, I’d be a tour guide. I’d show them where the shot was fired and heard around the world, I’d show them the graves of some of the dead from that day, the reconstructed bridge across which colonial and brit gazed moments before the start of that particular battle. I’d show them where the British burned that barn, and where the Colonists mounted (some time later) the cannon stolen from upstate New York to drive the British out of Boston. I’d show them Paul Revere’s house and this old church in the North End famous for being the site of an 18th century attempt at human flight, which did not go too well. Oh, and that’s where they hung the lanterns to signal Revere. The British intended, it seems, to travel “by sea” to Charlestown which was in those days much farther from Boston than it is now (owing to landfill and bridges) and then on to the outlying regions. Revere and about 40 others spread across the countryside whispering “The Regulars are coming out” or words to that effect.
Whispering. To their allies.
Sarah Palin thinks that Revere rode across the countryside shouting “The British are Coming” … which would have been funny because most of the people living there were British (as almost all the immigrants calling themselves Americans were at the time in Massachusetts). Revere, who was British, did not shout. He did not ring bells. For every few potential rebels in the colonial countryside there was certainly a Tory, a loyalist, who would have turned him in or tried to stop him. Paul Revere was trying desperately to NOT “warn the British” of anything. The whole operation was a secret, and the secrecy was the key to its success. When Revere was captured by the British and they wanted to know what was going on, he lied to them in order to trick them into moving their soldiers to where the colonists wanted them to be. Even in their hands, he did not warn them. Even in their hands he did not ring any bells. Sarah Palin isn’t even a little wrong. She’s totally incorrect and does not care that she has described one of the most important events in our country’s history in a way that has no bearing whatsoever on what actually happened. And she is wrong shamelessly.
So I consider myself special along with several other million people because when I was a kid, I walked on the very ground where Benjamin Franklin walked to meet with others and draft the Albany Plan of the Union, the first document linked to what would later become the Continental Congress. I’ve sat at the same bar at which Ethan Allen sat, eaten in the same restaurant where Revere and his mates ate. Once, looking over some old documents, I found myself holding a piece of paper with the signature of a local bureaucrat by the name of John Hancock. The signature looked exactly like the one on the Declaration of Independence. Actually, that happened twice.
When I was thirteen years old I got a summer job that turned into a life-long career in archaeology, and we excavated the home of the Captain Henry Quackenbush, who was in command of the Fifth Albany Militia, the Colonial unit at Saratoga that took control of the prisoner General John Burgoyne, leader of the British Army, defeated at Saragota. I sat many times in the shade provided inside the abandoned and gutted brick house, on the 16 inch wide planks flooring the very room in which the general slept the night before he was turned over to the colonial leaders. Eating a sandwich. (I was eating the sandwich, not General Burgoyne.)
I’m special, along with millions of others because I’ve sat stalled in traffic in the roundabout in west Cambridge during rush hour imagining Paul Revere galloping by on his horse, and I’ve fished off the piers in the shadow of the fort taken by cannon stolen from a different fort in another state near which I also fished off the pier, and I’ve driven dozens of times along the road that traces the route connecting them, the old Indian trail along which Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen dragged those stolen cannons. I’m special because I’ve stood on the deck of the USS Constitution looking in the general direction of Breeds Hill, from which the Battle of Bunker hill was observed and described by what would pass for the Adventure Tourists of the 18th century. I’ve picnicked on the battle field at Saratoga. I sat at General Philip Schuyler’s desk, in his country home, the one with the fields burned by the general’s wife so the British could not use the food, and I’ve excavated with a backhoe the same general’s garden later turned into one of the first Jewish immigrant neighborhoods in the decades after the Revolution, where I found a layer of wood shavings from the construction of the brick and wood homes sitting on top of the clay from the 10,000 year old bed of Glacial Lake Albany. The Revolutionary Era bracketed between momentous events, to be sure.
And, I did all these things knowing that I was doing them. I knew that this history was there; I did not ignore it or assume it to be unimportant. My involvement in historical archaeology and historic preservation probably gave me a better sense than the average Upstate New Yorker or Bostonian may have had, but I assure you that the average high school graduate living in Charlestown, Massachusetts knows that they live on or near the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill … they can’t miss it. You should see the monument!
Sarah Palin can see Russia from her Living room. Well, the people of Boston and Albany and all those other old colonial cities of the east coast can see the figurative ghosts of the American Revolution everywhere around them. Everywhere. All the time. And those with an interest in knowing more can know more and get most of the facts right and serve as impromptu tour guides for the cousins visiting from Ohio. And, they can recognize that while they sense and know of the momentously important physical presence of the most important thing that ever happened in their town’s history, they may not know the details. So they admit that, direct an interested party to the sign hanging on the church or mounted next to the grave, or to a book, or a person who does know.
But they don’t fly down from Alaska where nothing having to do with the founding of this country ever happened, make things up about those interesting times, and then insist the goodness of their americanness must mean that the crap that came flying out of some nether orifice passes for some kind of ponderous truth. Because it doesn’t.
Why does Sarah Palin hate the truth? And why does Sarah Palin hate America?
Added: It is my understanding that operatives working for Palin have been trying to revise the wikipedia entry on Paul Revere’s adventure to match Palin’s blathering, and have been visiting blogs like this one laying down an increasingly sophisticated set of talking-point looking paragraphs that attempt to bridge Palin’s diarrheal rhetoric with actual history. In order to put a somewhat finer point on this post, and to provide some context to those comments accumulating below, I’ve added the YouTube video here:
She is obviously stoned on something. Now, having seen that, enjoy the PalinApologist drek unfolding below.