American History


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I like money, I like Thomas Jefferson, and I readily stipulate that the minting of currency is a legitimate role of government.

The new Jefferson Dollar will be happily received by this blogger – even if, like every other dollar coin, it will be rejected by the American people until paper greenbacks are finally removed from circulation.

But here’s my problem:

WASHINGTON – Most folks can correctly name George Washington as the nation’s first president. After that, things get tricky.

The U.S. Mint is hoping its new dollar coin series will help refresh some hazy memories of Adams, Jefferson and all the rest.

That could be a tall order, however, given the results of a poll the Mint commissioned to find out just how much knowledge Americans have about their presidents.

According to the telephone poll, conducted by the Gallup Organization last month, nearly all those questioned knew that Washington was the first president. However, only 30 percent could name Thomas Jefferson as the nation’s third president, and memories of the other presidents and where they fit in was even more limited.

Where to begin…

I have a problem with the whole currency as learning aid approach but, let’s face it, it won’t work anyway. The idea that some idiot who can’t name the first three presidents will pick up a new coin and say, “Hey, teach me about this dude” is just, well, ridiculous.

The bigger issue here is that the American education system (a wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers’ unions) would give a high school diploma to someone who can’t name the first ten presidents.

The US government tells us:

The United States leads the industrial nations in the proportion of its young people who receive higher education.

It doesn’t tell us that most of those of those degrees were awarded by diploma mills and they aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if fully 7 in 10 college graduates are unable to identify THOMAS JEFFERSON as the third president! We’re not talking about James K. Polk here, folks, we’re talking about the intellectual light behind the revolution – the author of the Declaration of Independence – THOMAS JEFFERSON!

A nation of morons…

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UPDATE: I know that at least one reader of this blog is an educator so I’d like to try a little experiment.

If you’re a teacher, consider giving your students a very brief pop quiz on American history at the beginning of the upcoming semester. Try these questions:

  1. List the first five presidents
  2. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
  3. What was the name of the Colonial Assembly during the Revolution?
  4. In which city did that assembly meet?
  5. What year did the American Revolution end?
  6. What was the name of the opposing General who surrendered to George Washington after the final battle of the Revolution?
  7. Where was that final battle fought?
  8. Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”?
  9. How many colonies were there at the end of the Revolution?
  10. Against which nation was the Revolution fought?

I wonder how many high school teachers, let alone students, could answer these very basic questions.

If you want to take a crack at this yourself, I’ve created a multiple choice online version here

It may not be necessary to go all the way back to the American Revolution to find an example of an occupied peoples’ willingness to take on an empire. But let’s do just that because the Revolutionary War makes for fascinating study. And, besides, I’m a New Englander and we started the whole thing.

We all know the story of “the shot heard round the world” – that fateful day in 1775 when American rebels crossed the Rubicon and opened fire on British army regulars. It was the point of no return. From the moment the shots were fired the American Revolution was underway. There could be no turning back.

On the evening of April 18, 1775 the Commander of the Boston Garrison, General Thomas Gage, sent 700 British regulars to destroy rebel arms caches in the quiet New England villages of Lexington and Concord. The rebels were forewarned and moved most of their stocks, but on the morning of the 19th the British found and burned a small number of supplies at Lexington and then moved on to Concord.

The battle itself was not very remarkable until, mission accomplished, the British began their retreat to Boston. It should be remembered that two and a quarter centuries ago the road to Boston was actually a narrow country lane surrounded, in most part, by forest land.

American Minutemen followed the retreating Red Coats and ambushed them from behind walls and trees and barns and whatever other cover they could find. Leapfrogging through the woods on either side of the lane, the Americans executed ambush after ambush for the duration of the fifteen mile march to Boston. The British were, in effect, forced to run a gauntlet; unable to retreat they had to march forward through unfamiliar territory knowing that death could lie just ahead and that they wouldn’t be safe until they reached Charlestown. The British lost nearly 300 men that afternoon. Almost one half of the original deployment. The Americans, it’s believed, suffered only a third of that number.

In his famous “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described the scene:

You know the rest. In the books you have read

How the British Regulars fired and fled,

How the farmers gave them ball for ball,

From behind each fence and farmyard wall,

Chasing the redcoats down the lane,

Then crossing the fields to emerge again

Under the trees at the turn of the road,

And only pausing to fire and load.

Needless to say, today we recognize such tactics as legitimate guerrilla warfare, but in the 18th Century they caused outrage. In an era when soldiers faced off on a battlefield like gentlemen engaged in a duel, guerilla ambushes were considered dishonorable and uncivilized. But the Americans had made their point.

The men laying in ambush weren’t French, African, or American Indian – they were cousins. The farmers behind the stone walls and the soldiers in the red coats were linked by blood, language, history, and religion. Until a very short time before the battle they paid allegiance to the same sovereign and both sides were honored to claim a common cultural and political legacy. If countrymen don’t shy away from ferocity in defense of their land and their rights, imagine how difficult it is to occupy a foreign people.

History is replete with examples of natives doing everything in their power to throw off a foreign yoke. This was done regardless of the strength, benevolence, or reputation of the occupier. The Romans had the Jewish rebellion of the First Century. The British experienced it from their own kinsmen in America. They’ve faced it for centuries in Ireland. The Ottoman Turks likewise had to deal with their subjected Arabs. That’s just to cite the more famous examples; the complete list would fill volumes.

Washington tells us that we’ll only occupy Iraq for, at most, two years. I tend not to believe it. Not that I doubt the president’s word, but history has shown us that once we go in, we very rarely get out. Mr. Clinton sent American troops to Bosnia in 1993 with the promise to be out in six months. Nine years have passed and those soldiers are still there.

Occupied Arabs will resist us sooner or later no matter how generous or benevolent we may be. They won’t develop battlefield weapons to take on our tanks and cruise missiles, they’ll employ “less conventional tactics.”

Regardless of the swiftness of victory, if the American military remains in Iraq for any significant amount of time – or if ordinary daily concerns like poverty relief, lack of food or medical supplies, poor roads, etc start to be viewed as the fault of the Americans – be prepared for losses long after the initial battle has concluded.

The White Man’s burden is a messy business. Just ask the British.