Short on History: Context and the Electoral Process

The recent US election has shown, among many things, that various segments of the population, but particularly younger people are missing a vital facet of education…knowledge of the past and how our written laws and systems of governance emerged from the circumstances of their era and reached up to become supra-generational universalisms (I just made that last one up). For instance, the hotly debated and debased electoral college. Some hate it, but they don’t know why. Some love it, but they don’t know what it is.

This is where context comes in. In the study of history (which we all should be doing, by the way) context is a short mental rehearsal of the key players, national and individual, and the geo-political or cultural spectrum of the day. Religious institutions and mores, popular societal trends, styles of government, etc. We do this when we begin to study a new historical topic. Good historians will write books interwoven with context, unfortunately, so will bad historians who make up non-existent context. One has to do a little individual research.

For instance, one popular slogan goes, “we don’t need that electoral college, we just need a popular vote!” Sounds all neo-socialist, get rid of the elitists, etc, but the reality is that government structures like the electoral college were originally implemented as a check and a balance against any one  side of the US government quadrangle of executive-legislative-judicial-demos (the voters) from misusing its power and presuming to take privileges that don’t belong to it. This was a reaction, in part to the governmental institutions of Enlightenment Era Europe (which only went so far), and the remaining monarchies that ruled nations through both religion and dominion or kingship. The balance of power wasn’t. It was also a reaction to the constitutional monarchy of England and the peculiarly interwoven parliamentary system through which aristocrats and semi-common men could rule. America sought a system with a greater balance of power.

And it is only through a kind of intergovernmental detente that our system works. Thing is, many people would like to up end the balance, from all sides of the political spectrum, in order to funnel power their way. Hence we have checks and balances, however imperfectly they function.

So there you have it, a small sampling of context and how it applies to understanding the past and the world around us now.

Where do you need to apply the tool of context for better understanding?

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

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One Egg A Week: WW2 Rations and Irrational Over-consumption

Have you ever walked through the supermarket, or the out-of-doors market (if you are lucky enough to have one nearby) and stopped to appreciate just how much food we have access to on a daily basis?

Intellectually we know that there are many places around the globe where food is not so plentiful nor available. Venezuela at the moment is struggling through famine triggered by political unrest and a decade of instability. In other places it is simply the norm to be without. However, to quantify scarcity is sometimes difficult as we stroll the aisles of the supermarket and decide if we want the artisan, “hand-made” (by machines shaped like hands) cumin basil crackers or the tomato pesto anise flavor? Gasp.

Was there a time when the western world had to face food scarcity? You bet! It was called the Second World War. Almost all of the European nations, and beyond, suffered from going without. For much of continental Europe that was a result of having been overrun by hostile armies and subjected to starvation so that food could be shunted back to the German Army. Russians, German citizenry, Italians, the French, the Dutch, Spaniards (who had been going without all through the 1930’s because of a civil war) all faced famine, and the list goes on and on. The British Isles certainly suffered, but theirs was, from the start, superimposed rationing to feed the populace and its soldiery. The Americans, too, ended up with varying degrees of rationing, but certainly not as strict as the British model.

And it is to British rationing that we’re going to turn to help get a sense of personal scale of scarcity. The Ministry of Food was the organization that implemented rationing for the populace at the behest of the British Government. When you look over the requirements you realize how little each individual was allowed, but you also see the care and thought given to maintaining vitamin intake for children (fruits and fruit preserves were to be given to children first to sustain healthy growth). Bread and Vegetables, especially the homegrown variety, were not rationed and people were encouraged to grow their own. For adults, vegetables were the mainstay of nutrition.

What was rationed, and here is where we can begin to appreciate what and how much we have on a daily basis, was meat. Meat was rationed by price, only so much per person per week and then only of what was available and sometimes that was offal, or organ meats…heart, lungs, intestines, etc. So, no hamburgers or juicy steaks every night for a week!

Recipe books of the era recommend stews and pot pies with minimal meat supplemented by plentiful vegetables. My favorite cookbook from this era, incidentally, is a reprint by the Imperial War Museum called, Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts From 1940-1954 by Marguerite Patten OBE, 2002. I found it at a wonderful booksale held in the Guildhall in the city of York…a story for another time. This volume presents reprints from government material produced during the war, much of which was the work of a young woman named Marguerite Patten, whose creativity helped inspire home cooks throughout the war.

Milk was also rationed, 4-6 cups per person, per week. Think of what that meant, if you are a regular consumer of hot chocolate you could have a cup every other day, but you couldn’t get the chocolate. But what if you wanted pudding…that requires milk and, whoops, you just used up your allowance. Or baking, which often requires milk… there it went again. Milk in your tea (which was also rationed, think of that the next time you order a 28 oz glass of sweetened iced tea!)? What do you choose? And yes, you could combine a family’s portion, but how did you refrigerate it until you could use it? Refrigeration wasn’t universal in the 1940’s. Powdered milk was a big bonus, but it wasn’t the same as fresh.

Something to contemplate the next time you see all those gallons of milk lined up in the dairy section as you absentmindedly grab one.

Then were was cheese and butter, 2 oz (yes, two thumbs-size slices worth) of each per person each week! That would give you roughly one small sandwich or two after-dinner cheese chasers or a quick gobble for an afternoon snack…no cheesy, gooey grilled sandwiches to eat four bites of and throw the rest away. And butter, you have to bake with butter, remember? So, cookies, scones, cake…all required major planning and the pooling of amounts between family members (which, in the days of mothers being the main organizer of home was all planned and implemented by mom, kids didn’t get to take their cheese stash to their room and watch it mold).

A lot to think about. Belts were tighter then, and interestingly, mass produced bread was made with 1/2 regular “white” flour and 1/2 whole wheat or whole meal flour. As statistics were compiled during this time period, it was found that the health of the nation actually improved as a result of this austere, but very healthy diet.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

And then we get to eggs, or, I should say, egg. Just one a week, and sometimes just one every two weeks. No high-protein, cheesy, three-egg breakfast omelets, no scrambled eggs, probably few egg dishes at all as these precious few eggs would have gone to work in the weekly baking. Things improved somewhat when powdered eggs were made available from the US, but if you have ever had the misfortune to consume powdered eggs regularly you will realize what a glorious blessing it is to have fresh eggs at all! Let alone the ability to buy 4 dozen at will!

Then there was sugar, and this is killer because I think it is safe to say that we nowadays could be referred to by archaeologists looking back at us from well into the future as the “sugar-eaters”, so much do we consume it in sweets and even in things that should be savory. Sweets were rationed to 12 oz every four weeks. If this was granulated sugar imagine, 12 ounces is just a cup and a half, and the average cookie recipe these days typically calls for 2 cups of sugar, per batch! So for a month you could enjoy the stale remnants of your monthly less-sweet cookie baking binge. But again, even pooled together for a family of four, you would need this sugar mostly for preserving fruits, if you could get them, or making faux-fruit preserves from vegetables…Carrot Marmalade anyone? (quite serious, there was a recipe!).

So, as we step off the nostalgia tour bus, I hope you can use this personal-scale food scarcity overview to get a sense of how blessed you may be. While it is vital to do what we can to help others in need, to not waste what we have, and to share, we also need to take a moment, a deep breath, a bowed head, and thank God for what we have. America has a history of overflowing abundance and it is a very popular mindset right now to try to apologize for that abundance (while gorging on it, it seems), but ungratefulness is not improved by embarrassment or apology. To be grateful is to be grateful. Out of gratefulness flows generosity, while out of embarrassment flows self-consciousness and self-centeredness.

So let’s be grateful for our blessings, look outward and share what we have!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Aye, Leeks IS Good!: Cooking Up History

When you go to Ohio, and you go to Ohio in the summer and you drive through Amish country, you will find a plethora of veggie stands dotting the state and county roads. So, it follows, that you stop and peruse, drawn by the sure knowledge that you will find an assortment of ripe and affordable vegetable abundance. And you are not disappointed.

So, in your haste and joy at finding fresh veggies you come upon a bin of leeks, 4 for 1 dollar. You become ecstatic because, for anyone who has ever been to an American grocery store, you will remember that leeks are not a standard veggie and come with a hefty price tag, considerably more than 4 for 1 dollar. So you buy 4 leeks.

Then you realize. What do I do with…4 leeks?

In the ensuing traversing of your memory you recall a book you once read, French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, had a recipe involving leeks and soup. That sounds good! But that recipe was a very healthy one and involved nothing but leeks and water. So back to your collection of cookbooks. Leek and chicken soup (no convenient chicken carcass so that is out), leek and barley soup (no barley), and so on. Leek and potato soup rings a bell from the Joy of Cooking and then something about leeks and quiche with bacon from an Alice Waters cookbook. That and the word pistou reverberating in your head from various other French themed cookbooks. Soup au pistou is a hearty bean and veggie soup from the Provence region of France.

What comes from this fertile mix…leek and potato soup au pistou flavored with turkey ham.

LEEK AND POTATO SOUP AU PISTOU WITH TURKEY HAM

(Note: this is a free-form recipe developed during a free-form culinary adventure, so feel free to adapt)

INGREDIENTS: 4 Leeks – 2 T olive oil – 1 T butter – pinch of dried Thyme to taste – water – 3 medium-large Yukon Gold potatoes – black pepper to taste (freshly ground) – 1/2 regular can of northern beans or pinto beans (rinsed and drained) – 1-2 T of turkey ham diced into tiny squares – powdered chicken soup base

DIRECTIONS: Wash leeks, peel outer skin, cut off about 2 inches above the white part and use only the white part and the slightly green part, discard the rest above. Cut the root end off. Slice carefully in half the long way, then again the long way, then in thirds. I call these leek noodles.

Place leeks in a large soup pot with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 generous pat of butter. Sprinkle with dried thyme (a little) and a dash of black pepper. Saute gently until transparent and soft.

Cut up potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes (with skins on if using Yukon Gold or Red varieties, otherwise skin them). Place into pot with leeks, cover with enough water to just cover potatoes and let them float (the ingredient should be able to swim around a little). Bring to boil. Add 1/2 can of rinsed beans, diced turkey ham, and the powdered chicken soup base (usually 3-4 teaspoons). When the soup reaches a boil, reduce heat to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and just starting to fall apart. Add additional thyme and black pepper to taste just before removing from heat. Also add salt to taste.

Serve!

History…You knew it was coming, right?

And while you are serving, consider the historical connection. Being partly Welsh myself, I find it interesting that the leek is one of the national symbols of Wales. Scotland has the thistle, Ireland the clover, England the rose, and American states usually have a flower as their emblem, so why the leek?

The quote in the title “Aye, leeks is good!” is taken from Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play, Henry V. So clearly, by the late 16th century, leeks and the Welsh lands were deeply connected.

According to Historic-UK.com the leek was referenced even earlier than Shakespeare’s time. It was the emblem of Wales worn on St. David’s Day. In the fourteenth century the colors of the leek, green and white, were adopted by Welsh archers at the battle of Crecy. And before that, historians surmise, that the medicinal qualities of the leek (because, aye, indeed, leeks is good for you!) coupled with the druidic religion of the Britons led to an affinity for the leek. And before that? Who knows, the druids were a religious class that passed on the wisdom of the “ancients” – which ancients? Good question!

Regardless, leeks are a healthy-for-people relative in the onion family. Try leek soup and see if you develop a taste for them and then you, too, will be able to say, “Aye, leeks is good!”

Keep thinking and cooking history!

– Amanda Stiver

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow’s History: Brexit – Should We Be Surprised?

So the hammer has fallen, the vote was taken, and England (the United Kingdom as it presently stands: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) will depart from the EU. The uproar has been, understandably, intense. Millenials and Gen-X blame Baby Boomers for voting to leave. For wanting sovereignty as a nation and cutting off the socialist ideal of the supranational confederation called the European Union.

As an aside, it seems ironic that the very generation that has voted strongly to withdraw were the same age as the present Millenials and Gen-X are when Britain first joined the EU in 1973. Perhaps, through the hard won wisdom of experience, they have learned something and upon that experience have made their present choice? It’s a thought.

A few questions about the dynamics surrounding Brexit arise: Is Britain floating out there all alone in the North Atlantic with no safety net? Is there such a thing as a long-term “supranational” league? What will happen to Europe? Who will the “big-cheese” of the continent be? What does it take to make a “united” Europe?

Leagues of nations

In our day and age, we have had experience with supranational organizations, in other words, confederations or treaty organizations in which nation states have agreed to subsume their individual sovereignty (to varying degrees and sometimes unwillingly) in favor of a power or structure that issues oversight and force upon said states. In other words, the United Nations, a kind of world congress or parliament with the power to enforce its will upon various nations. Governed purportedly by those it represents, by those very nations in congress and committee. (I question the success of this. Is there really one nation that can with objectivity judge the actions of another?)

Though the ideal of world unity, in the best of circumstances, has a ring of hopefulness to it, I remain a cynic about the actual success of this endeavor under human auspices. I believe it will take a more Divine benevolence to affect the change to peace among the peoples of the world. Peace comes with a price tag of obedience.

Returning to supranational organizations, the UK does already belong to a league of nation states that is larger in number than the EU. This financial safety net is called the Commonwealth of nations and is a vestige of much of the economic power that was wielded by Britain in the heyday of its Empire. That commonwealth has 53 member states, some of which were part of the former empire and some which were not, and it stretches around the globe, particularly in Africa and Asia. It wields, through economic cooperation and shared ideals regarding the rule of law, a considerable amount of power and influence. It counts among its members India, which has developed significant economic momentum in recent decades.

The immediate financial destruction of the UK is therefore not guaranteed, as many Brexit opponents and foreign observers have predicted.

Supranational on the long term?

Do these multi-national leagues or confederations have significant longevity? I have my doubts.

If we step back to look at ancient Rome, we see a supranational organization called…the Roman Empire. It ruled other proto-nations, peoples who gave up their sovereignty mostly by force to obey the Emperor (a religious figure it should be noted) and to some degree benefit from the financial advantages of the trade within the empire. This usually came after thousands of people from whichever ethnic group were slaughtered to prove to them how superior life (or in their case, death) by empire was.

Before Rome came other empires, Greek, Persian, Babylonian, Assyrian. None of them, Rome included, has significant longevity as a supranational conglomeration for very long. Rome strung out the original empire (with fluctuating borders here and there) for about 500 years (a good run), albeit a fairly bloody one. Persia, in various degree and conglomerations for longer than that (kind of). China as an entity went back and forth from a confederation of conquered nations to merely a group of ethnically related, but separate kingdoms just as Egypt did through the centuries. The 13th and 14th centuries A.D./C.E. being the heyday of Chinese empire, and possibly an argument could be made for the present.

Large alliances of peoples have the fluid capacity to shift and lurch in shape and form. They become, unruly. And in the ancient world unruliness was put down by force. A lot of very, violent force. The likes of you and I being the fodder of such force, and odds are, if we shift back to such a militant world climate, we will again be so. Sad to say.

Modern times

What about the United States of America as a confederation? Well, first of all the “states” are as currently defined, really just provincial organizational units of the centralized government, and aren’t peopled by individuals with a long-standing unified ethnic and/or language heritage, as one might describe the European “nation” states. We are a melting pot with a shared history of “coming to America” (even the Native Americans) through the centuries, particularly the 19th century. As a national alliance we are coming up on 240 years of history this year. Not a bad run, historically speaking, but with recent mismanagement (both politically and morally) the future looks, at present, bleak.

Bringing together actual nations which indeed have their own long-standing history, a specific ethnic history, and a unique language is more complex. In part because somebody has to admit that somebody else is in charge. One nation has to take the lead. We idealize the thought that it is possible to have shared power, but the reality of human nature and interaction proves that, throughout history, to be a fallacy. At best we can create balance of power, or mutually assured destruction to withhold us from the brink.

We are usually left with, on the positive side benevolent, enlightened dictatorship or oligarchy (often dressed up as a republic). On the dark side, this descends into the worst atrocities of the 20th century (as was seen in Germany and Russia, and other places).

So, supranational organizations do indeed have term limits. Sometimes they run long and other times they run very short. I think the EU, as it stands, has run short. Europe has never been a particularly non-violent place. Its history is layered with conflict as is not surprising when many peoples with long-standing histories jostle in close quarters.

Nationalism is alive

This brings up another reality. The renaissance of nationalism. The media called it the “Arab Spring” a couple of years ago, but really it is a spirit of nationalism that has moved the peoples of the world to recognize that they are unique and demand respect as individual nations, and can’t be combined into one “world” through the auspices of a socialist paradise. In fact, the dream of the socialist ideal in which individuals and individual nations subsume their identities for the “greater good” as defined by someone important ruling from somewhere else, has turned into a nightmare. Economically certainly and now spiritually.

The “Nationalist Spring” has descended upon us, and is the right wing swing following on the left wing sweep of the past several decades. It is reactive, violent, and purposeful (compared to the limpid alternatives) and won’t be going anywhere for a while.

So where does “Brexit” fit into this?

It is a part of the ethos that is emerging, the recognition of national identity. It is a sign that the EU, as a whole, is a failure. The UK, despite the slams against it as a puny island nation, is actually a significant economic engine and banking state. It funded a significant portion of the EU, but mismanagement (iconized by the March 2016 terrorist attacks that took place right outside the headquarters of the EU and at the Brussels airport – ie. an entity that cannot even protect itself from existential threats), the ineptitude of the handling of the refugee crisis by the other driver of the EU, Germany, through its weakening political leadership under Angela Merkel, and petty, but punishing policies handed out to member states make for an ultimately untenable internal dynamic.

Europe cannot be unified or centralized through economic bureaucracy alone, it must have a spiritual identity around which to develop oneness of mind and ideals. The indelibly anti-Europe force of the moment, the Islamic confederation of co-religionist nations has that unified calling (for better or worse). In the course of time Europe (with a strong central Germanic core) will develop something similar and then, batten down the hatches, we’ll be in for a world-halting rodeo.

Without this eventual unity of calling and religious fervor, Europe can’t fulfill its destiny. The aimless atheism and agnosticism of socialism doesn’t even have the force to coalesce that ardent, atheistic Communism did. Religious fervor goes above and beyond even that, it has the power to change the earth for the better…or worse. It really depends on in whom you place your faith.

A surprise?

We all wondered what the outcome of the Brexit vote would be. Many assumed that things would remain as they are, but a spirit of change is sweeping around the globe and to expect the status quo to remain ad nauseam is naive. We must learn to expect the unexpected.

Does this mean that England is a lost cause? Perhaps, not yet. Taking the long view and waiting to gather additional evidence is a necessary part of analyzing current events in the light of history.

As the old curse goes: “may you live in interesting times.” I think it’s fair to say that we do!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

‘Brexit’ Turmoil Pales in Comparison to ‘Game of Thrones’ – Welcome to Reality Avoidance

I have some thoughts on the ‘Brexit’ situation, and those will follow soon, but I thought I would post some “news of the absurd” first.

In a dash for the finish line of the race to avoid reality, comes the mournful, anxious wails of fans of the ultra-violent fantasy TV series, “Game of Thrones.” Outstripping the international impact of the British exit from the European Union, for the Bible-literate, the prophetic implications of such a move, and certainly the political turmoil presently in the UK with Prime Minister David Cameron stepping down (not necessarily a bad thing for the UK) is the concern that production will cease on the main sets of the series that are located in Northern Ireland because the EU subsidizes the production costs (Anthony Joseph, “‘Way to go Brits!’ Game of Thrones Fans Fear the Hit Show Will Be Thrown into Chaos After Brexit Vote Raises Risk Bosses Won’t Be Able to  Finish Filming in Northern Ireland,” The Daily Mail at DailyMail.co.uk, June 24, 2016).

Aw, shucks. That’s tragic.

And now onto grown-up things. Folks, this is serious business. A little entertainment is fine at times, but it would behoove us to channel all that opinionated energy into the present rather than the “make-believe” non-world of fictional dramas.

Stand up for some real things, take responsibility for the culture, your personal character and the time in which you live. Your choices now will affect the future. (I look favorably on Brexit, by the way, and I believe it may not be the complete catastrophe that it is bemoaned as – just in the interest of disclosure.) Nationalism has not gone away. The apparent world peace producing potential of the EU was not what it seemed.

We live in interesting times, no doubt about it.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

A Look at D-Day through the Eyes of A Village: Aunay sur Odon

Many lives were lost during the Normandy invasion. Among the Allies and the Axis troops, but also the collateral damage that occurred in the small villages and towns over and upon which was the battlefield for Europe at that time.

Sometimes historic events and genealogy merge and you find yourself at a crossroads. In this case my own family history with the village of Aunay-sur-Odon, in the French department of Calvados near the Normandy coast. Many centuries ago my mother’s ancestors followed William the Conqueror across the channel to England and later to Ireland, and possibly back to Wales. At some point they made a greater leap and came to America, maybe in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. (Regardless, we got here somehow.)

The village of Aunay-sur-Odon as the bombs fell. Source: By Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16076017

The village of Aunay as the bombs were dropping. Source:By Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16076017

But the real story took place back in the village of Aunay after the June 6, 1944 events of D-Day, as the Allies progressed further into the countryside of Normandy and eventually across France. On June 12th, in the British sector, a decision was made to bombard a strategic crossroads between the towns of Caen and Vire, and Bayeux and Falaise. That crossroad village was Aunay-sur-Odon. The initial bombs were dropped and the village centre was obliterated along with the lives of 100 people.

Aunay after the bombardment. Source: By Reeves (Fg Off): - http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//9/media-9416/large.jpgThis is photograph HU 92982 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30877964

Aunay after the bombardment. Source: By Reeves (Fg Off): – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//9/media-9416/large.jpgThis is photograph HU 92982 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30877964

Then, a few days later, another decision was handed down that called for the bombardment of the entire surrounding town. On June 14 and through the night into the 15th, the entire town area was barraged. 25 percent of the population was killed.

Undoubtedly, in the crush of events that pushed the invading armies across France to free the enslaved peoples of Europe, the decisions were made quickly and with the full knowledge that collateral damage would happen. The Germans dug themselves in where they could and wanted to keep the roads open for their own defenses. A strategic crossroads was a viable and necessary target for the Allied forces. This is the nature of war.

So, as we remember the sacrifices of the men who died valiantly for their countries, we also need to be reminded that war takes a very real toll on the civilians who are caught in the crossfire, or, in this case, the crossroads. It is always thus, regardless of the conflagration. There is collateral damage, often innocent people, but always those who simply want to stay out of the way but cannot.

War is not always glorious. Mostly, war is death.

Keep thinking history.

– Amanda Stiver

EXPERIENCE HISTORY:  If you are interested in the the D-Day invasions and want to experience them as the news reports came to America through the radio broadcasts that day, tune into Conyers Old Time Radio and listen as they broadcast the original recordings from Invasion day. Try to imagine yourself, gathered with your family around the radio, waiting to hear exactly what was happening across the Atlantic Ocean. Imagine that your brother, husband, or, possibly, father was overseas and his life was on the line that day. Imagine also the villagers and people of France as they braced themselves for what was to come in the next few days once the invasion had begun.

If you’ve missed the June 6 broadcast, you can listen to some of the recordings here at Complete Broadcast Day D-Day from Archive.org.

Quotes and Thoughts: The Revolutionary War and the Price of Rebellion

“Like most ‘wars of liberation’ the American War of Independence was a bitter civil war too. One contemporary guess divided the people into three: the patriots, one-third, the Tory loyalists, one-third, and the remainder prepared to go along with either party. It is likely, however, that those who declined to take an active part were fully half the nation, the militants being almost equally divided, though the Tories, by their very nature, lacked leaders and the extremism which drove the liberators. They looked to leadership from England and were poorly served.” — Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, 1997, page 171.

WHAT can a random quote from a history book on any subject teach us? Isn’t this an exercise in futility? Don’t we need more information?

WE do need more information, but let’s use this exercise as a memory building tool. When developing your historical memory, and yes, memory function comes pre-installed in our brains when we leave the production center (other wise known as ‘birth’), you need to retrieve the current stock of what’s stored up there. Find out what you know, and then fit in the new information presented in a quote like the one above.

So what do we know?

Let’s start with the quote itself…what era, or period of events connected in historical continuity, is the quote referencing?

Okay, let’s assume first that we are Americans reading this quote. If we have spent any time in a US school we’ll have some idea that the “American War of Independence” is also known as the Revolutionary War (note, the author is British, so he is using the academic title from across the Atlantic for that colonial disturbance centering around 1775). We know that the events surrounding that era had to do with a break with the British government, which had in various ways originally and until that time considered the 13 colonies of the eastern shore of the now United States to be British territory. There were strong, vocal colonial opponents of British oppression, excess taxation and lack of Parliamentary representation, and these we, as Americans, know as “Founding Fathers.” George Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Sam Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Henry Lee, among many others. They were extremely influential in the early years of the United States and all the constitutional and legal documents written then.

As the quote shows us, there were also opponents of the rebellion who were called “Tories”. They desired to remain loyal to Britain, wherein many of their business interests were entwined. They were fighting for a “status quo”, which is a difficult position to fight from, and particularly, as the quote implies, without solid recognition and support from their motherland, England. Indeed, may of the Tory families were treated with nearly as much contempt as rebel families by the British Army when it arrived in the colonies and was installed in the homes of the colonists. It was difficult to remain loyal to a country that didn’t seem to want them.

An additional fact that we can add to our historical memory is that, as the quote explains, there was another group of people who simply wanted to live their lives, without interference from either side of the battle. Perhaps they were unsure of the outcome, or unsure where their true loyalties rested, or maybe it took a bit of convincing through the brutal realities of British occupation that they eventually had to stand for something. Who knows, but it does tell us one thing, that despite the noises of the “militants” and “activists” in any nation, and any cause, there will always be those who simply want to grow their crops in peace, make a life for themselves and their children. These are the people who eventually struggle on when the voices of the extremes have faded and, sadly, these are usually the people who get trampled by both sides in their quest for supremacy.

Am I saying the Revolutionary War was an aimless quest? Not at all, Britain and America were on a course for separation, and the tendrils of financial investment and history between the two made it almost impossible for a separation to come without bloodshed. Is this the best way for people to reconfigure their alliances? No. Is it the way of humanity? Yes. Is there another way? Yes, but not without help from a power greater than the finest of our human minds. A subject for another time.

SO, AS OUR EXERCISE comes to a close take a moment to realize all that you already had in your historical memory about the Revolutionary War. Are other details coming to you that you may have picked up from articles, books, or even movies? The way people ate, fought, dressed, scenes reenacted of the battles and atrocities wrought on some colonists (I’m thinking of The Patriot here)?

We’ll do this again sometime, using a quote as a gateway into history. You’ll be amazed at what you know already and can learn!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver