Years ago, my older brother, who attended university in Canada and majored in history, wrote a college paper comparing the Canadian and American views of the American Revolution. I was quite young at the time, but I remember reading his paper and was surprised that history wasn't "concrete," that there were different views about the same historical event. In reading my grammar-school history books, I had taken their content as chiseled in stone--as truth. But my brother's college paper introduced me to comparative history. So naturally, years later, after my affliction with "Anglophilia," I developed a keen desire to understand how the British viewed our Revolutionary War.
Over the years, I've done my own informal research about this topic--reading, probing my British friends, and perusing "history" sections of UK bookstores--and my conclusion is that the Brits hardly know about, or care about, our Declaration of Independence or Revolutionary War. In the States, our grade-school and high-school history curriculum focuses a great deal on our fight for independence from the British. Here, one can find whole books that cover the topic. In Britain, the event (referred to as the "American War of Independence") garners maybe a few paragraphs in history textbooks, and one is hard pressed to find a book about the topic in a UK bookstore. "Oh, dear! How can that be?!" gasps the average American. While I am not a historian, I believe these are some of the reasons why....
- Here's a joke illustrating one reason why the Brits gloss over our historic rebellion:
A British gentleman was talking to an American college student.
Brit: So, young man, what are you studying in college?
Student: American history!
Brit: Well, that must be easy.
Student: Why is that?
Brit: There's so little of it!
Really, British history curriculum must cover so much! Hundreds and hundreds of years! Prehistoric Britain, Roman Britain, the Tudors, the Jacobean era, the Restoration, the Industrial Revolution, the Elizabethans, the Georgian era, the Victorian era, the Edwardian period, WWII, modern Britain, etc., etc., etc. But in the United States, our history curriculum covers little more than 200 years--and we rarely study prehistoric America. What little bit of American history that Brits do study seems, I believe, to focus on events in 20th century--such as the American Civil Rights movement and the Cold War.
- In the writing of textbooks, all countries focus more on the wars they win than the wars they lose.
- At the time, the upstart American colonies were of little importance to Britain. Few people were living in the colonies, little had been accomplished there, more natural resources existed in the area that became Canada than in the colonies, and trying to protect the colonies was costing Britain money (thus its attempt to impose taxes on the colonists--such as those on tea and via the Stamp Act). From what I gather, King George III paid little attention to the colonies across the pond....he did, after all, have a huge, mighty empire at that time. So the British viewed the American Revolution as one component of the "the Atlantic empire question" and as a continuation of the Seven Years War (1756 - 1763), which led to Britain's war with France and the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.
- If British history curriculum included coverage of all the rebellions that occurred across Britain's previous far-flung empire, there would be little time left for studying anything else.
- Many Brits came to dislike King George III--due to his mental instability and his reluctance to relinquish certain powers to Parliament. Consequently, many Brits sympathized with and supported the American colonists.
So on this 4th of July, as my countrymen celebrate with picnics, firecracker displays, and patriotic music, I ponder what could have been.... Even if America had lost the Revolutionary War, we undoubtedly would have eventually gained independence as other British colonies did. I ponder whether I would have been a Separatist or Loyalist had I lived in the colonies. I've read that, supposedly, 40 to 45 percent of the colonists supported the rebellion, while 15 to 20 percent were Loyalists, and all others were either neutral or maintained a low profile by keeping their views to themselves. I suppose my social and economic circumstances in the colonies would have dictated to whom I gave my allegiance. But this is for certain: I'm proud of my country, the United States of America (maybe not unequivocally proud, but still proud....), and I greatly admire the culture of Great Britain (maybe not unequivocally, but still....)
Happy birthday, USA!
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