Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Revolutionary View of History

On the commute to the office recently, my thoughts turned to the coverage of events in the Middle East. I couldn't help by wonder about the coverage of recent events in Egypt, in Yemen, in Bahrain, and in Libya. In what most will recognize as my typically twisted thought process, it occurred to me to wonder how the media today would look at the American Revolution.
  • In light of the dangerous ideas of a colony freeing itself from European control, I wonder how the predominant media of the day in Europe would have portrayed the struggle.
  • Would King George be a tyrant and evil dictator or a monarch with a duly elected legislature trying to govern an unruly mob?
  • In light of the early tactics used by colonials, fighting from behind trees rather than in the conventional 'line-abreast' formation, would the soldiers of the Continental Army be viewed as an army, as freedom fighters or terrorists?
  • What opinion would the world in general have of the rag-tag army of General Washington, many of whom left at the end of extremely short enlistments to return to their homes?
  • How would the entertaining (and dare I say carousing) of Benjamin Franklin while attempting to negotiate France's aid to the Revolutionary cause be viewed?
  • What would the world opinion have been of a Continental Congress that seemed almost constantly on the run from British troops? Who who slept in warm comfort, entertained, and dined graciously while troops in the field were starving, freezing, and marching to battle in the winter without shoes?
  • What would the media pundits say of the generalship of George Washington, and of the many battles that he lost on the way to winning the war?
  • What of Horatio Gates and his plots with members of Congress to subvert Washington's command of the Continental Army, or Charles Lee and his purposeful ineptitude in the field in hopes of taking Washington's role?
  • What would they make of characters like 'Mad' Anthony Wayne or of the French aristocrat Lafayette?
  • What would they have made of Benedict Arnold, a hero in the early battles of the war who suffered considerable personal injury, insult, and accusation before finally succumbing to the pressure and turning traitor to the Revolutionary cause?
The Founding Fathers are viewed today with a mixture of reverence and scorn, depending on your political point of view. By and large this is done by many on both sides without benefit of studying the history of the time, but instead by using images that have been planted throughout the popular culture in TV and movies. Facts seem of but little concern, as long as the characters are interesting and the plot entertaining. The trouble with doing this of course, is that unlike historians, directors aren't so much concerned with the facts as they are with telling a compelling story. This seems to be much the case these days with news as well in a world so caught up in 24 hour a day coverage. I therefore cannot help but wonder, in light of the controversy over regime changes (and possible changes) in so many lands throughout the Middle East and Africa, what coverage of those days would look like; and how tomorrow's history will view today's revolutions.

1 comment:

Roland Hansen said...

I also wonder and ponder upon this subject.