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Review – WAR & SOCIETY IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION edited by John Resch and Walter Sargent

war and society

John Resch and Walter Sargent are in the forefront of historians re-interpreting the American Revolution as more than just a series of military moves and counter-moves, but instead as a convulsive event encompassing all of 18th Century American Society, including women, African-Americans both slave and free, and Native Americans of many tribes. In the first paragraph they state: “In this volume, historians view the Revolution from a different perspective. They view the Revolution as a total war that at some point during the eight-year conflict touched the lives of virtually all American families, slaves and free blacks, and Indian tribes.” (Resch and Sargent, Preface, page vii) That is to say, the new direction of historical research does not forsake the seminal events of the Revolution, Washington still crosses the Delaware and the British still lose at Yorktown, but the emphasis now is on the social context in which these events transpired.

A critical question, therefore, might be how a historian should go about seeking to understand the influence of one force upon the other. How, exactly, does an all-encompassing war affect and influence an entrenched society? The essays selected all follow one of three main lines of investigation. As John Shy says in the Introduction, “These lines, or issues, may be described as concerning motivation, mobilization, and impact.” Each topic is a big one, not easily understood or encapsulated, and the purpose of the book is to find the links between them.

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Review – LEGACY OF DISCORD by Gil Dorland

The American Green Beret in the photo is Lt. Martin S. Schiller, Jr. He was killed in Vietnam in 1970, long after the war should have ended. He was my cousin.

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The catastrophe of Vietnam represented many firsts for the United States. It was the first time that Americans who openly gave aid and comfort to the enemy were not vilified, but praised, by a significant percentage of the population. The first time large parts of the media distorted their message to damage the national interest and advance their own careers. And the first time America’s warriors were spit on and harassed for fighting a war with no clear objectives.  – William Alan Webb

legacy

Historical events are the culmination of forces and pressures that have, most likely, taken many years to converge. Dissecting those historical events, laying out their component parts for examination and then re-assembling them to arrive at some level of understanding of what happened and why, is often as hard or harder than forecasting them. In Legacy of Discord: Voices of the Vietnam Era, Gil Dorland tries to conduct just such a post-mortem on both the causes of the Vietnam War and the reasons it was lost.

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Book Review – THE COLDEST WAR by James Brady

The Korean War has been called a number of things, most commonly The Forgotten War, but to Lieutenant James Brady it was The Coldest War. In 1947, college student Brady followed a classmate’s example and joined a marine program entitled the Platoon Leader’s Course, something like a reserve officer program that only took place during summer break. “Men joined the Marine Corps for many reasons:…to keep from being sent to prison, they were bored…A few sought adventure. I joined to avoid the draft.” It seemed like a good idea at the time: being drafted meant you were assigned to whatever military branch needed you, doing whatever job they chose, whether you liked it or not.

Combat memoirs are often clogged with obscure minutia that bogs down the narrative. Sometimes it’s esoteric details about the tools of war, such as the flying characteristics of an airplane or the inside of a tank, other times it might be constant allusions to small villages on faraway battlefields with no maps for reference. Readability is sacrificed for accuracy. Brady’s work doesn’t suffer from this defect. He keeps things simple and is a reliable observer, unimpressed with himself. “I had enough sense to be realistic about myself. I was still unformed as a man and knew it.”

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Review – FOR CAUSE AND COMRADES: Why Men Fought In The Civil War by James M. McPherson

A comprehensive look at James McPherson’s classic work on the motivation of soldiers in the War Between the States.

Pulitzer Prize winner James McPherson may be best known for his classic one-volume history of the American Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, but the task he sets himself in For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War is truly monumental in scope, a far greater challenge than a straight-forward history of who did what, when, where and how. If history is digging up and interpreting facts to achieve an accurate narrative of events, then those are the basic guideposts of the story. Those avoid the hardest topic of them all, however, namely motive, why history occurs, why things happened as they did; specifically, in this case, why did the Americans who fought on both sides in the Civil War risk life and limb on the battlefield?

“A good many Confederate soldiers also cited the obligations of duty. But they were more likely to speak of honor: one’s public reputation, one’s image in the eyes of his peers. To shirk duty is a violation of conscience; to suffer dishonor is to be disgraced by public shame.”

On the surface it seems to make no sense. Of course, war itself is counter-intuitive as men risk the one thing that is irreplaceable, life itself. “What enabled them to overcome that most basic of human instincts-self-preservation? This is a vital question in all wars, for without such sacrificial behavior by soldiers, armies could not fight.” So why did they do it?

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Review – War & Society in the American Revolution: Mobilization and Home Fronts, John Resch and Walter Sargent, Editors

This is a comprehensive review of an important work.

John Resch and Walter Sargent are in the forefront of historians re-interpreting the American Revolution as more than just a series of military moves and counter-moves, but instead as a convulsive event encompassing all of 18th Century American Society, including women, African-Americans both slave and free, and Native Americans of many tribes. In the first paragraph they state: “In this volume, historians view the Revolution from a different perspective. They view the Revolution as a total war that at some point during the eight-year conflict touched the lives of virtually all American families, slaves and free blacks, and Indian tribes.” (Resch and Sargent, Preface, page vii) That is to say, the new direction of historical research does not forsake the seminal events of the Revolution, Washington still crosses the Delaware and the British still lose at Yorktown, but the emphasis now is on the social context in which these events transpired.

Read More

 

Review – Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680. London: Routledge, 2003

Kings and Queens, battles and plagues. For centuries English history has been concerned with the deeds of the great and famous, the epic tide of history that swept England in its currents and moved her from an isolated outpost of the Roman Empire to ruler of the largest empire in world history, only to see the tide diminish and the island fall back in upon herself. Such occurrences hold an endless fascination and so have been almost endlessly explored by historians. But history does not occur in a vacuum, and for every earth-changing event there were endless smaller tides that rippled forth and changed the English people, who in their turn changed the world. Which begs bigger questions, ones that have not been asked in exactly this way before: who were these English people? What tempered them with the will to conquer an empire? What was it like living in their world?

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