Image: The Star Spangled Banner.
So I started reading “1776 – America and Britain at War” by David McCullough after a random browse at my local (crappy, but almost adequate) Waterstones bookstore. This book, unsurprisingly documents some of the highlights of the American Revolutionary War that ultimately lead to the founding of the United States and the (first, second, and third) Continental Congress that preceeded the form of government that exists to this day. Why do I know this stuff? Because I don’t get out enough and (more importantly) because I have some kind of passionate interest in this particular aspect of history.
I’ve never been much of a historian, but I do have a lot of time for the histories of former British colonies such as those in Canada and (especially) the United States. This isn’t out of some quaint British pining for the golden days of the British Empire – quite the inverse. I view the British Empire as a terribly evil side effect of the British exploitation of the world that occured throughout history and I’m especially fond of battles that lead to the British being told (in no uncertain terms) to fuck off. Of course 20/20 hindsight will often mean things are looked upon in a different light – for all I know, I’d have been one of the people on those British ships had I lived in that time. So, I’m aware of the need for perspective when thinking about history. Anyway, meanwhile in rant land…
Long before there was war in Iraq, long before US foreign policy was frowned upon by much of the wider world, there was an empire that controlled 1/3 of the known world. The British Empire fucked over the New World, royally screwed what later became India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and generally did nasty things for King (Queen) and Country. Loyalist patriotic songs like “Rule Britannia” concealed the great evil of the Monarchy and the entirity of the British Empire and when the Americans said they’d had enough and wanted representation, the British commited a series of Intollerable Acts that built up to their declaration of Independence. But that still wasn’t enough for the British to actually fuck off, things would turn very ugly before they got a lot better.
I like US history, precisely because they were telling the British tyrants where to go and I have a great willing to study it in further detail as a result. The reason for my Washington trip last year was to see the Baltimore flag first hand – to witness one of the only US flags with 15 stripes (modern flags only have the original 13 founding states, not the 15 at the time of the battle at Fort McHenry, which predated that directive). When I first visited Boston, I thought a lot about the early revolutionaries having their meetings in the meeting house, and my interest has only grown over time. Once I move, I can see a lot of exploration of the original 13 states in the name of personal historical interest.
Perhaps it’s obvious that I like telling British rulers where to go. There’s just something very fun about telling the Monarchy to fuck off and deciding to elect a set of representatives instead. Oh, I dunno, maybe it’s just this concept of a constitution and fully elected government that I like in US history or maybe I’m drawn in to former colonial history because of the fact that former British dominions now have their own constitutionally elected representation, while the UK itself still does not. Nor will it ever be fixed – too many people around these parts fail to see the problem with the antiquated UK system. There’s something inanely pointless about the way the British are willing to accept rule from their masters without any collective consideration “I could do that” or “why should the Queen be calling the shots and not me” and so on. But it’ll continue forever more.
While I’m extolling certain aspects of US history, let me just add that it does really bother me, however, seeing such an apparent lack of knowledge in some Americans that I meet in my travels. Over the past year alone, I’ve had to educate some natural born American Citizens about the fact that there are 50 US States, I’ve had to explain the flag stripe thing, how the stars are laid out, what the US national anthem is all about (ok, I don’t know all four verses – most people I meet don’t even know there are 4 verses – but I at least do know the one anyone cares about) – really basic stuff. It doesn’t speak well for the US education system as a whole, but I guess the US isn’t the only place that has such problems.
Many British people are unlikely to know that Ode To Joy is the official anthem of the Council of Europe (I don’t give a fuck about the National Anthem here – too many references to God and the Queen) but they are probably able to tell you about the latest remix of some anti-German war song respun in the name of football – something that has already caused me to lodge one complaint with the BBC thus far during this world cup (no, it’s not humourous on any level to equate some pointless football game with “Dad’s Army” and release songs that are solely designed to stir up hatred amongst football fans). See, I managed to get football into this blog entry somehow. Hey, England still haven’t lost yet – if I have to endure it on my TV, you can endure a few words in this blog until they lose.
Anyway, I’ll continue reading that book, though I’m not far into it yet. What I would like is more advice on books to read and (especially) places to go visit for their historic interest.