Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Independence Day

When I was a teenager, my older cousin's husband was British, and at some point, had some funny bumperstickers about the revolution. My favorite was "Tea Dumping Pollutes."


Quite by accident, the book I'm listening to at night these days is David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing, a book that recounts the military activities and issues leading up to (so far) the famed crossing of the Delaware in December 1776.

It's a fascinating book, performed well.

When I was a little kid, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. There, among other things, we went to the National Archives. I still remember my Mom helping me make out the writing on a letter on display, and her explaining so that I'd understand. The letter was from a husband to wife, I think, and what I most remember is that he talked about how he'd be treated as a traitor and hung if he were caught, and that he didn't know the colonists would win the war.

For some reason, that astounded me. It's hard to remember that the people who fought the revolutionary war WERE traitors as far as the British were concerned. It's even harder to remind myself that what seems obvious to us, that the colonies became the states, developed an astounding constitution, and grew to be a pretty amazing (though far from perfect) exercise in governing and being goverened.

Fischer's book talks about the occupation of New Jersey by the British, and how colonists would gather in small groups and ambush British patrols, shooting them, stealing their stuff, and then taking off. As every U.S. schoolkid learns, the colonists did this without wearing uniforms, making the occupying army rework its tactics in response, and making small patrol duty extraordinarily dangerous.

One point Fischer makes that I'd never thought about in these terms is that Europeans had developed rules of war that worked within European contexts, and one of those rules was that combatants have to wear uniforms. In the revolutionary context of 1776, the British felt within rights to treat un-uniformed armed men to immediate death by hanging without benefit of trial (when they could, of course).

The problem of non-uniformed combatants was in the news from Vietnam a lot when I was a kid, and is in the news from Iraq now. The difference is that this time the U.S.ians are the ones insisting that not wearing a uniform is wrong, and that non-uniformed combatants are worse than criminals (though, I think, not usually subject to immediate execution). And this time, the U.S. is the occupying army.

But we're now seeking to impose or re-impose European rules of war on a non-European population. Or not? I don't know what Iraqi practices would be without European influences; it's not like there hasn't been European influence for centuries.

I'm deeply disappointed by Bush's commuting of Libby's sentence this past week, not surprised, but disappointed. The day it happened, I wondered what it would take to make a significant portion of the U.S. population rise in revolution.

For one thing, of course, we can sue the government for redress a whole lot more easily. And whether we like taxes or not, we do vote for our representatives, and even vote on tax referenda.

There's something stunningly amazing at the fact that I know with as much certainty as I know pretty much anything that Bush will be out of office in a couple years, and that there's some chance that the government will change fairly substantially.

My irritation and disgust at recent Supreme Court decisions is tempered by my knowledge that eventually those justices will retire. I would like to encourage a number of them (five, to be exact) to retire in just about two years, but I don't want to blow up the Court or anything. Or maybe I just feel powerless to change things? (Because blowing up the court would just enable Bush to appoint nine younger justices, right?)

I fear war, but I'm in awe of the bravery of the people who stood up as revolutionaries, knowing they were traitors, and not knowing if they would win. My admiration isn't limited to those revolutionaries who won, either, though that's an important factor in the U.S.

I wish you all a safe Fourth, whether you're in the U.S. or not. I'm going to celebrate by sitting on the deck with friends, watching fireworks from two or three nearby towns (if all goes as it has in the past).

No comments:

Post a Comment