Thursday, July 04, 2013

Astonishing Lack of Historical Understanding

A former historian, one named Paul Pirie, argues in Washington Post that America’s dissociation from the British Empire was flop looking back. What does he want to advocate instead – that American colonies should have continued like Canada and Australia and would have then gained independence without all that revolutionary violence and harder lifer thereafter. Why does he think that as better? Because:

- Canada under British Empire did not have slavery and
- there are more people going to prison in USA than in Canada and Australia.

The later argument is so laughable that one does not want to spend more time on that. Pirie focuses on only narrow slices of facts. It completely ignores the argument that ‘liberty’ is possible only if you have State ready to enforce punishment for offenders. There can be valid arguments whether means deployed in USA are draconian or too harsh on some segments of the society. For that criticism to hold, what has that to do with American Revolution? One can very well criticize American Legal System for that without stretching to connect to founding of the nation. Living within the British Empire, USA could have still evolved to the state where it is – that of harsher prison terms. To ignore the cultural roots (how Wild West got incorporated into USA bringing with it ‘bang, bang’ justice system colliding with Conservative preference for stronger law enforcement) and evolution of American State means basically not understanding true causes of harsher incarceration rates. In any case, it has hardly anything to do with American Revolution.

But the core aspect this historian ignores is if USA were not to divorce from British Empire, it would have been party to the British Colonialism. Step forward who thinks that has been a worthy legacy? In the 19th century when America was mopping its remaining part of the revolution – emancipation of Blacks; Britishers were busy laying foundations of colonial exploitations in far flung places of earth - South Asia, and Africa (sun never set on the Empire…). In the 20th century when America was stepping forward as the bulwark against German and Japanese aggregation, British Empire was busy pulling off Jallianwala Bagh and then thunders of Winston Churchill that he was not presiding over liquidation of Empire when one scantly dressed Indian Man asked for the independence. So is USA not better off not having to be linked with all that? Any time short comings of American Revolution are acceptable to stay away from the mess of British Empire.

One would expect that a former historian would understand that without dissociation from British, original 13 American colonies would have remained as is and the present day sprawling 50 states USA might not have born. Further, are we supposed to believe that under the leadership of Union Jack the World would have pulled of decisive victories for Anglo-Saxon Western world in 3 World Wars - I, II and Cold War; even though economic might of 13 colonies would have been deployed on the side of the British Crown?

If at all one wants to indulge in fantasies (and American Independence Day is a perfect occasion to ponder over America’s journey so far); one should ask what did British Empire lack when the King failed to respond ‘no taxation without representation’ cry from America’s Founders. Same deal with Indians after half a century later. Fast forward 2014, would anyone dare to ask Scots about telling American Revolution as a flop?

Truth is with all its shortcomings, American Revolution has served remarkably well to Americans; it ushered one of the most powerful nation states of History which we find on the ‘right side of the history’ in remarkable number of occasions and the revolution has inspired people all over the world for centuries. Fourth of July is that worthy celebration.

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