Top Ten Movies for the Fourth of July

A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution.  Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:

10.  The Devil’s Disciple (1959)- I am not a big fan of the plays of George Bernard Shaw, but this film has its moments.  Set during the Saratoga campaign of 1777, Laurence Olivier was an inspired choice as General “Gentleman Johnnie” Burgoyne, and Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as the two American protagonists have their usual fine chemistry together on film.  Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.

9.  The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton.  This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie.  Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.

8.  John Paul Jones (1959)  Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero.  Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great.  The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days.  The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong.  This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900.  Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications.  Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison.  Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.

7.  The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution!  Actually not too bad of a film overall.  Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes.  Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign.  The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English.  No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive.  However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton  at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender.  The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Banastre Tarleton.

6.  Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.  Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mowhawk Valley.  Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life.

5.  Johnny Tremain (1957)-”Hundreds would die, but not the thing they died for. ‘A man can stand up…’”  The poignant last line to Esther Forbes’ novel about the events leading up to the American Revolution, a passage so moving that it even inspired Bart Simpson with a brief interest in American history!  The events in Boston from 1773-April 1775 seen through the eyes of a young apprentice silversmith.  The book is unforgettable.  The movie is American history a la Disney.  The movie is good to watch, the book is must reading. (more…)

Published in: on June 30, 2010 at 4:26 am  Comments (7)  
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Abraham Lincoln on the Declaration of Independence

On February 2, 1861, on his way to Washington, Abraham Lincoln stopped at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  There he made a few remarks on the Declaration:

Mr. Cuyler:

 

I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.

Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there need be no bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course, and I may say, in advance, that there will be no bloodshed unless it be forced upon the Government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defence.

My friends, this is wholly an unexpected speech, and I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here. I supposed it was merely to do something toward raising the flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet. (Cries of “No, no”) I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, die by. (more…)

Published in: on June 29, 2010 at 5:29 am  Comments (1)  
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The Korean War-Not The Forgotten War

June 25, 1950, the North Koreans, at the instigation of Stalin, invaded South Korea.  The US, under UN auspices, intervened under General Douglas MacArthur.  In a brilliant campaign, MacArthur led the American and allied forces to victory, largely destroying the North Korean Army and conquering most of North Korea.  Massive Chinese intervention led to a see-saw war up and down the Korean peninsula, with a stalemate ensuing from July 1951-July 1953.  Eisenhower got the North Koreans and their Chinese and Soviet backers to finally agree to a truce by threatening to use nuclear weapons in Korea.

Our POWs during the war were treated with the usual barbarity with which Communist regimes have treated prisoners of war.

One reason that the war dragged on is because many North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war did not want to be repatriated.  Harry Truman, to his everlasting credit, refused to send them back against their will:  “We will not buy an armistice by turning over human beings for slaughter or slavery“.  Eventually, in a stunning rebuke to Communism, some 46,000 North Korean and Chinese soldiers refused repatriation.  Conversely, only 22 Americans and 1 Brit refused repatriation, with almost all of them eventually returning after the war.

The Korean War was one of the deadliest conflicts fought by the US:  33,746 dead and 103, 284 wounded, with the vast majority of the casualties sustained in the first year of the war.  It was also a frustrating war, as the film clip from the movie Pork Chop Hill well illustrates.  That film is perhaps the best depiction of the surreal quality of the war, as the US and its allies fought against the Orwellian regimes of North Korea and China, with the Soviet Union hovering in the background.

My uncle Ralph McClarey fought in that war as an Army infantryman.  I have written about him here.  Ralph has always had an excellent sense of humor, his Donald Duck imitation would make an ox roar with laughter, and his sense of humor and his rosary sustained him through some bitter fighting.  Here’s to you uncle Ralph, and to the men you served with!  In a tough, bitter and often thankless war, you stopped Communist aggression and saved tens of millions of human beings from living under one of the worst tyrannies ever devised by fallen Man.  Some people call Korea the Forgotten War.  It will never be forgotten by me.

Published in: on June 28, 2010 at 6:05 am  Comments (5)  
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Reading the Declaration

Part of my ongoing effort to have people read the Declaration on the Fourth.  This video demonstrates two things.  First, that even Hollywood can’t foul up the Declaration when Mr. Jefferson’s words are allowed to speak for themselves.  Second, that the Declaration is very much a speech, and is best understood when read aloud.  In the ealier days of our Republic, a public reading of the Declaration was usually a part of the festivities on the Fourth.  It is a tradition that I wish we would return to.

Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 5:03 am  Comments (2)  
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Stars and Stripes Forever

Something for the weekend.  Let’s start getting in the mood for the Fourth with a little SousaStars and Stripes Forever performed by Vladimir Horowitz  in 1945.

Published in: on June 26, 2010 at 3:57 am  Comments Off  
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Painting the Declaration

A good video on the famous John Trumbull painting of the Declaration.  Here is an absolutely hilarious scene from the John Adams miniseries in which the elderly John Adams, ever the curmudgeon, critiques the paintings on the grounds of historical inaccuracy, and simple lack of artistic merit.

Published in: on June 25, 2010 at 5:26 am  Comments Off  
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In Defense of American Exceptionalism

 “Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.” Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862.

 

This is a repost of a post I did on The American Catholic.  I thought our readers here might find it interesting.

 

 As a liberal democracy, is the United States different in any appreciable way from other liberal democracies in the western tradition, and if so, does the thought of its founders explain this?

That is the question posed yesterday by commenter and Vox Nova blogger Morning’s Minion. Commenter Art Deco took up the challenge:

 I do not think you are going to find a nexus of social phenomena that is explained by a single cause. To the extent that intellectual genealogies influence people’s conceptions of what their interests and ideals are, the thought of that corps of politicians is important. To the extent that the social evolution of the United States has been shaped by political institutions which were informed by the thought of these men, their thought is important.

 Any society has its signature elements. I am not sure why it escapes you what ours are, in the political realm and outside it. We can defer for a moment the more interesting discussion of the country’s social history and historical geography and just look at aspects of the latter-day political order, as you insist.

1. The political parties have tended to manifest conflict between subcultures rather than between social strata.

 

2. The political parties are haphazard and decentralized in comparison with their European counterparts (France excepted).

 

 3. Formal political institutions are likewise, with many accumulated barnacles.

 

4. We maintain a common law system, which is not indebted to the Code Napoleon.

 

5. Our constitution antedates all but a few in Europe by a century and the forms delineated therein derive from institutions of colonial government more than 150 older than that; there has been intramural political violence in the United States but also absolute continuity of local institutions for more than 400 years and continuity of continental institutions for in excess of 200 years.

 

6. Because our institutions are comparatively antique and because they were delineated by a single statute, aspects of political practice in Britain were retained here while being abandoned there and elsewhere. Notable is the absence of parliamentary government, something quite unusual among the fifty or so most durable constitutional systems. (I believe the United States and Costa Rica are the only examples).

 

 7. Both in politics and society, trade and industrial unions are much weaker here, comprehending just 9% of the private sector workforce. Unions in America are now lobbies for the interests of public employees.

 

8. The multiplication of the functions of the state and corporatist institutions and practices have been much more restrained here. Public enterprise has tended to be limited to natural monopolies owned and operated by provincial and local governments; the federal government operates a postal service, some hydroelectric stations, and maintains a large inventory of land, but that is it.

 

9. The political intelligence and moral sentiments of our elected officials (not our judges) remain more resonant with that of the general public than is the case elsewhere. I think it was Oriana Fallaci who once complained that if you ask a British legislator what the intellectual influences on him were, he might offer Marx or Burke; his American counterpart would name his own father. There is a reason we have capital punishment in this country and they do not in Canada, and that reason is not differences in public sentiment. (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2010 at 5:38 am  Comments Off  
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G.K. Chesterton on Abraham Lincoln

 

 

The patron saint of paradox, G. K. Chesterton, had a great gift for taking the familiar, twisting it to a new angle in his mind and producing insights that were often brilliant and always well written.  On 1921 he made a lecture tour of the US.  In 1922 he wrote a book, What I Saw In America, which is filled with interesting observations on the US by one of our more acute observers.  Here are his reflections on Lincoln.  I certainly do not endorse everything he writes, but I find all of it fascinating.

 

Lincoln and Lost Causes

It has already been remarked here that the English know a great deal about past American literature, but nothing about past American history. They do not know either, of course, as well as they know the present American advertising, which is the least important of the three. But it is worth noting once more how little they know of the history, and how illogically that little is chosen. They have heard, no doubt, of the fame and the greatness of Henry Clay. He is a cigar. But it would be unwise to cross-examine any Englishman, who may be consuming that luxury at the moment, about the Missouri Compromise or the controversies with Andrew Jackson. And just as the statesman of Kentucky is a cigar, so the state of Virginia is a cigarette. But there is perhaps one exception, or half-exception, to this simple plan. It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that Plymouth Rock is a chicken. Any English person keeping chickens, and chiefly interested in Plymouth Rocks considered as chickens, would nevertheless have a hazy sensation of having seen the word somewhere before. He would feel subconsciously that the Plymouth Rock had not always been a chicken. Indeed, the name connotes something not only solid but antiquated; and is not therefore a very tactful name for a chicken. There would rise up before him something memorable in the haze that he calls his history; and he would see the history books of his boyhood and old engravings of men in steeple-crowned hats struggling with sea-waves or Red Indians. The whole thing would suddenly become clear to him if (by a simple reform) the chickens were called Pilgrim Fathers.

Then he would remember all about it. The Pilgrim Fathers were champions of religious liberty; and they discovered America. It is true that he has also heard of a man called Christopher Columbus; but that was in connection with an egg. He has also heard of somebody known as Sir Walter Raleigh; and though his principal possession was a cloak, it is also true that he had a potato, not to mention a pipe of tobacco. Can it be possible that he brought it from Virginia, where the cigarettes come from? Gradually the memories will come back and fit themselves together for the average hen-wife who learnt history at the English elementary schools, and who has now something better to do. Even when the narrative becomes consecutive, it will not necessarily become correct. It is not strictly true to say that the Pilgrim Fathers discovered America. But it is quite as true as saying that they were champions of religious liberty. If we said that they were martyrs who would have died heroically in torments rather than tolerate any religious liberty, we should be talking something like sense about them, and telling the real truth that is their due. The whole Puritan movement, from the Solemn League and Covenant to the last stand of the last Stuarts, was a struggle _against_ religious toleration, or what they would have called religious indifference. The first religious equality on earth was established by a Catholic cavalier in Maryland. Now there is nothing in this to diminish any dignity that belongs to any real virtues and virilities in the Pilgrim Fathers; on the contrary, it is rather to the credit of their consistency and conviction. But there is no doubt that the note of their whole experiment in New England was intolerance, and even inquisition. And there is no doubt that New England was then only the newest and not the oldest of these colonial experiments. At least two Cavaliers had been in the field before any Puritans. And they had carried with them much more of the atmosphere and nature of the normal Englishman than any Puritan could possibly carry. They had established it especially in Virginia, which had been founded by a great Elizabethan and named after the great Elizabeth. Before there was any New England in the North, there was something very like Old England in the South. Relatively speaking, there is still.

Whenever the anniversary of the _Mayflower_ comes round, there is a chorus of Anglo-American congratulation and comradeship, as if this at least were a matter on which all can agree. But I knew enough about America, even before I went there, to know that there are a good many people there at any rate who do not agree with it. Long ago I wrote a protest in which I asked why Englishmen had forgotten the great state of Virginia, the first in foundation and long the first in leadership; and why a few crabbed Nonconformists should have the right to erase a record that begins with Raleigh and ends with Lee, and incidentally includes Washington. The great state of Virginia was the backbone of America until it was broken in the Civil War. From Virginia came the first great Presidents and most of the Fathers of the Republic. Its adherence to the Southern side in the war made it a great war, and for a long time a doubtful war. And in the leader of the Southern armies it produced what is perhaps the one modern figure that may come to shine like St. Louis in the lost battle, or Hector dying before holy Troy.

Again, it is characteristic that while the modern English know nothing about Lee they do know something about Lincoln; and nearly all that they know is wrong. They know nothing of his Southern connections, nothing of his considerable Southern sympathy, nothing of the meaning of his moderation in face of the problem of slavery, now lightly treated as self-evident. Above all, they know nothing about the respect in which Lincoln was quite un-English, was indeed the very reverse of English; and can be understood better if we think of him as a Frenchman, since it seems so hard for some of us to believe that he was an American. I mean his lust for logic for its own sake, and the way he kept mathematical truths in his mind like the fixed stars. He was so far from being a merely practical man, impatient of academic abstractions, that he reviewed and revelled in academic abstractions, even while he could not apply them to practical life. He loved to repeat that slavery was intolerable while he tolerated it, and to prove that something ought to be done while it was impossible to do it. This was probably very bewildering to his brother-politicians; for politicians always whitewash what they do not destroy. But for all that this inconsistent consistency beat the politicians at their own game, and this abstracted logic proved the most practical of all. For when the chance did come to do something, there was no doubt about the thing to be done. The thunderbolt fell from the clear heights of heaven; it had not been tossed about and lost like a common missile in the market-place. The matter is worth mentioning, because it has a moral for a much larger modern question. A wise man’s attitude towards industrial capitalism will be very like Lincoln’s attitude towards slavery. That is, he will manage to endure capitalism; but he will not endure a defence of capitalism. He will recognise the value, not only of knowing what he is doing, but of knowing what he would like to do. He will recognise the importance of having a thing clearly labelled in his own mind as bad, long before the opportunity comes to abolish it. He may recognise the risk of even worse things in immediate abolition, as Lincoln did in abolitionism. He will not call all business men brutes, any more than Lincoln would call all planters demons; because he knows they are not. He will regard many alternatives to capitalism as crude and inhuman, as Lincoln regarded John Brown’s raid; because they are. But he will clear his _mind_ from cant about capitalism; he will have no doubt of what is the truth about Trusts and Trade Combines and the concentration of capital; and it is the truth that they endure under one of the ironic silences of heaven, over the pageants and the passing triumphs of hell.  (more…)

Published in: on June 23, 2010 at 4:23 am  Comments Off  
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The Omega Declaration

Shatner the Canadian explains the preamble of the Constitution to us!  As we draw closer to the Fourth quite a few of my posts will have a Declaration of Independence theme.

One of the “alternate Earth” episodes that became fairly common as the original Star Trek series proceeded, as explained by Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development,  this episode featured an Earth where a cataclysmic war had driven the Americans, the Yangs, out of their cities and into primitive warbands.  Chinese Communists, the Kohms, settled in America.  Their technology was a few steps higher than the Yangs.  The Yangs had been waging a war for generations to drive the Kohms from their land, and the episode coincided with the Yangs taking the last of “the Kohm places”.

Over the generations, the Yangs had forgotten almost all of their history and what little knowledge remained was restricted to priests and chieftains.

“Cloud William: Freedom?
James T. Kirk: Spock.
Spock: Yes, I heard, Captain.
Cloud William: It is a worship word, Yang worship. You will not speak it.
James T. Kirk: Well, well, well. It is… our worship word, too.” (more…)

Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 6:04 am  Comments Off  
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Richard Henry Lee

In the musical 1776, Richard Henry Lee is portrayed as an empty-headed, albeit good-natured, Virginia Cavalier.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He was actually something of an intellectual, and one of the earliest advocates of independence.  Born on  January 20, 1732, his father was Thomas Lee who had served as de facto Royal Governor of Virginia  before his death in 1750.  Educated in England, Richard Henry Lee returned to America in 1752 and began to practice law.  At the age of 25, he was appointed justice of the peace for Westmoreland County.  Soon being elected to the House of Burgesses, he quickly became friends with fellow member Patrick Henry and shared his passion to resist British encroachments on American liberties.  In 1766 he authored  the Westmoreland Resolves, one of the earliest protests by the Americans against the policies of George III.

He was a delegate from Virginia at both the First and Second Continental Congresses.  He achieved immortality with his resolution in favor of Congress declaring independence from the British Crown:

Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. (more…)

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 5:40 am  Comments (2)  
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