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A Few Bloody Noses: The Realities and Mythologies of the American Revolution Hardcover – May 22, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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I read a lot, I read a lot of history, I read a lot of perspectives and enjoy being challenged on what I know or think I know. It was this mindset that I bought this book on recommendation from NY college econ professor from 35 years ago. Harvey greatly disappointed me. My advice on this book is don't waste your money. Based on the writing and shallow content instead of $35 it should be priced at about one-quarter of that price at most.
Why foreigners believe they know everything that is wrong with the United States and find a ready market for their tomes here is beyond me. But they do. First of all, we are not ignorant of the "warts" on the Founding Fathers and do not believe Washington was a military genius. In fact, I know of no American historian who would say that. I vividly remember my first book on the Revolutionary War, Coffin's "The Boys of '76" that I read when I was eight years old. At the time I was thunderstruck at the many defeats suffered by the patriots, actually a majority of the battles, and have never been under illusions concerning the Revolutionary War since. Harvey's "illusions" are rather what he EXPECTS the Americans to believe if they were British and one were talking about British history. A note to Mr. Harvey -- please do not ascribe your shortcomings to us.
It is difficult to know where to begin with this review. One can almost pick out any page at random and argue over the content. George III was not some benign democratic monarch only wishing to inflict "a few bloody noses" on colonial troublemakers and bring the rest into line in the world's best government (see "Forgotten Patriots"). And yes, self-interest played a role in the patriot uprising, but the basic tenent of the idea of freedon is to be able to pursue one's self-interest without interference from government. Somehow the author doesn't understand that. The author brings forth Lee, Conway and Gates as "...all fell from stars to ignominious discredit...". Gee, Lee and Conway made only negative contributions in the war, and Gates was fortunate to have others (most notably Arnold) fight his only victory (Saratoga) for him. They were "stars"? And Knox was an uneven general (see Germantown) rather than the consistent hero the author makes him out to be.
The author's equating of the Revolutionary War with Vietnam betrays his total bankruptcy in understanding either conflict. Vietnam was not an American colony peopled by American colonists, Vietnam did not possess the approximately 2/3rds of its population unwilling to fight (in the Revolutionary War the idea that 1/3 were patriots, 1/3 loyalists and 1/3 neutral is roughly accurate and although many historians argue over the exact percentages, these were the major divisions), and after Tet, the Vietnam War was fought largely against North Vietnamese regulars, not domestic rebels. Nor did the Vietnamese and Americans come from the same racial stock, possess a common language, enjoy the same general Protestant religious base, or even share a common heritage in law. But no matter -- at least not for the author.
The author states that (based on his work) "Virtually every common assumption has to be substantially modified, if not rejected." Unbelievable hubris! The author writes one book on a subject and every common assumption on that war has to be modified or rejected? I wonder what he would say about an American author writing a book on the English Civil War in the 1600s if the American author made such a preposterous statement.
Maybe that means every one of his common assumptions, but let's start with the first and most important: that the United States won its independence from England. There are American historians who would argue that the French intervention was decisive. That probably is true, but it would not have happened had the patriots not defeated Burgoyne and captured his army. Or another that many American historians recognize -- that support in England itself, especially in London, was critical to maintaining the revolution on life support. But in fact, without the patriots' insensitivity to losses and ability to endure adversity, we'd still be in the Commonwealth today -- apparently where the author wants us. Up to one patriot in five was killed, died of wounds, died in captivity or soon after release, or from sickness during the war -- an almost unheard of level of fatalities in war; and surprise, apparently the author knows that. But hang in there, Harvey will tell us that it was England who won the Battle of Bunker Hill (Howe's comments to the contrary), that Lexington and Concord were well organized and efficient ambushes (although there were no British casualties at Lexington), and that the constitutional convention was the ultimate defeat to the patriot cause (now I'm really speechless.)
I would argue with almost every polemical point the author makes, with the added comment that he declined to give sources or refer the reader to where he obtained his inaccurate information. No doubt the author has good reasons for this upon which I do not wish to speculate. He does present a half-way reasonable bibliography, but I doubt that he read any of them. A Google search would do as well.
So read this book and then put it on the shelf with a product warning label that it is a prime example of the revisionist tripe being propounded about the US and its history by foreigners today -- or better yet, simply "Reading This is Hazardous to Your Health."
A very intersting read. Given his style, I would expect the author to describe Dunkirk in 1940 as "an advance in an alternative direction."
In this Author's view the American Revolution was a series of British Victories unaccountably resulting in a British defeat.
A perfect example of the Author's inability to understand the basics of the War is displayed in the Account of the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, the largest land battle of the War. Other Historians, such as the great Trevelyan, have regarded this as Washington's greatest moment and the strategic turning point of the war, the point where the British went from trying to destroy Washington's Army to trying to escape Washington's Army. Mr Harvey asserts it as a British Victory and claims that the minor success enjoyed by the Yankees was due to ,wait for it...Charles Lee.
I love revisionist History, but it helps to have facts and logic on your side when attempting to rewrite History. Mr Harvey does not achieve this .
Top international reviews
Thankfully,Robert Harvey takes a shotgun to this viewpoint and brings a welcome balance to the debate.
As Harvey points out, London was to far away to rule with an iron fist. For all the talk of British repression, we learn that the colonies were the least taxed region of the Empire. In every instance, British actions to govern the colonies (including the not unreasonable stance of Americans paying for their own defence) was met with American resistance. And yet, before the revolution, American silence to the pressing questions of defence, taxation and governance, spoke volumes.
Harvey shows us that a British Parliament with a high number of American supporters, could have pushed a bill for home rule, if one had been forthcoming from the colonies. When you consider the intelluctual prowess that the founding fathers had, it is amazing that the colonies didn't present a unified front and draft a proposal up. Instead, both London and the colonies were content to muddle along with fatal consequnces.
Nor were Americans appreciative to limits placed on them by the proclamation of 1763,a British attempt to preserve the Indian nations was met with outright hostility by land greedy colonists, and the colonial elites who profited hugely from it.
Time and again, we hear Jefferson arguing for liberty and freedom, and yet, the British Army freed thousands of slaves and were keen to preserve the Indian nations as future trading partners. The Americans in contrast, practiced a scorched earth policy regarding the native tribes, and unlike the British, were reluctant to allow African Americans to fight for them.
On the military side, we see the genius of Washington snatching victory from the jaws of defeat (despite his defeats at the hands of Howe) and the disaster that was the Saratoga campaign that drove a stake into Britian's military effort.
Harvey argues that Britian didn't fuly press the war as much as it could have. Robert Clive, arguably Britian's most able general, refused to fight the colonists. Nor was the loss of the colonies a great deal - the west indies being much more lucrative.
Harvey argues that the revolution was Britian's 'Vietnam.' Much like the Americans two centuries later, Britian won most of the battles, but the lack of an end game, the rebels habit of ruling the vast hinterlands, made victory less likely for Britian. Therefore, one could argue it was British reluctance to fight (they still controlled most of the port towns at the war's end) rather than American victories, that won the war.
To be fair, the book does contain inaccuracies, but in my view, it is a welcome addition to the canon of work concerning the revolution
This exposé has been predictably dismissed as `revisionist history' by those wanting to perpetuate the fantasy of the Revolution being the utmost expression of liberty and nobility.
But those who want a step by step guide through the events that enabled a small minority of smugglers, radicals, misfits and lawless riff-raff to systematically provoke the necessary chaos, that eventually overwhelmed the American establishment and how the British did too little too late to prevent it, this is a good place to start.
So if you are someone that can withstand being confronted with the real facts of the Revolution, then this book is a sound investment