Tag Archives: Oliver Cromwell

RUSSIA, BRITAIN AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

This 1783 portrait shows the American delegation to the Paris peace talks. The British refused to pose with the Americans. Animosity was still running high more than a year after the war had ended.

With three young grandchildren in the house, including a baby that recently turned one year old, I’ve taken to watching silent movies on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).   There’s no dialog to hear, so surrounding noise isn’t a problem.

I started by watching the 1925 version of “Ben Hur,” which many consider the best of the three versions.  It certainly has the best chariot scene, made at a time when animal rights were not taken into consideration.  (Not that I advocate hurting animals – it was just so REAL!)

Recently, I watched “Love” with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, made the following year.   The two actors were more famous than Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio are today.

The movie was an enactment of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”   The title was changed thanks to the tabloids.  The gossip papers had revealed that, while making the film, Gilbert and Gabo had started their own relationship.  This enabled the movie’s producers to put the following on marquees across America:   “Garbo and Gilbert in Love.” The movie was a sensation, a bigger hit than anything Hollywood turns out nowadays.

It wasn’t only the title that was changed.   Producers chose to make the movie with two alternative endings.  They referred to one as the “Russian ending,” with Anna, as in the classic, killing herself in front of a train after an adulterous affair that led to her losing her son.   Another ending was made for Americans, with Anna’s husband dying, thereby leaving her free to marry her lover, Vronsky, and keep her son.  It was felt that American audiences couldn’t handle Anna’s death.   The “American” version missed the whole point of the novel.

Interestingly, the Russian ending was shown in New York and on the West coast.   It was only Mid-western sensibilities that they were concerned about.

If Hollywood can’t even get a novel right, why would we expect them to be accurate when it comes to non-fiction?

Another Russian “story” caused a problem for Hollywood a few years later, by which time sound had replaced the old silent movies. This movie dealt with “Rasputin and the Empress” (1932).   It’s depiction of Prince Felix Yousoupov, the principal murderer of Rasputin, was so inaccurate it led to a major lawsuit; since then movies carry the words “all characters in this film are fictional,” or similar, to protect themselves from expensive lawsuits.   Now, no attempt is made at accuracy.

I’ve yet to see a Hollywood movie depict the American Revolution with any degree of accuracy.   In Hollywood, everything has to be black and white.  Real life is rarely like that.   The Revolution was not Americans against the king; the country was equally divided — one third rebelled against the crown, one third were loyal and the other third couldn’t spell “crown.”   On the eve of Yorktown, 40% were loyalists, with support for the Patriots down to 30%.

Rather than the claim that the king was acting selfishly, it can be argued that the leaders of the Patriots were.   They were heavily in debt to British banks, following a bad crop in 1773 – one way to get out from under the debt was to ditch the Crown.   It’s not surprising that wealthy indebted landowners led the revolution – the only revolution in history where those rebelling were richer than those they rebelled against!   This issue was finally resolved after the war when the belligerents got together in Paris.

I was thinking about this over the Fourth of July, when I read a review in The Economist by their American correspondent.   He reviewed a book titled:   “Scars of Independence: America’s violent birth,” by Holger Hoock of the University of Pittsburgh.    Mr. Hoock “. . . concluded that selective amnesia took hold soon after the war, as victors told their version of history, and the British displayed their genius for forgetting defeats.  In the republic’s earliest decades, stone monuments charging the British with “cold-blooded cruelty” rose on battle sites from Lexington, Massachusetts to Paoli, Pennsylvania.   Meanwhile orators told Americans that their revolt had been unusually civilized:  one public meeting in 1813 declared the revolution “untarnished with a single blood-speck of inhumanity.”  (The American Revolution Revisited – a Nation Divided, Even at Birth)

I have an extensive library of books on the Revolution, all of which were written by Americans.  The following quote from The Economist is an accurate observation:

“Browse through school history books, with names like “Liberty or Death!” and the struggle to throw off British rule is sanctified as a victory of American patriot-farmers and artisans against battle-hardened British redcoats and foreign mercenaries, defending ideals crafted by orators in periwigs.  Yet go back to contemporary sources, and they called it what it also was:  a brutal civil war.” (Economist review.)

6% of America’s population died in the Revolutionary War, as against 2% in the War Between the States eight decades later.  (By 1861 the population was much higher, but the percentage gives an idea of the relative suffering of the people.)

Note the following:  “At the war’s end, about one in 40 Americans went into permanent exile, the equivalent of some 8m people today.” (ibid.)

The Revolutionary War was a civil war.   Most battles took place without the presence of British soldiers – brother fought brother, to death, with little mercy shown.   Ironically, if the Revolutionary War had not taken place, the “Civil War” would never have happened – the imperial parliament in London abolished the slave trade in 1808 and slavery itself 25 years later.   No battles were fought over the issue.   Additionally, states’ rights would never have been a factor or cause for conflict.   Canada was spared both civil wars.

So, what did Americans gain?

FACTS TELL A DIFFERENT STORY

Consider the following gleaned from a variety of books on the subject:

>>>American historian Gordon Wood, considered the foremost expert on the Revolution, wrote in his book: “The Radicalization of the American Revolution,” that England in the eighteenth century was the freest country in the world and that the colonists were even freer.  The king was the guarantor of freedom – never again could a commoner like Oliver Cromwell take power and become a dictator. Celebrations for King George III’s coronation in 1762 were greater in the colonies than in England.   So, what went wrong and why, then, did some Americans want more freedom?

>>>The French and Indian Wars were fought by Britain and the colonists to defend the latter against a French Catholic take-over. George Washington, serving “King and Country”, fired the first shots. The seven-year war left the British government with serious debts, which they tried to recoup by taxing the colonies.   Americans did not want to pay for the war.   Over two centuries later, Americans still do not like to pay for wars.

>>>Contrary to what is often thought today, all thirteen original colonies had a democratic form of government.   All property-owning males could vote, with a 90% turnout at elections.   After independence, there was no immediate widening of the franchise.   In 1789, when the first election was held, only 6% of the population could vote.   Both the United States and the United Kingdom extended the franchise during the nineteenth century and both gave women the vote after World War One.   America lagged behind England in voting rights, not catching up until the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

>>>The Right to Vote and the Right to Bear Arms were in force before 1776.   Indeed, the revolution would not have been possible without these rights.

>>>It has often been pointed out that the leaders of the Revolution were richer than the people they rebelled against.

>>>In 1772, the monumental Somerset Decision sent shock-waves through the American colonies.  A slave  had taken his owner to court.  The court ruled that nobody in the British Isles could be owned by somebody else.  If extended to the colonies, this would have ruined prosperous farmers who needed free labor.

Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:   “Somerset v Stewart 98 ER 499 is a famous judgment of the English Court of King’s Bench in 1772, which held that chattel slavery was unsupported by the common law in England and Wales.”

>>>Rather than the claim that the king was acting selfishly, it can be argued that the leaders of the Patriots were.  They were heavily in debt to British banks, following a bad crop in 1773.

>>> Paul Revere did not ride through Lexington, Massachusetts, shouting:  “the British are coming.”   This would have made no sense as everybody was British.   It would be like somebody today, seeing the police approaching, would shout out the warning that the Americans are coming.   Rather, Paul Revere warned that “the Regulars are coming,” a reference to full time professional troops.

>>>Geoffrey Wawro, a distinguished scholar of military history who teaches at the University of North Texas, led a discussion some years ago on “Global View” (History International Channel).   The panel concluded that the separation of England and America weakened the English-speaking world considerably.

>>>By 1800, almost twenty years after independence, Americans were paying more in taxes than they had ever paid under colonial rule.

>>>As the Patriots called themselves the “Sons of Liberty,” the Tories referred to them as the “Sons of Anarchy.”   Partly because of what happened a century earlier when England itself became a republic, many loyalists feared a total breakdown of law and order if the country became a republic, a country without a king.   A Biblically literate population was aware of the warning at the end of the Book of Judges:   “There was no king in Israel in those days; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”  (Judges 25:25).   No king meant anarchy!

>>>Many of today’s super-patriots, those who celebrate the 4th of July most vigorously, ironically, would probably have been Tories in 1780.   Conservatives don’t like change or uncertainty.

>>>This brings us back to the Russians.  Newt Gingrich’s book “Yorktown” brings out that Catherine the Great of Russia offered to mediate between the British government and those rebelling against it.   One idea proposed was that Americans would keep their unitary nation, but remain within the Empire.  On the eve of the final Battle of Yorktown, this was acceptable to most Americans, including members of the Continental Congress.  This would have resulted in America being more like Canada.   It would, of course, also have meant there was no need for Canada – loyalists would have stayed where they were.   Catherine’s mediation attempt got nowhere – the autocratic Russian Empress was hardly a credible mediator between two sides that both believed in democracy.

>>>The victory at Yorktown would not have happened without the French navy.   After the battle, the situation was unclear.   It wasn’t until the King asked parliament for more money to fight the rebellion that the war finally ended – parliament refused his request.

>>>Cut off from the empire’s trading system, the US struggled financially after independence.  Even in the 1930’s, the nations of the British Empire recovered from the Great Depression quicker than the US.  America was anxious to break into the imperial trading club without becoming a part of the empire.

The question remains:   what did Americans gain from independence?  One thing comes immediately to mind – that the new country was no longer bound by British treaties with the “Indians;” they could now expand westward.

Ironically, it was a British bank that financed the Louisiana Purchase and British investors who helped build the railways that opened up the West.   So the Brits did their part to make the country expand anyway.

On the other hand, if those treaties had remained in effect, California may never have entered the Union and Hollywood might not exist – some would say, those are two very good reasons for remaining loyal to the Crown!

So, why did Americans revolt and why did the rebels (patriots) win?

Decades after the American Revolution, the Anglo-Israelite movement believed that the British Empire and the United States of America were the fulfillment of a prophecy in Genesis 48; that the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, would become a great company of nations (Ephraim; the British Empire and Commonwealth) and his brother would become a great single nation (Manasseh, the United States).   As the “company of nations” (Genesis 48:19) was united by the Crown, the great single nation had to break away from the crown, which is exactly what the United States did.   Note: ”He set Ephraim before Manasseh (verse 20)”. Britain was the world’s superpower before the United States.  In relative terms, Britain was also greater than its successor.  After the loss of the American colonies, the British went on to develop the greatest empire the world had ever seen.

In other words, God determined the outcome of the Revolutionary War in order to fulfill Bible prophecy.

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HOLLYWOOD IS NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF TEACHING HISTORY

Patriot

Hollywood is adding to US foreign policy woes at an incredible rate. No less than four current movies are causing upsets in various parts of the world.

“The Interview” has received a lot of attention.   I have not seen it and would have had no interest in seeing it, if North Korea’s paranoid regime hadn’t flipped out over the movie, blaming the US president personally for its showing. (When you’ve grown up in a country where the “Dear Leader” decides everything, it’s not surprising that people think the US president plays the same role in America!)

The movie revolves around a comedic attempt to assassinate the leader of North Korea. Along the way it makes fun of the more comical aspects of the regime.

As the US has never had good relations with North Korea anyway, Pyongyang’s anger can largely be ignored. But other movies are also a problem.

“American Sniper” has been labeled racist by Muslims who see the conflict with ISIS as a continuation of the clash of civilizations between the “Christian” West and the Islamic world. The movie tells the true story of the US military’s greatest sniper, who killed over 200 people during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As all his victims were Muslims, he, therefore, must be a racist. Don’t look for logic – it’s not a strong point with people who grew up in the Middle East.

“Unbroken” is also a problem, this time with the Japanese. Conservatives in the country are upset over the way Japan’s troops are portrayed in the film, which again is a true story, telling the story of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini’s experience in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in WWII.   It’s not the first movie to depict the horrors of life in a Japanese POW camp.   They had no respect for prisoners as their own military culture taught that fighting to the death was preferable to surrender.

The truth is the truth. No apologies need be made for “American Sniper” or “Unbroken”, assuming they stuck to the truth.

Even “Exodus” has been quite controversial, thousands of years after the event. My wife and I didn’t like it. Nor did the Egyptians who said it was “inaccurate,” that Jewish slaves did not build the pyramids and that the depiction of ancient Egyptians was not accurate. Although the depiction of the plagues was interesting and imaginative, and Christian Bale played a convincing Moses, the parting of the Red Sea and receiving of the Ten Commandments were much better in the 1956 version, when special effects were more primitive.   Perhaps the downplaying of the commandments reflects changing societal attitudes in the interim decades.

In Egypt, ‘Censors objected to the “intentional gross historical fallacies that offend Egypt and its pharaonic ancient history in yet another attempt to Judaize Egyptian civilization, which confirms the international Zionist fingerprints all over the film,” the statement said.

The ministry said the movie inaccurately depicts ancient Egyptians as “savages” who kill and hang Jews, arguing that hanging did not exist in ancient Egypt. It said the film also presents a “racist” depiction of Jews as a people who mounted an armed rebellion. The ministry said religious scriptures present Jews as weak and oppressed.

The statement also objected to the depiction of God as a child, which also drew criticism in the West.’  (Seattle Times, December 28th)

Hollywood has always had a problem with religion, rarely depicting biblical events with any degree of accuracy. “The Ten Commandments” (1956) was one of the better biblical movies, with considerable input from Josephus.

But Hollywood has also had a serious problem with history. I cannot think of any historical movie made in Hollywood that was 100% accurate. “Braveheart” has been labeled the most historically inaccurate movie ever made, with 87 historical inaccuracies, according to one website. Another Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot” got the prize for the fourth most inaccurate movie in history. Amongst other things, the movie depicted British soldiers burning down a church with people in it. The film was set during the Revolutionary War.   British soldiers have never burned down a church full of worshippers, never at any time in history. If they did, they would be court-martialed and severely punished. But it made for great entertainment!

Mel Gibson defended these movies by saying, “We are not in the business of teaching history. We are in the business of providing entertainment to make money.” (The quote is a paraphrase heard on NPR many years ago.)

At least he was honest. Perhaps his anti-semitic rantings owe their origin to the same ignorance of history!

Hollywood has always had a problem with history.

Exactly a century ago next month, what is considered the most influential movie in American history, premiered. “The Birth of a Nation” was an anti-black, pro-KKK movie that led to riots in cities across America. The film was set during the Civil War and Reconstruction and blamed African-Americans for the problems that plagued the US during this period. The NAACP tried to get the film banned. The movie was the first motion picture screened at the White House, then occupied by President Woodrow Wilson.

In an age when few people read anything in depth, preferring to spend their time with electronic gadgets, including TV and DVD’s, movies are perceived as fact.   But they rarely are. If you want to know the facts, you have to read and do the research.

The 1960 John Wayne movie “The Alamo” was made with two historical advisers during production. One of them walked off the set saying, “there isn’t one minute of historical accuracy in this film” but it hasn’t stopped people watching it in the last 55 years.

Hollywood has a responsibility to strive for accuracy. It can be done. Good movies can be made while maintaining accuracy. “To Kill a King” is a prime example. This is a British movie about the English Civil War, the execution of the King and the subsequent Republic under Oliver Cromwell. The film was lauded by historians as the most accurate historical movie ever made.

Sadly, it’s hard to track down. Perhaps, after all, people are not interested in facts – they just want to be entertained!

HISTORY IS BRUTAL

(Our youngest grandson, Leeson, who turns 2 in December, deleted this morning’s article. Here is an attempt at a re-write.)

Sword

Bernard Cornwell is an American novelist who has written dozens of books on English history. I’ve just finished his first novel on Alfred the Great, “The Last Kingdom,” set in the ninth century when the Danes (Vikings) were raiding England and wanted to take over the country. England at the time was more than one kingdom. The Danes conquered all the other kingdoms until finally only Alfred’s kingdom of Wessex, in the south and west of the island, survived. If the Danes had succeeded in conquering the last kingdom, they would have killed all the English males and there would have been no England.

It’s not surprising that Alfred is the only English monarch described as “the Great.” Without him, the country would not exist today.

The Danes at the time were ruthless. They still worshipped the pagan gods of Thor and Woden. Because they were usually victorious against the “Christian” (Catholic) English, they considered their gods superior to the Christian god. They were particularly fond of raiding churches and killing priests (churches had more money than anybody else).

Their favorite method of killing was beheading, a subject that has been in our news a great deal lately.

Coincidentally, the non-fiction book I was reading at the same time as Cornwell’s was “When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World,” by Hugh Kennedy, a far more challenging read. I remember having a problem reading Russian literature in my teens because I could not keep track of all those Russian names; believe me, Russian names are a lot easier than Arabic.

This book is set in the same time period as Cornwell’s. As in “The Last Kingdom,” there are plenty of beheadings, the preferred punishment for opponents and anybody the caliph did not like.

Having said that, the Muslim world was far more advanced than England at the time.

The Danes were still a problem two centuries later when Saxon King Harold took his troops north and defeated the invading Danes at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which was fought on the 25th September, 1066. He then had to rush south to fight the invading Normans at the Battle of Hastings. Harold lost the battle and lost his life. England came under Norman rule.

Beheadings continued. During the Peasants Revolt in 1381, the rebels beheaded any law students they could find. In turn, the rebels themselves were later beheaded by the royal authorities.

Henry VIII, in the sixteenth century, was fond of sending people to face the axe-man, including two of his wives.

The most famous victim was Anne Boleyn, his second wife. “Compassionately,” Henry sent for the best swordsman in France to come over and do the final deed, as he did not want his wife to suffer. A good swordsman could kill with just one swipe of the sword – an axe-man might need a few swipes, thereby prolonging the agony. Of course, if he had really been compassionate, he would have sent her into exile. He did not have the option of sending her to a convent as he had closed them all down.

A little over a century later, King Charles I was beheaded in 1649. A republic was proclaimed under Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, in turn, was beheaded when the monarchy was restored but by that time he had been dead for well over a year!

Decapitation was the punishment for treason. It was reserved for the nobility. The common man had to endure being hung, drawn, and quartered, as was William Wallace, the famous Scot. The last English noble to suffer decapitation was in 1747. In Scotland, the last beheading was in 1889.

The French were still using the guillotine until a few decades ago. The last public execution was in 1939.  Interestingly, witnesses say that people would utter a word or two or blink their eyes after they lost their heads. Just for a couple seconds, that’s all.

As a child I often visited the city of Lincoln and loved walking around its famous castle. One high point in the castle wall is where public hangings took place until the mid-nineteenth century. Charles Dickens witnessed the last one. There was a pub across the street, which offered a perfect view of the hangings. It was called “The Hangman’s Noose” and did a roaring trade whenever anybody faced the actual hangman. Hanging had replaced decapitation as the preferred form of capital punishment over a century earlier.

The law followed the biblical guideline found in Ecclesiastes 8:11 (and elsewhere):  “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

Typically, a trial was held within two months of a capital offence. Execution then followed within 90 days, after just one appeal. In stark contrast today, in the US, somebody can be on death row for over twenty years, making the death penalty far less of a deterrent.

Back to the two books: I recommend Cornwell’s book. It’s a good read. Kennedy’s is a more difficult read and is only for those who are seriously interested in the subject.

Because the two books include many beheadings, and because I have been reading them at the same time as beheadings have been on the news, I studied into the subject more deeply. The result is this article. I hope you found it interesting.