The Rose Colored Glasses of History

I often look around at this crazy mixed up world, and wish I could have lived back during a simpler time.  Whenever I think about life back then, it is devoid of selfishness, envy, lust, laziness, politics and all other human tendencies that are detrimental to society.

Sure, there was the occasional town drunk, duel, adultery or other abuses, but for the most part it was just good old-fashioned hard work, family time and everyone reaping what they sow.

Our Founding Fathers loved our country and each other.  There was no such thing as partisan politics, newspapers wrote unbiased news, no one tried to take advantage of their neighbor, slander was unheard of, and people who called themselves patriots would do whatever they could to further the cause of America and liberty.

People were just better back then.

Could I have been any more naive?

I just finished Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.  This is the second book that I have read of late that makes me want to double check the time period that it is supposed to be written about.   Are we SURE this isn’t about today’s society ?  Are we SURE we aren’t talking about 21st century world politics?

I wasn’t surprised by how the British viewed the Colonial soldiers who fought for Britain during the French and Indian War.  The hierarchy of military rank was tiered beyond that of officers and enlisted men.  The lowest rank of enlisted men from Britain was considered of higher rank to that of a Colonial General.  No matter how hard the colonials fought for their Mother Country, they would never be seen by the Crown as the free English men that they were.  I wasn’t surprised by how the British, to their eventual detriment, ignored the constant warnings of Colonel Washington that the old style of fighting was useless while waging war against the natives of the land.

Given the innumerable slights and prejudices that the British heaped upon Washington and the other colonials, I’m not at all surprised that events unfolded the way they did.  Tierney and oppression has a way of doing that.

I was however, surprised that the colonials did not, at the onset of the Revolutionary War, have independence in mind.  They considered themselves free British subjects and were outraged at the ludicrous demands that the Crown were putting on them while turning up it’s nose at their needs.  They were happy to pay taxes, they loved the King and their country.  They did not, however appreciate that not only were they taxed without having any representatives in Parliament, but none of the money they paid in taxes was distributed back to the colonies for improvements, etc.  It wasn’t until a year after the war started, long after it became clear that the King didn’t care about the colonists, that the colonists declared their independence.

I was surprised how hard it was to find people willing to serve in the army.  When it came down to it, most people would rather talk the talk then walk the walk.

I was also surprised to find out that Benedict Arnold was a hero many times over for the American Cause.  It was, among other things (lack of patriotism, pride, an inflated sense of self-importance) his being passed over several times for promotion after multiple victorious battles that caused his defection.  He was a brave, heroic man who, more then once, made the difference between victory and defeat.  And because of his pride and selfishness, he will always be remembered as a traitor and a coward.  And he didn’t just fade into the background after his treachery.  He took up the cause against the land of his birth just as passionately as his had previously fought for it.  I once thought that he had always been a spy and just got caught.  Nope.  Just an ambitious man who felt that furthering the cause of his own life took precedence over that of his country.  He died an angry and bitter man.  He could have died a hero.

I was sick when I learned the true situation of Valley Forge.  12,000 troops hunkered down in Valley Forge, PA to wait out the winter.  We have already heard all about the awful situation.  How many had little or no clothing, how they survived on flour and water cakes baked on hot rocks.  How many froze to death, how there was little or no no wood for fires.  Disease ran rampant through the damp and crowded quarters.  We know how Washington constantly petitioned Congress for relief but they could not, or would not provide any.

But what sickened me was WHY they were in those conditions.  George Washington was not a fool.  He chose Valley Forge because of it’s prime location.  It was located smack in the middle of patriot populated farmland.  Washington, while not a fool, made an assumption that was fatal to many of his men.  He assumed that the “patriots” would lend a hand if they needed it.  He couldn’t have been more wrong.  Rather then donate a portion of their harvest or stores to feed their destitute and starving army, these colonists who called themselves patriots decided to SELL their harvest to the BRITISH troops!

When push came to shove, they were more concerned about their wallets then their liberty.

I guess people haven’t changed as much as I thought after all.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Jocelyn says:

    Hee hee…these are Our days…


  2. donna says:

    We agree! ;)

    One of my biggest pet peeves is when people romanticize history, or historical figures. It just really doesn’t do anyone any good.


  3. Heather B says:

    I highly recommend the Prelude to Glory series. Ron Carter manages to illustrate the realities of the time period without losing the other reality, which is that there were also many others who lived up to what the General Authorities have long called ‘the greatest generation ever raised up’. The hand of God WAS in all of it, and in the lives of the people at the time. They WERE very different from any other generation, including ours, because they had to be. Our daunting task is to live up to their incredible examples, as our day’s coming crisis will require much of the same heroism in the lives of it’s people, as well. That’s not romanticizing history, that’s learning from original sources from the time period, and by inspired authors. I also recommend Oliver DeMille’s ‘The Four Lost American Ideals’ CD. Timeless classic talk, which also shows a much more ‘real’ view than it sounds like this book did. Also ‘The Real George Washington’, ‘The Real Thomas Jefferson’, ‘The Real Benjamin Franklin’ are all winners from the NCCS (National Center for Constitutional Studies), along with ‘George Washington- A Collection’, a 679 page collection of his own original letters and writings.

    It sounds like this other book is more along the lines of what they might use to teach that part of history in public school if they ever would bother to spend any more than a week or two on the whole time period. Sorry, but doesn’t make me want to read it. It contradicts too much with what we already know from original writers of the time, and the General Authorities views of the people of the time.


  4. Courtney says:

    I’m reading those other things too.

    But the truth of the matter is that those men were the exception rather then the rule. And they weren’t perfect. They were people, therefore they couldn’t have been perfect.

    And nothing that I have read in The Real George Washington has contradicted what I read in Washington: A Life. This is just my take on it.

    People have a way of thinking about the past as “the good old days”. I’m just saying that the people who lived then were plagued by the same problems that we have now as far with the Natural Man. The Natural Man will always be an enemy to God, whether now or back in 1700’s. The only difference now is that our morality is so off kilter that everything is worse.

    People haven’t changed at all, only the social norms. That’s all I’m sayin’


  5. Heather B says:

    No, you’re absolutely right. People are definitely not perfect. But I think it’s important to remember that there were also many, many people that were very different from what was portrayed apparently in the book (or at least that’s how it sounds). Most people then were georgic (self-employed, business owners, etc.) and there were many who burned their own homes and businesses for the cause of liberty, to prevent the British from taking them. Better to watch their life’s work burn to the ground, and be left with nothing, than to further the enemy. The ‘social norms’ of the day (hard work, self-reliance, true education, no welfare, personal responsibility) created people like that, a little more resilient to the natural man. How many people today would do that? Yes, we’re all human, but I think that the many average, every day heroes ought not to be overlooked, and just the bad apples painted as the general character of the people of the time, when a lot more of them displayed so much more than we can even imagine doing today. I mean, really, social norms, do create the kinds of people of the day, and those norms were very different.

    Also, I went to the amazon page and scrolled down to the ‘little known facts’ about Washington in the book, and gotta tell you, some of them were simply not true, or painted with such a flavor as to twist them to where they’re not the real story anymore. Not sure if the way it’s portrayed there is the same way it’s written in the book, but if it is, I wouldn’t believe everything in there. Sorry :(


    1. Courtney says:

      Don’t take my general disillusionment with mankind as an excuse to bag on the book. It was very well written and researched using letters of the founding fathers, Washington’s diary, etc as his resources. In fact, I believe the only other modern day resource he noted was David McCullough. But I listened to it, so I don’t have his bibliography.

      I am very recently coming from the mindset that “people in general are good hardworking people” and that “back then people were just better then they are now”. I no longer think those things.

      I am also very recently coming from knowing very little about our country’s history. So all of this is eye opening and exciting for me. This is not he first, nor will it be the last book I read about the subject.

      The book itself came across as a very respectful biography of an exceptional, God-fearing man who did wonders for this country against all odds

      I wasn’t bagging on Washington AT ALL! Just the selfish and complacent people that may have exuded fervor at the beginning of the war, but lost steam as they got used to it all. Not everyone burned down their farms.

      Heck, Bush’s approval rating was 90% right after 911. But people got used to everything that was going on and became complacent so it rapidly dropped after that. Don’t mistake me, I’m not saying Bush was awesome, I’m just saying that people don’t live in a vacuum and when something doesn’t seem AS urgent as it once did, people aren’t going to show the same passion

      I am in fierce admiration of those who did burn their farms and the like and all of the average every day hero’s, all I’m saying is that they were hero’s because they were not the norm.

      Out of curiosity, which one’s weren’t true?


  6. Heather B says:

    But I love you!!!!


    1. Courtney says:

      I love you too :)


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