Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Two New Nations, 230 Years Apart

We celebrated the 230th birthday of the United States yesterday. Interesting to watch the different ways Americans celebrated, and even more interesting to listen to the ways they described the meaning of the 4th of July. Most people know that the 4th of July is the date that representatives of the original 13 British colonies in America signed the Declaration of Independence. Few know, or care to know, much more than that. And that is, in my opinion, a sad and frightening fact. Among other more important reasons, knowing our nation's history well is immensely valuable to understanding the Iraq Campaign in the Global War on Terrorism.

Very few American's have an appreciation for, let alone knowledge of, the currents of human events that swirled around the birth of the United States. Few realize that a dissaffected colonial minority, whose leaders rose from a class of educated and very ambitious elitists, had fomented an insurgency against the British crown for a half dozen years prior to July of '76. This insurgency gained strength and support to the point that armed resistance began in earnest in the spring of 1775. At that time only roughly 1/3 of the population of the colonies actively supported the insurgents. Another third was, and remained for most of the ensuing conflict, loyal to the British Crown. The other third was ambivalent, at best.

By the time they signed the Declaration of Indepedence, the outlaw (by British decree) Continental Congress had already authorized the raising and fielding of an army, the building of a fledgling fleet, and the recruitment of two battalions of Marines; all of which saw more defeat than victory in battles against the vastly superior and more professional British forces and their coalition partners. But like any successful insurgency, final victory lay not in tactical battlefield decisions, but in strategic exhaustion of the enemy. Three years into the armed insurgency that we now revere as the Revolutionary War, the British had managed to all but eliminate George Washington's army as a fighting force and had quelled the insurrection in the largely loyal southern colonies. Had the British combined overwhelming military presence with a conciliatory administration at this point, the American colonial revolution of 1775-1778 would be but a footnote in the history of the British Empire.

However, British overreaction (in some cases, attrocious) to continued partisan activity in the South, and failure to commit overwhelming force to crush the tattered and tottering rebel army quickly, breathed new life into the insurgency. France, who had been at war with Great Britain off and on for the better part of the preceding 3/4 of a century (War of Spanish Succession, 1701--1713; War of the Quadruple Alliance, 1718--1720; War of Austrian Succession, 1740--1748; French and Indian War/Seven Years War, 1754-1763; recognized the indepedence of the United States and intervened in the Americas with substantial naval and land forces, against which a politically exhausted Britain was unable to muster sufficient forces, and more importantly, political will, to withstand. In 1781, a combined French and American land force besieged the main British army at Yorktown, Virgina, and a French fleet blockaded any attempt by the British to withdraw by sea. Cornwallis' surrender completed Britain's colonial embarassment in the Americas and the Treaty of Paris, signed two years later, granted the American Colonies their unconditional independence and granted land reaching to the Mississippi river.

Even with nearly perfect peace and security, it still took the new American nation another four years to agree on a constitution. Kinda helps to put our current involvement in the New Iraq in perspective, doesn't it?
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