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April 16, 2012
To arms: Paul Revere and "the Second Amendment"By Greyhawk
(A tale originally published in June, 2011...)
On a recent morning in Boston, at the Old North Church...
The governor's entourage pulled up around nine... Fifteen or twenty media people materialized seconds after. The first to greet the Governor was Dino DiFronzo of Parziale's Bakery, who encouraged the governor to stop by for coffee and pastry after her visit to Old North.
So says the Vicar, who then proceeded to give Sarah Palin a tour of the building from which - on the evening of the 18th of April in '75 - two lanterns were displayed. The story of that day over two centuries ago is one every American should know, but during the tour he imparted some of the more obscure details that make visits to such historic sites worthwhile.
Afterward she went to that bakery. Edited video of what happened there is now more familiar to many Americans than the true story of Paul Revere's ride. "What have you seen so far today?" She was asked (apparently - no full video of the moment has surfaced) by one of those reporters who'd been along for the ride. "And what have you taken from your visit?"
"We saw where Paul Revere hung out as a teenager, which was something new to learn. He who warned, uh, the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells and making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free and we were going to be armed."
The 20 or so reporters present doubtless knew everything there was to know about (yawn) Paul Revere (old dead white male - what else is there?) before they (ick) set foot in some old church. That's unfortunate. Had they been paying attention to the vicar during their tour a teachable moment could have followed.
They weren't. It didn't. (End of prologue.)
Whether they'll admit it or not, Americans now know a little-known fact about Paul Revere: he warned the British, too. In fairness to the British1 (considering they didn't respond appropriately to that warning) we should acknowledge that the number of armed locals he said they'd confront (500) was far less than the number they actually faced that day (4,000 - a number that continued to grow as those more than a day's march away swelled the ranks) so their march into history wasn't quite as suicidal as it seems in hindsight. On realizing he and his men were expected, the commander of the deployed British forces sent a message for reinforcements back to Boston and marched on (split his forces, even), obviously confident enough that the ignorant rabble populating the American countryside couldn't stop them.
Had I ever visited the historic locations of Paul Revere's ride (and I hope some day I can) I - like Sarah Palin - might have found that now-obscure (though highly significant to the events of 19 April 1775) tidbit about Revere's warning interesting - one of those "gosh, I didn't know that" moments. In short, not the sort of thing that fits in a survey-type American history class (regardless of grade level) but exactly what you'd expect a knowledgeable tour guide to share. If someone then asked who Paul Revere was I'd say the same things every American knew (at least, I once thought they did): the guy who warned the people in the countryside around Boston that the British soldiers were out in force, and headed for the stores at Concord. (Obviously, without the reason for it, the British are coming is hardly noteworthy - certainly not worth losing sleep over.) If someone asked me what I'd learned about him that day I'd say "that he warned the British soldiers, too." (To no avail.) Asked what my "takeaway" from all that might be, I'd probably say good luck trying to take away an American's guns.
Therein lies the core truth about Lexington and Concord and the significance of the events immediately before and after the 19th of April, personified for every American since by Paul Revere and his legendary ride. If asked about the birth of our nation, or what's so special about our Constitution (so many things...), or why it guarantees us a right to keep and bear arms, a complete answer - with or without Paul Revere - must include a reference to that day. It wasn't "about" the Second Amendment or the entire Constitution - it's the reason we have any of it at all.
And that's what really disturbs the people who are disturbed by Sarah Palin - much the same as the presumed ignorant (but armed!) rabble populating the American countryside once disturbed King George and his appointed Governor, General Gage. It's tempting to dismiss the recent uproar over Palin's comments as nothing more than the predictable behavior of people (disturbingly too many) who combine their abundant hatred for her with little knowledge of history and, though lacking time for fact checking, have no shortage of time to devote to sharing those first two qualities with the world. On closer examination (admittedly not an enjoyable task) there's a bit more to it than that. Many folks mistakenly believed Palin's observation that Revere warned the British was a sign of her ignorance rather than their own, but they'd hoped that could be used to support a much less trivial point they thought worthy of promoting: Paul Revere's ride had nothing to do with an American's right to keep and bear arms at all.
The part of Palin's comment that really gets these people seething isn't her observation that Revere warned the British, it's her description of Paul Revere "...making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free - and we were going to be armed" - and it's not her convoluted (even for impromptu; for example, what does 'making sure' mean?) elocution - or the identities of whoever did ring those bells - they're concerned about.
Among the first to "fact check" her, the Washington Post. "Palin also seems to suggest that Revere's midnight ride was mostly in defense of the as-yet-unwritten Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," asserts Glenn Kessler, the paper's designated fact checker. "That's not right."
Obviously Palin never said "Second Amendment of the US Constitution" - and indeed it hadn't yet been written, so the right to keep and bear arms is the issue here, the obvious common point that both Palin and Kessler (and thousands of other confused individuals) are talking about. (If not, her opponents' arguments make no sense at all.) He presents his supporting evidence for "that's not right" in an earlier paragraph:
As the Web site of the Paul Revere House says: "On the evening of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere was sent for by Dr. Joseph Warren and instructed to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were marching to arrest them."
I've heard the expression "if only these walls could talk" used many times, and it certainly applies to Paul Revere's house - but that's the first time I've seen a statement from any house (whether it has its own web page or not) claimed as a journalist's source... Kidding aside, Paul Revere's house is right - but the Post's "fact checker" is wrong. More politely, "the house" is stating one of many known facts about Paul Revere (much as Palin did), Kessler is expressing his feelings. That's fine for an op/ed, but for something passed off to the public as a "fact check" in a major paper in our nation's capital (or anywhere else), not so much.
We'll get to the supporting facts in a moment. First, while I used him as an example, he's hardly the only one who showed up unarmed for a "battle of wits" with Sarah Palin on this issue. From mainstream news sites to blogs (most of which portray themselves as reliable sources for well-informed people) to Facebook to old-school discussion boards you'll find similar claims (often under identical headlines, even, right down to abbreviations and capitalization; this might be one of the biggest cut-and-paste spam efforts in history...) that Paul Revere's ride had nothing to do with preventing gun grabbing and was solely a mission to warn Hancock and Adams. Very humanitarian sentiments, to be sure - but anything but accurate.
Besides those pages of search results, here's (the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning) "PolitiFact" review:
[Revere's] aim -- in his own words -- was solely to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of British troop movement. We rate Palin's comment Barely True.
Since PolitiFact links Revere's own account - implying the "fact checker" actually read it - we can rate their manufactured Revere quote as A Lie rather than Barely True. Unfortunately for them this is the internet in 2011 - not Boston in 1775. If we want to know why Paul Revere was out so late that night we don't need to wait for a guy on a horse to ride along and tell us - we can ask Paul Revere.
"I was sent for by Docr. Joseph Warren, of said Boston, on the evening of the 18th of April, about 10 o'Clock; When he desired me, "to go to Lexington, and inform Mr. Samuel Adams, and the Honl. John Hancock Esqr. that there was a number of Soldiers, composed of Light troops, & Grenadiers, marching to the bottom of the Common, where was a number of Boats to receive them; it was supposed, that they were going to Lexington, by the way of Cambridge River, to take them, or go to Concord, to distroy the Colony Stores.""
In short - his aim, mission, purpose or anything else you want to call it was to ensure the safety of Hancock and Adams and the weapons, powder and foodstuffs the militia had stockpiled at Concord.2
That was Revere's quick version - produced within days of the event and intended for use (presumably - though it never was) in defense of American actions. His ride was hardly the spur of the moment thing one might imagine from just that source. Fortunately he later produced a slightly more detailed version for posterity; absurdly, the version PolitiFact claims includes a Revere quote that his mission was "solely to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of British troop movement." Let's look closer...
From this circa 1798 version we learn that Revere had been the key messenger for the Americans for some time - and that he'd also been part of a group of Bostonians who'd been keeping tabs on the British.
" The Saturday Night preceding the 19th of April, about 12 o'Clock at Night, the Boats belonging to the Transports were all launched, & carried under the Sterns of the Men of War. (They had been previously hauld up & repaired). We likewise found that the Grenadiers and light Infantry were all taken off duty."
" The Sunday before, by desire of Dr. Warren, I had been to Lexington, to Mess. Hancock and Adams, who were at the Rev. Mr. Clark's. I returned at Night thro Charlestown; there I agreed with a Col. Conant, & some other Gentle men, in Charleston, that if the British went out by Water, we would shew two Lanthorns in the North Church Steeple; & if by Land, one, as a Signal; for we were aprehensive it would be dificult to Cross the Charles River, or git over Boston neck."
" On Tuesday evening, the 18th, it was observed, that a number of Soldiers were marching towards the bottom of the Common. About 10 o'Clock, Dr. Warren Sent in great haste for me, and beged that I would imediately Set off for Lexington, where Messrs. Hancock & Adams were, and acquaint them of the Movement, and that it was thought they were the objets."
We already know from his 1775 account that his mission had multiple goals. From this later account we can, if we choose, conclude that "warn Hancock and Adams" was added at the last minute - but we can't reject the other part of the mission Revere had previously acknowledged - regardless of our feelings about the right to keep and bear arms.
That's certainly not the end of it - but if six million Palin-hating "fact checkers" were right Revere's account would then say "So I did. The end." (Except that no one would have ever asked him to write up the account.) If Revere had just one goal - get to Lexington and warn Hancock and Adams - he'd get across the water, get on his horse, and slap leather for Lexington. But he didn't:
" In Medford, I awaked the Captain of the Minute men; & after that, I alarmed almost every House, till I got to Lexington."
Hardly the behavior of a man whose mission "was solely to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of British troop movement." (I can't believe I have to make such an obvious point in 2011 - but I suspect that for different reasons Revere didn't think he had to back in the days of the quill pen, either.3) He wasn't ringing bells or shooting guns, (though that was going on throughout the countryside - he'd made sure of it) or knocking on everyone's doors in the middle of the night just to say "Hi I thought I'd stop and let you know I'm in a great big hurry on a secret mission to go warn Hancock and Adams - please don't tell." Hancock and Adams didn't need an American army to protect them from the British army that night - they could move faster than a marching infantry column could (once warned). The militia was needed to stop the British from taking the stores at Concord - as Revere well knew they intended (whether Hancock and Adams were also on their "to do" list or not) and as they had already attempted (with varying degrees of success) at other locations in the months before. While a long way from being enumerated as the Second Amendment, even when half asleep the people Revere alerted understood a threat to their right to keep and bear arms - the very thing that protected their lives and liberty from the whims of the King and his army - when they heard one.
We can only imagine how most of those conversations on the road to Lexington went - but we do have a primary source for a Revere quote once he arrived there. Because this is the internet in 2011 we can read his actual words, too.
"I William Munroe, of Lexington, on oath do testify, that I acted as orderly sergeant in the company commanded by Capt. John Parker, on the 19th of April, 1775; that, early in the evening of the 18th of the same April, I was informed by Solomon Brown, who had just returned from Boston, that he had seen nine British officers on the road, travelling leisurely, sometimes before and sometimes behind him; that he had discovered, by the occasional blowing aside of their top coats, that they were armed. On learning this, I supposed they had some design upon Hancock and Adams, who were then at the house of the Rev. Mr. Clark, and immediately assembled a guard of eight men, with their arms, to guard the house. About midnight, Col. Paul Revere rode up and requested admittance. I told him the family had just retired, and had requested, that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house. "Noise!" said he," "you'll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out.""
Munroe's sworn statement is dated 7 March, 1825 - fifty years after the fact (imagine a Vietnam veteran recalling his most vivid experiences today) but still first-hand. (He does refer to Dawes as "Lincoln" - either he was traveling under an assumed name or he had already become "that other guy, ol' whatsisname" even then.)
What other conversations Revere engaged in once inside are mostly lost to history, but we can read the Reverend Clark's account of that night (and the following day) here. Excerpt:
(Bold emphasis added, but interior quotation marks in original.)
Having delivered messages (written - by Warren, according to Munroe) and refreshed themselves Revere and Dawes pressed on to Concord. Revere's accounts of that are as matter-of-fact as most of the details in his narratives:
"After I had been there about half an Hour, Mr. Daws came;
Revere clearly knew his duty; having spent a few minutes handing over a piece of paper and/or imparting the verbal intel he could add (a vitally important, if brief, part of his evening 4) and minutes more on refreshment he got back to it. He and Dawes were joined on the road by Dr Prescott, the three men decided "that we had better allarm all the Inhabitents till we got to Concord" - but were only about half way there when the British ended Revere's ride.
As for the British, this being the internet in the twenty first century, we don't have to spend years searching through tens of thousands of pages of thousands of old books in dozens of dusty old libraries to learn what their mission was that night, either. We're a mouse click away from the first British history of the American Revolution, Charles Stedman's The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, published in London in 1794. There (page 116, to be exact) we read that "Information having been brought to Boston, that a considerable quantity of military stores... were deposited at Concord" General Gage detached his grenadiers and light infantry "with orders to proceed to Concord, and destroy those stores." (Or "with orders to proceed to Concord, and deftroy thofe ftores" if you're a purift.)
In marked contrast to Revere, these troops didn't want to wake the neighborhood that night. They "proceeded on their march to Concord; every precaution being taken" (including detaining civilians) to remain stealthy. However, "they had advanced only a few miles, when it was perceived, by the firing of guns and the ringing of bells, that the country was alarmed." (No bell-ringing or gun firing by Revere, of course - he's just the guy who made sure it happened.)
Of course, this being the internet in the twenty first century, we don't have to settle for a British history written twenty years after the march - we can read the actual written orders from Gage to Smith here.
"Having received intelligence, that a quantity of Ammunition, Provisions, Artillery, Tents and small Arms, have been collected at Concord, for the Avowed Purpose of raising and supporting a Rebellion against His Majesty, you will March with a Corps of Grenadiers and Light Infantry, put under your Command, with the utmost expedition and Secrecy to Concord, where you will seize and distroy all Artillery, Ammunition, Provisions, Tents, Small Arms, and all Military Stores whatever. But you will take care that the Soldiers do not plunder the Inhabitants, or hurt private property..."
In short: be nice to the people, show them you mean no harm, smile, and take away their guns. (Coincidentally very similar to what Moamar Kaddaffi announced was his troops' aim at the outset of the civil war in Libya this year.) If Gage wanted them to arrest any rebel leaders while they were at it, he didn't express that desire in his written orders.5
Speaking of "aim" - that word appears in another passage from Stedman, revealing what the Americans knew of Gage's "secret mission" at the time it was launched.
"General Gage on the evening of the eighteenth of April told Lord Percy, that he intended to send a detachment to seize the stores at Concord, and to give the command to colonel Smith, "who knew that he was to go, but not where." He meant it to be a secret expedition, and begged of Lord Percy to keep it a profound secret. As this nobleman was passing from the general's quarters home to his own, perceiving eight or ten men conversing together on the common, he made up to them, when one of the men said - "The British troops have marched, but they will miss their aim." "What aim?" said Lord Percy. "Why," the man replied, "the cannon at Concord." Lord Percy immediately turned on his steps, and acquainted general Gage, not without marks of surprise and disapprobation, of what he had just heard. The general said that his confidence had been betrayed, for that he had communicated his design to just one person only besides his lordship.6"
There we have evidence that ten unnamed Americans knew what was going on almost immediately. The odds of Percy crossing paths with someone in the know would be slim - unless it was already the talk of the town. Who told the speaker, who his companions told in turn, and how many others got the news is a matter for speculation, but we can safely conclude that most everyone in Boston knew the troops had deployed to get the guns at Concord (and that they would "miss their aim" - and why) before those troops got back.
If Elijah Sanderson's memory served him well (his account was taken at the same time as Munroe's, and is found in the same volume), the "miss your aim" line was soon to be repeated elsewhere that night.7 Sanderson was one of the Lexington militiamen the British held captive along with Paul Revere, and he provides us the final Revere quote reported that evening, delivered on the road to Concord.
"After they had taken Revere, they brought him within half a rod of me, and I heard him speak up with energy to them, "Gentlemen, you've missed of your aim!" One said, rather hardly, "What of our aim!" Revere replied, "I came out of Boston an hour after your troops had come out of Boston and landed at Lechmere's Point, and if I had not known people had been sent out to give information to the country, and time enough to get fifty miles, I would have ventured one shot from you, before I would have suffered you to have stopped me.""
Sanderson also tells us that "Loring (as he afterwards informed me) told them, 'The bell's a ringing, the town's alarmed, and you're all dead men.'"
The 19th of April had begun. There are multiple reports from many sources of the events of that day available to us in ours, more readily now than any time in between. From rebels and redcoats, civilians, common soldiers and leaders - found in statements taken for public consumption and letters written only for the eyes of a friend or relative then preserved by their descendants for years. However, even the accounts of the key players in the event are largely unknown in their original, unfiltered form. That's unfortunate. To spend some time with them now is to make those moments and people live once again, to realize that we the people haven't changed all that much since those days, but still to wonder what we might do were we in their place. I could quote them endlessly here, as you read you'd hear the musket balls sing, smell the smoke in the air, and wonder - with a British soldier - what might be around the next bend in the road, or - with an American - whether that familiar sounding scream of a dying man you just heard was a friend or your brother or your father or your son.
"We strangely become inured to those things which appear difficult when distant," Hannah Winthrop assured her friend Mercy Warren much later during the war for independence that began on that day. She wasn't speaking hypothetically; earlier, in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord, she had written of the events surrounding her flight from Cambridge (not one of the towns Revere passed through that night) and apologized for her recent lack of letters - "but, since we were dispossessed of our earthly enjoyments, all nature has seemed to be reversed, and with it the weakened mind of your friend rendered incapable of attending to those pleasures which made life agreeable."
"Nor can she yet forget, nor will old Time ever erase, the horrors of that midnight cry, preceding the bloody massacre at Lexington..."
"T hus we began our pilgrimage, alternately walking and riding, the roads filled with frighted women and children, some in carts with their tattered furniture, others on foot fleeing into the woods. But what added greatly to the horror of the scene was our passing through the bloody field at Menotomy, which was strewed with the mangled bodies. We met one affectionate father with a cart, looking for his murdered son, and picking up his neighbors who had fallen in battle, in order for their burial..."
"I have not seen our son since his return from sea..." she wrote, before adding "It is a satisfaction that our sons possess that love of liberty which will engage them in the cause of their bleeding country."
In at least one regard Sarah Palin's detractors are correct - Paul Revere's ride wasn't just about the Second Amendment - it was about every future document produced by every American that followed.
1. "Americans" and "British" are imperfect descriptions of the two opposing sides in April 1775. While other equally imperfect options abound, I've decided to stick with these in this discussion for simplicity. [Back]
2. One could claim that Palin and the people who hate her were all only half right, insofar as they were only able to identify half of what "Paul Revere's mission" was - except that Palin never said anything about "Paul Revere's mission" at all, she merely mentioned something he did. The "fact checkers" have no such excuse. Unlike Revere's motive that night, what they hope to gain from inserting "Paul Revere's mission" (or the Second Amendment) into this discussion in the first place is anyone's guess. (Though it obviously isn't "to set the record straight.") [Back]
3. "Having a little leisure," Revere begins his 1798-dated account, "I wish to fullfill my promise, of giving you some facts, and Anecdotes, prior to the Battle of Lexington, which I do not remember to have seen in any history of the American Revolution." The fact that the British were after the stores at Concord, and that this was the main purpose for alerting the countryside that night, was well remembered and well documented when Revere wrote his account. Hence he's focusing on then-obscure details he was involved in - and thought important or interesting - surrounding the event. Note he refers to "Messrs. Hancock & Adams" without giving their well-known first names, but to his (then unknown) co-rider that night as "a Mr. Wm. Daws," and later to "Richard Devens, Esq.who was one of the Committee of Safty." He also references geography in the same manner; of being "nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains" when he spotted two British soldiers, then escaping them when one "got into a Clay pond, near where the new Tavern is now built." In most regards Revere was the typical American of his day, a true genius but one who didn't waste his ink (or little leisure time) on "common knowledge." [Back]
4. A classic account of Adams and Hancock's activities after getting Revere's warning comes to us from Dorothy Quincy (then Hancock's fiance, later his wife) who was left behind with Hancock's Aunt Lydia while the two men relocated. (Traveling with the presumed wanted men must have been considered too risky at that time.)
"A fter the troops had passed on toward Concord Mrs. [Aunt Lydia] Hancock and Dorothy received a letter from Hancock stating where he and Adams were domiciled, advising them to leave in the carriage and bring the fine salmon that was to have been served at dinner.
Without delay they followed these directions, and congratulated themselves when again united in safety. The salmon was cooked, but there was only time to feast the eye and not the palate, when a man rushed wildly in, having left his wife and family at home, exclaiming:
"The British are coming! The British are coming! My wife's in etarnity now."
As soon as the alarm from this electrifying announcement had subsided Mr. Marrett piloted Hancock and Adams, by a cartway, to Amos Wyman's house, in Billerica, where they ate with a relish their dinner of cold salt pork and potatoes from a wooden tray."
(Note that the man described as giving this later second warning to Hancock and Adams was not Paul Revere.) [Back]
5. It's probably best to think of the "warn Hancock and Adams" part of Revere's ride as an example of better safe than sorry rather than a failure of the rebel's intelligence network. Gage had received orders from London to "seize and secure all military stores collected by the rebels; to arrest and imprison such as should be thought to have committed treason; to repress rebellion by force..." and " to make the public safety the first object of consideration" - arguably in the interest of public safety he chose not to arrest the leaders until he'd eliminated their ability to fight back. It's certain that Warren's source - if not privy to Gage's decision - had advised him of the contents of Gage's orders from London.
That said, some accounts of the day include descriptions of British troops actively searching for rebel leaders during their march up (see "Lieut Col Smith's advance through Arlington" in Coburn), and Sanderson recalled that his questioners "particularly inquired where Hancock and Adams were." No mention of efforts to locate rebel leaders can be found in any of the first-hand British accounts of the march. Still, though much of history is uncertainty, we can be certain Gage looked forward to dealing with his opponents - in one way or another - once they were disarmed. [Back]
6. In its original form:
Percy's account became one of the most oft-quoted personal anecdotes of the Revolution - it's frequently cited by historians to this day, usually in support of the theory that Gage's American-born wife was the source who had betrayed his confidence. [Back]
7. Interesting if for no other reason than the point that weapons-related terminology was already an integral part of the American lexicon. Revere's versions of that moment on the road between Lexington and Concord (one written in the immediate aftermath, both preceding Sanderson's), says he told his British captors they'd soon confront 500 men. (Which in no way implies he didn't say what Sanderson quotes, too - the stories do not conflict. Revere had died prior to publication of Sanderson's account; he could not be reached for comment.) Curiously, many of the same people who today claim he never warned the British in the first place dismiss this as a mere boast or exaggeration. I concur with Revere in rating his statement as true. Given Revere's place in the 'rebel network,' he would have had a good idea of capabilities. That morning the British were confronted by up to 80 men at Lexington; their next hostile encounter was with about 400 at the Concord bridge. On their long, bloody march home they were opposed by up to 4,000 armed Americans, including at least 59 from tiny Medford under the command of Captain Isaac Hall - alerted by Revere on his way to Lexington. (The Medford men joined the battle at Menotomy - the bloody field Hannah Winthrop passed through.) By the end of the day the Siege of Boston had begun, with over 14,000 men surrounding (or nearing) the city. For a good account of the scope and effectiveness of the American "warning" system that night, see Frank Warren Coburn's well-written and highly readable The Battle of April 19, 1775 (available free in its entirety here - with his description of the efforts of others besides Revere, Dawes and Prescott beginning here ). For a more recent (and highly recommended) treatment, John Galvin's (now General, US Army, retired) The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the American Revolution is an essential examination of the day's battle. For a look at the growth of that force to the birth of the US Army two months later (officially June 14, 1775) see here. [Back]
This being the internet in the twenty first century... It took two centuries for the accounts available to us today to emerge from various libraries, historical societies, and family collections. Having a little leisure of my own, I found the above (and more) with a few hours of research over the course of a week, an effort that even two decades ago would represent years - or lifetimes - of work for dedicated historians. (Their efforts made this possible, for that I offer my humble thanks.) For one who has been documenting the accounts of our current war from my many fellow milbloggers the obvious parallels to earlier versions of the same efforts - suggested by the response to an off-hand remark by Sarah Palin - proved an irresistible lure. Your reading this means my efforts were worthwhile; I thank you.
I find it notable that while I was spending a few hours on the internet compiling the above, hundreds (if not thousands) of the same folks who had just missed an opportunity to learn something about America were - gratis at the behest of various major media outlets - devoting hours to rooting through thousands of emails Sarah Palin sent or received while serving as Governor of Alaska. Perhaps they will learn something from that.
Such opportunities, owing much to technological advances achieved over centuries throughout which long-cherished concepts of government of the people, freedom of speech and press, and so many other inalienable rights have flourished are among the wonders of our modern world, for which we Americans owe thanks to our nation's revolutionary founders. Thus it's especially puzzling to encounter a modern Congressman (a Mr. Barney Frank - of Massachusetts, even) bemoaning the internet as a place where "there's no screen" and "anyone can publish anything" without first getting the approval of anyone else. It most certainly is exactly that - but I would urge him (and others) to spend some time online at places beyond those with which he's familiar. Freedom of choice is a good thing, too - but if a tourist spent a week in Boston and chose to devote that entire time to exploring the city's sewer system they might chance upon a few interesting objects, but develop an odd description of what the city is all about.
Posted by Greyhawk / April 16, 2012 9:09 AM | Permalink
"His political career began in 1919 when he became Member No. 7 of the midget German Labor Party," Time magazine wrote of their 1938 Man of the Year. "Discovering his powers of oratory, Hitler soon became the party's leader..." "Workers of the mind an... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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