Tag Archive | American history

Introducing History Profiles

I am pleased to announce a new column is coming to this blog:  history profiles.

On a regular basis you will be treated to a short (200-500 word) profile exploring the life of a single person from history — female or male — from across world history.

So who would you like to see me profile?  Leave your suggests in the comment box below and I will endeavour to fulfill your request and answer whatever questions I am able to.

The US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment: Police, Not Guns in Every Home

American gun patrioticThe 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution is interpreted by the National Rifle Association to mean that every American is guaranteed the right to own and carry firearms anywhere, at any time, in any context s/he wishes.  Common sense is not part of their position.  Guns should be at the zoo, at Starbucks, at your kid’s playground, even in your child’s school.  Guns should be everywhere because the Constitution says so!

Except the Constitution doesn’t say that,  Instead the full text of the 2nd Amendment is:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

14th century Italian militias.

14th century Italian militias.

Now as I talked about three years ago on Yahoo Voices and reposted a year ago, the idea of the militia has a specific historical context grounded in Anglo-Saxon tradition.  It is, at its core, a feudal institution pre-dating professional armies where local men and women responded to local emergencies by arming themselves and protecting their towns and villages.  Mercenaries (soldiers for hire)  were for centuries rather unreliable folks with rape/pillage habits — something American colonists experienced with the Hessian mercenaries hired by the Crown.  Before the emergence of completely professional national armies, soldiers for hire had the habit of abusing the local population, of taking what they wanted.  So locals tended to maintain their militias to protect themselves against such abuse.

gun murder

Times have changed in the United States and United Kingdom. Professional soldiers are hometown heroes and heroines — not threats to the safety of civilian populations. Invasions from foreign powers on home soil is essentially unknown to most Americans and British — the main modern exceptions to that happened during the 2nd World War.  Our armies have professionalized and this is a good thing. Because since the beginning of professional soldiering, the professionals have always possessed superior skills, protection, and weapons compared to their civilian counterparts.

And that is what a militia is:  civilians responding to emergencies.  It’s volunteer police, volunteer fire department, and neighourhood watch organizations. I’ve seen arguments for including USA state national guard units under this umbrella — except those are trained and equipped much more similarly to the full time army, navy, and so forth — and they are paid to do so!

Two London constables on duty.

Two London constables on duty.

So what then does the 2nd Amendment actually guarantee Americans?  If you treat the word “militia” properly, what is the 2nd Amendment actually protecting?  In my analysis as a historian, the 2nd Amendment guarantees us POLICE FORCES and FIRE DEPARTMENTS which do the same job that our militias once did.  Police forces/constabularies and fire departments protect local populations from danger — from within our localities and from outside threats.  When a riot breaks out, it’s the police — not a Federal soldier — that is sent in to deal with it.  When Federal soldiers ARE sent in to deal with riots we habitually treat this much as our ancestors did with mercenary soldiers — and perhaps rightly.

In the Autumn of 2001 New York Penn Station was protected with Federal soldiers carrying high power weapons through the station to police it, a response to 9/11.  Believe me, that terrified me as I walked through the station to catch or depart from my New Jersey Transit trains!  A regular NYPD officer in regular uniform with regular equipment felt safe to be around.  But Federal troops?  Utterly terrifying!

gun murder 2We need our police officers and constables.  We need this modern form of our ancient militias.  We need to honour and respect the work our officers and constables do and trust them to do their job — rather than delude ourselves into thinking we can do their jobs better than they can and therefore arming ourselves.

Gun are not the solution.  As a matter of fact, they aggravate our problems.  A woman is 500x more likely to be shot/killed during a domestic dispute when firearms are kept in the home than she is when family firearms are kept in a neutral location such as a gun club.  There is a reason why the murder rate in the United Kingdom is so much lower than in the United States.  This twisting of the 2nd Amendment is why.

Some of you are likely to attack me for writing this.  That is fine with me.  Be my guest.  Because as a woman who was hurt in a gun “accident” as a child, I fiercely uphold that the gun laws in the United Kingdom are the best way to go.  I’ve seen what guns everywhere all the time can do and it disgusts me and terrify me.

Leave the guns to the police and the constables.  Leave them to the real modern militias. And please, in the name of sanity, stop thinking that having a gun around makes you safer!  IT DOESN’T!

The 3 Best Walking Tours for Your Vacation/staycation

May 23rd, 2012

One of the advantages of living in six states across my adult life is the amount of travel it’s allowed me to pursue. In total, I have traveled through, over, or in over 22 states and seen both the Atlantic Ocean (in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) and Pacific Ocean (in California). With my bachelors in psychology and history, I favor historical sites and tours and enjoy the exercise of walking tours in particular. Here are three of my favorite walking tours I’ve personally taken:

The Battle for New York tour (New York City). Spanning Brooklyn, Manhattan, and beyond, this walking tour by Barnet Schecter is found in his book “The Battle for New York” is a combination step-by- step walking tour and guide to New York City’s role in the American War for Independence (the better term for “the American Revolution” since the war was a civil war between Americans even more than it was a conflict between the Crown and the Patriots). Look for the walking tour online at http://www.thebattlefornewyork.com/walking_tour.php or just buy Barnet’s book at your favorite book retailer. Cost of the book is around $30 for hardcover. The cost of the tour itself is just what you spend in bus/subway fare for the sections of this comprehensive “revolutionary” war experience, making it an economical New York City vacation option.

Honorable mention: Big Onion Tours features a very good walking tour of Revolutionary WarManhattan for $18 per person along with dozens of other New York City historical and neighborhood walking tours also available. See http://www.bigonion.com for more information.

The Freedom Trail (Boston). A costumed guided tour of Boston’s most significant “revolutionary” war sites, the Freedom Trail is an exploration of Boston’s 17th and 18th century history and its role in the War for Independence. The classic tour is the “Walk into History Tour” which departs on the hour from Boston Commons (see schedule athttp://www.thefreedomtrail.org/tickets/tours.html). Tickets currently range from $11 for adults to $5 for children and are purchased on a per person basis. Tours last about 50 minutes.

Allegany-Portage Railroad Museum (Gallitzin, PA). Pennsylvania is famous for its railroads and its role in the evolution of transportation in the United States. Among its most famous railroads was the Allegany-Portage line which ran from Hollidaysburg in Blair County to Johnstown in Cambria County. From 1834 to 1854 the Allegeny-Portage served as a vital rail link connecting the water route between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg which only ran in two sections: Pittsburgh to Johnstown and Hollidaysburg to Harrisburg. Covering 1249 acres and run by the National Park Service, visitors enjoy a free self-guided walking tour using their cell phones and typing in the location code along each stop. Don’t feel like walking all day? Check out the park’s history museum for just $4 per person (http://www.nps.gov/alpo/index.htm).

A Boston Fourth to Remember

In honor of Independence Day, here’s a look at my recollections of my Fourth of July 2008 trip to Boston, Massachusetts USA

 

A Boston Fourth to Remember

 June 18th, 2012
Taken July 3rd, 2008 in the heart of Old Boston

Taken July 3rd, 2008 in the heart of Old Boston

It started with my first Amtrak trip. My companion and I took the subway from Midwood, Brooklyn to New York Penn Station, retrieved our tickets from the kiosk, and boarded Amtrak’s Acela headed for Boston. For those who live on or can readily connect to the Washington DC to Boston Acela route, I must heartedly recommend it; as our nation’s high speed rail route, it is much faster than driving – and without the traffic or fuel expense – and much more comfortable than either driving or flying!

From the Boston Amtrak station, we took Boston’s subway to Old Boston; our hotel reservation was with the famous Omni Parker House just off School Street. Omni Parker is famous for inventing the Boston Crème Pie, which we tried! But the rooms are very small, even to a New Yorker, and very expensive with none of the amenities that you’ll find at mid-priced hotels like Comfort Inn.

With our room secured, we were ready to explore Boston over our three day Fourth of July vacation. We started with Boston’s Duck tour around the city and into the Charles River, seeing some of Boston and Cambridge’s most famous landmarks. After the tour, we explored the nearby pedestrian mall and encountered the Middlesex County Volunteer drum-fife corp performing in front of Borders. Then it was off for dinner on Beacon Hill. There’s a terrific Irish pub there with truly authentic Irish cuisine for a modest price. The next morning, July 3rd, we walked down to Boston Commons (less than six blocks from the Omni Parker hotel) to take the “Freedom Trail” tour (tickets available at a kiosk in Boston Commons) where we explored many Old Boston historical sites, including the Old State House where the Declaration was read for the first time in 1776 and every year since from the same balcony. Our guide was dressed in the uniform of a French officer, adding to our experience. With the tour over, we walked down to Faneuil Hall and market place, one of the stops on our Freedom Trail tour, for some shopping, dinner, and night life. There are several lovely cafes there that should be a must-visit for anyone interested in Old Boston.

The morning of the 4th was the best of all. For me, it started with a walk down to the Old State House to hear the Declaration of Independence in full. After the reading, as I walked back to Omni Parker House (my companion was the “sleep late” sort of person) I heard drums. Following the parade to a courtyard, I watched grenadiers representing Crown troops demonstrate the drills practiced during the War for Independence. Gathering my companion after the parade and performances, we explored near the hotel in greater detail; there are many very old buildings clustered together in Old Boston.

With our train back scheduled for 11am, I found myself wishing for one more day. As we prepared to leave, we noticed Kings Chapel, the first Unitarian church in America. As a Unitarian myself, I was intrigued and we asked to see the church. Unfortunately for us, services were going to begin in less than hour and with our train leaving in about an hour from that time, we could not stay; but the usher let us walk into the sanctuary for two minutes and gave a rushed primer on what we were seeing. I told him about being UU myself and a fascinating discussion went on for about ten minutes about the forming of Unitarianism in America and King’s Chapel’s role in it.

With another smooth train trip home, we were sad to leave. It was a wonderful 4th of July.

Mythologizing America, Patriotism, and History

In honor of the American Independence Day holiday later this week, here’s a look at the American patriotic myth.

Taken July 3rd, 2008 in the heart of Old Boston

Taken July 3rd, 2008 in the heart of Old Boston

Mythologizing America, Patriotism, and History

Historical Facts Take a Back Seat to Popular Myths About Unity and Freedom

Originally posted July 9th, 2012

It’s July. This week we celebrated the 236nd anniversary of the signing of the “Declaration of Independence” with the usual fireworks, parades, concerts, and street fairs.

Throughout the day on various programs, I heard sweeping patriotic declarations about the nature of the American War for Independence and its impacts. These grand patriotic statements sound so wonderful during July 4th festivities. They are not, for the most part, remotely historically true.

One major myth I heard across numerous programs was the myth that Americans of the 18thcentury came out of the “Revolution” as one, unified, cohesive group under a strong federal government system.

This is grossly inaccurate. In Article two of the “Articles of Confederation,” we read,

“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled. “

Across the “Articles of Confederation” the term “United States” is almost always written “united States.” This signals the dominate 18th century belief that each state – from Georgia to New Hampshire – was a country unto its own and that most persons considered themselves New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, South Carolinians, and so forth, NOT Americans.

Or put another way, the American War for Independence created 13 countries, not one, who agreed to work together when it suited them. It took a second civil war (the American War for Independence was primarily a civil war) from 1861-5 to actually create the United States of America from “These United States.”

Other serious myths I keep hearing in patriotic declarations was that the Founders believed in equality and freedom for all. They didn’t. Washington and Jefferson were both notorious slave owners. Washington believed so much in slavery that he refused to end the war (the Battle of Yorktown was October 19th, 1781) until November 25th, 1783. The reason? He demanded all American “property” to be returned to their “rightful” owners.

As explained by Barnett Schleter in in November 25, 2010 lecture held at Fraunces Tavern (one of the best known surviving 18th century establishments in New York City), the American property Washington demanded returned were slaves emancipated by the Crown.

The Crown refused, forcing free blacks, along with those Americans who remained loyal to the Crown, to pursue new lives in Canada, Europe, and across the British Empire.

None of this is conveyed in most non-university history books. Instead, we are told the ideals, not the historical realities.

But why? History is supposed to be taught in an objective fashion. Why then are we teaching mythology when it would be easier and much more ethical to teach what really happened – all sides of the stories? Brevity is an excuse I’ve heard, but a poor one. A person can learn 18th century attitudes towards slavery, racial and gender equality, and liberty in the same amount of space as they can be taught the mythological omni-benevolence of the Founding Fathers. It takes no more time to explain that Americans did not win the American War for Independence; we simply made it too expensive for the Crown to keep pursuing. Parliament, not King George III, decided it was costing too much money and lives to keep fighting.

In teaching myth, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from history. This makes us easier to control by politicians -does anyone actually want that? Do we absolutely trust our politicians or would we prefer to make better decisions in choosing leaders?

Education is the key to becoming strong consumers of information, to supporting only policies and leaders that truly make common sense and serve the interests of all the people – not just their friends.

Education is worthless if all we do is teach the politically convenient version of things. Education needs to be free and independent of politics. American history education has lost its independence.

It would seem the only way to find out objectively what happened in any area of history is to become a history hobbyist, watching countless documentaries on PBS, National Geographic, the History Channel (which has certain biases I don’t approve of), and other sources for educational programming.

We can do better.