reading 18th century history, reflecting on today

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I’ve been reading about various wars in North America during the 1700s. Several things stand out to me. One is the idea that the governments were not able to control their people. Native elders were not able to prevent individual or small groups of native warriors from going off and killing colonists, and the colonists were unable to prevent individuals from going off and killing natives. The acts of individuals were then used to justify the acts of more individuals and of governments.

The second thing is that the elites were manipulating everyone into war. Before the American Revolution, the different colonies were fighting over which would control “the west” and the colonies (Virginia in particular) would try to get the loyalty of the settlers by taking actions they knew would antagonize the natives so that the natives would attack and then the settlers would demand the colonies protect them from the natives. So the elites manipulated individuals, and there were times when communities would try to say “no, this violence is not our choice, we didn’t want the member of our community to do this” but they just didn’t have the ability to stop it.

We see the same thing happening today. Elites around the world manipulate others, creating situations they know will trigger anger and violence. Scared people ask for protection even when it means sacrificing peace, freedom and good political policies. Palestinians cannot stop all Palestinians from carrying out violence, but they will all be held responsible for the violence that some do. Syrian refugees will be blamed for the violence of others of their religion, and politicians will try to score political points by trying to make people fear others.

In 1777 the Second Continental Congress appointed a seven person committee to investigate how the British were treaty rebel soldiers. Their report included this: “It is easy, therefore, to see what must be the consequence of a soldiery, greedy of prey, towards a people, whom they have been taught to look upon, not as freemen defending their rights on principle, but as desperadoes and profligates, who have risen up against law and order in general, and wish the subversion of society itself.”

In modern English what they were saying is that the British treated the Americans awful because they were taught to see the Americans not as people fighting for their rights but just as criminals. The British didn’t want to treat the rebels as prisoners of war, because to do so would have been an acknowledgement that it was a war. It makes me think about people like Omar Khadr, whom the American and Canadian government should have treated like a child soldier, but instead treated as a terrorist. I am surprised at how interesting I am finding it to read about the American Revolution, but really, the implications of it all fascinate me. If social media existed in their day, what would people have said?

Would people have said the Americans should have waited and negotiated a peaceful solution, the way people talk about how Palestinians should be waiting peacefully for a peaceful solution? Would people argue that the economic terrorism of the Boston Tea party justified the infringements upon civil liberties that followed it? Would the American Revolution have been possible if modern tanks, planes and drones existed? Or would that have made fighting an all out war impossible? If the British had stronger military power, such that they could enforce the Intolerable Acts, would the Americans have resorted to terrorism?

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