tv Historian Rick Atkinson on Citizen Soldiers CSPAN February 23, 2022 9:25am-10:36am EST
interviews with writers. our occasional series talking with features conversations with historians about their lives and works. many of our television programs are also available as podcasts. you can find them all on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts. i'm animated for this next panel. i've been thinking about a comment by george washington, when i put on the soldier, meaning the uniform, i did not take off the citizen. for our next session, this is our general raymond d. mason lecture on world war ii. he was in the european theater in the 4th armor division. the lecture is made possible through the generosity of major
general and mrs. raymond e. mason junior and the foundation intended to writers, scholars, journalists and members of the armed forces. today, we have a speaker that is all of those. i tried to follow our speaker from his publication of the gulf war account. ever since then and everything he produces, i'm always increase -- incredibly impressed. pulitzer prize winning journalist. rick atkinson. rick will talk about the long history of citizen soldiers in american history. certainly not just in world war ii but in a range of conflicts. joining him is our own senior historian dr. rob satino.
with that, i'm anxious to hear this. i will be quiet and turn it over. thank you very much. rick it's ae with you on a stage or frankly anywhere. i always feel a heck of a lot smarter after we've talked for an hour, you know, there's a false dichotomy between so-called scholarly history and so-called popular history and my friend rick atkinson here is someone who's completely obliterated that distinction because he's a one of the preeminent scholars of the us army in world war ii and a lot of other things and he's also extremely popular in a way that many of us are jealous. so it is really really wonderful rick. thanks for coming. robert's always a pleasure to be with you anywhere on stage stage or offstage great. so you've written the first volume of a trilogy now on the american revolution, it's entitled the british are coming if you don't own it yet you will at some point in your life. i'm confident. it's it's brilliantly written. it's brilliantly researched. how different is it?
researching a book on the american revolution from a book on world war ii. i mean you've been in the george the third archives you just spent a decade of your life talking in conversation. let us say with with eisenhower and patton and the great figures of the us army and world war ii how different is it talking to george the third? well, he's got a funny accent. well, one of the reasons that i decided to as a writer to leave world war ii and go back in time to an earlier century and our first war as a nation was i wanted to understand better where our 20th century and 21st century force had come from whence they derived and that required going back to look at the revolution in the continental army and and to understand the forces. you have to understand their adversaries whether you're studying world war ii or whether you're studying the revolution our adversary was our last king george the third. his papers are kept by queen
elizabeth ii. she owns all the georgian papers the four men named george who became king in the 18th and 19th century and she decided in 2015 to open them up for the first time to to scholars part of a digitization process. and i was one of the first allowed in to take a look i was the first i went there in april of 2016. i would show my badge every morning at the henry the 8th gate at windsor castle just west of london and show my badge again at the norman gate and then i would climb a hundred and nineteen stone stairs and 21 wouldn't steps to the garrett of the round tower begun by william the conqueror in the 11th century. and there the papers it's where they keep them and gorgeous oversized red binders. george was his own secretary until late in life when he began to go blind and he kept not only his correspondence himself. he not only wrote the
correspondence. he made the copies himself, and he's a great list maker lists of my regiments abroad from 1765 to 1775 recipes for insecticide. theater reviews he would set a stealing mean was a particularly effective brutus. and as you pull through these papers you really have a sense of being in his presence of having a tactile relationship with him and it's for me particularly illuminating to see his strategic misconceptions because the war goes wrong for them. the war goes wrong in part because george and his ministers. had misconceptions about who we were and what we were willing to fight for what we were willing to die for so george believed for example that were the american colonies to slip away and you can find this in the papers? he's very explicit about it. it would be the end of the
british empire which was a new creation as a consequence of their victory in the seven years war the french and indian war as we call it where the empire had come into being and they had gotten a huge tracks of land canada half billion fertile acres west of the appalachians sugar islands in the west indies parts of india, and he believes that if those fractious rebellious americans slip away, it's going to encourage rebellions in ireland canada the sugar islands. he's quite wrong about that, but he is willing to go to war against his own people for eight years and watching the wheels turn in his head is was a fascinating experience now clausewitz says who i've mentioned a few times at this conference already. you can never it's a drinking game. you can never you should never deceive yourself as a commander by what kind of warrior fighting is this sort of the first decision. you have to figure out what it is. then kind of move from there so, you know, the british are coming
takes us from lexington to princeton. so april 1775 the big outbreak too just into the new year 70 1777. in terms of world war ii, where would that be for the united states? how far are we through the saga or is it i don't know catherine pass or something. um, i think it's probably closer to tunis in may of 1943 where after some real lows the allied force american and british wins through and clears the north african coast, and we have landed of course in 1942 in morocco and algeria and the seven-month campaign through the atlas mountains. and finally we drive the germans in italians. we destroyed the german italian army in north africa at that point and i think that that corresponds roughly to where we are after washington's really unbelievable victories twice at
trenton and once it princeton we are in early 1777 at that point. it's you know to paraphrase churchill. it's it's not the beginning of the end, but it's probably the the end of the beginning in both those wars. i'm really fortunate right now that there are a few in the world who could even take. crack at the question. i'm about to ask other commonalities between these wars you spent a big chunk of your life studying both of them now. i mean certainly, you know, the technology was different machine guns from from flintlock muskets in the end. is that sort of thing matter? what are the commonalities between the two wars you're studying? yeah, i mean they're completely different on some levels the the weaponry the communications the transportation all of that is as different as the 18th century is from the 20th century. i think that the thing that they most have in common are our first war as a nation and our biggest wars the nation is they're both existential. our very existence obviously is
predicated on winning the american revolution our existence as an independent people our way of life. you know, i think it's not too much of a stretch to say and people been talking about it here for a couple days now that our existence as a as a people and what we most sincerely believe is that stake in world war ii so most wars are not existential some wars shouldn't be fought most wars. probably shouldn't be fought but i think that those wars that are existential go on a special shelf because of the stakes that's involved and i would put those two in that category. we had presidential counselor and eminent historian john morrow here yesterday. i think you may still be in the room somewhere and he he said, you know, there's some wars that are necess some wars are necessary all wars are bad. but some you have to fight you have no real choice any way either one of these wars you've studied so deeply anyway, either one of could have been avoided.
um, you know in the case of world war, i think if stauffenberg had been a few years earlier and had been more successful or hitler got run over by a bus or something like that. it's hard for me to i mean we heard the the panel earlier this morning talking about the final solution. alex talked very eloquently about what they had in mind and i think when they're thinking in those terms that early in the conflict, it's hard to imagine how you're going to avoid war. they're they're going down a very dark road very early so i don't see how world war ii gets avoided we can go in different directions it can turn out differently, but how it is avoided is hard for me to see in the case of the american revolution. i think that war could have been avoided if there had been if someone had the wit to envision say the commonwealth no one could see it no one could see that britain eventually would
have a loose arrangement in which there was kind of a collection of nations canada australia and so on that had a kind of sentimental attachment to the monarchy were independent were aligned in their commitment to basic western values, but it's it's a very loose. now had that been proposed in 1774. maybe maybe it gets avoided but that is not the way georgia third lord north is prime minister and the rest in britain. see it blows will decide. this is what george says in 1774 blows must decide and when you've got that kind of attitude, it's pretty difficult to see how you're going to avoid blows, you know, maybe the commonwealth came about big precisely because of what happened in the late 18th century. it's certainly influenced thinking about how we can avoid this kind of messy relationship with our vassal states right?
let me ask you a counterfactual the million dollar scholarly term for something that didn't happen. well what happens if we if the united states or the american college what happens if we lose these wars i asked you to speculate a bit on a defeat in the american revolution or maybe even more grandiose terms of defeat in world war ii, but the amrov what happens if we lose? well scholars love counterfacturers because you can never be wrong. no one can argue. washington is captured or killed if the congress is arrested and the basically the rebellion is suppressed. it's hard for me to see that that is a steady state for britain for one thing the american colonies won the revolution begins. there's two and a half million of us 500,000 are black slaves, but we have the most explosive population growth on the planet.
we have a population that's growing three times faster than britain. it's a rate of increase that has never been seen in europe. so we're going to get big and muscular and we've got all the advantages of a potential continental power how britain keeps that under control now, they kept the kept the indian subcontinent under control for a long time, but i think it's going to be very difficult for them and if they win. they're going to have two million rebellious angry colonists that are going to have to be police. it's going to be very expensive for them some of the opponents in britain like edmund burke like like chatham the former william pitt they see this is this is really expensive if we win. it's expensive fighting it and it's expensive we win so i don't see that the you know, the status quo is going to obtain long. world war ii this is a this is the big one. feel free to go as far as you want.
you know, i think you're well positioned you're fluent in german. i could say something but i won't. we'd all be singing deutschland new morales today as the same goes. yeah. okay, great. that's good. one of the things that bounces off of every page of this book you're treatment of the american revolution rick is that this is we said the revolutionary war the american revolution. it's also a kind of civil war. it's a there's there's domestic impact here and and that separates it from world war ii. no, i mean that's one of the areas in which the two yeah conflicts diverges. yeah, that's absolutely right rob. the the opposition to and american entry into the war ends when the war begins the america first movement dies on the vine and there really is a sense of 140 million people in america row in the boat in the same direction. the american revolution is of a
revolution, but it is also the first civil war it is a nasty civil war. it anticipates the civil war in a lot of ways modern scholarship estimates that probably 18% of the white american population the two million white americans. were loyalists that they actively supported the crown and the crown's ambitions here in some cases actually fighting in loyalist units under british. a higher command that is not a significant enough portion of the population as it turns out to prevail, but it is significant enough to cause nasty fracture in the body politic. and so you see right from the beginning the rebels let's say us recognizing that draconian measures to suppress dissent. are paramount if they're going to prevail they're already up against it because they're
fighting one of the best professional armies in the world. they're fighting the greatest navy the world has ever seen in the royal navy. they're fighting 30,000 german mercenaries the hessians and their thank you. i just want to shout out to the germans and the american revolution. thank you. that's right, and they're fighting this fifth column in the loyalists. so if you are loyal to the crown or even if you're a fence straddler unsure of the wisdom of rebellion against your government you are subjected to dreadful treatment. it's preparation of property jailing exile. execution in some cases and this gets nastier as is the want of civil wars as it goes along so that by the time we're in the the back end of the war most of which is fought in the south it is a brother against brother family split apart family split apart by irreconcilable
political differences. benjamin. franklin's son is the royal governor of new jersey. he remains loyal he is jaled he is sent into exile franklin hates him. wow, he hates his son. it's his only son. it's the son who helped him with a kite flying experiment. i mean, it's the joy of his life and that's what civil war does to the country at that time. we can get a little so they're sort of strategic level. let's get back maybe into the operational level for a moment george washington. needless to say, please a major role in the book and i presume in the next two volumes as well. why was washington such a great leader? let me maybe go a little deeper there see more in eisenhower's this is sort of how i was brought up to think of george washington and by that i mean enable administrator a guy who makes different factions work together. make sure all the moving parts are oiled and so more of an eisner perhaps less of a great captain less of a napoleon or a frederick the great you know, i had the privilege of living with eisenhower's metaphorically for
15 years, and i'm now in the same cohabitation with the washington were eight years into our arrangement and the deeper i saw into eisenhower's more. i admired him and i'm feeling the same way about washington now on the surface. they're quite different washington is to the manor born. he's wealthy and he becomes very wealthy when he marries the richest widow in virginia, martha dandridge custis. he has combat experience as a virginia militia colonel fighting under british command during the french and indian war. he's seen a lot of comedies seen some really nasty stuff. eisenhower's never heard a shot fired in anger when he becomes the theater commander in the caves of gibraltar in october 1942 before operation torch in the invasion of north africa. so there are a lot of differences a lot of differences in what they command eisenhower. commanding millions washington's army is really more than 20,000,
but they have some some similarities one is that they're not very good tacticians. washington makes mistakes. he just he's a surveyor so he should know land right he should be able to read the ground. battle of long island. he misreads the ground he gets out flanked his army gets mauled he makes mistakes that brandywine fort washington on the current upper west side of manhattan. he misreads that 3,000 american troops, november 19, 176 are trapped and killed or captured. he's not a great field marshal. he is not a great captain eisenhower's the same way eisenhower's straits and messina a battle of sicily. he doesn't see what's happening in front of him. four german divisions are going to get away and we're going to fight them over and over and over again on the mainland of italy. he's at feliz with bradley. he doesn't really see what's
happening at filez that the encirclement is not complete. okay, i could go on but that's not really his job. eisenhower's job. his job is to be a supreme commander his job is to hold together this fractious international coalition against all of the centrifugal forces that pull at every coalition. washington is somewhat the same way. he's got a higher calling now. he's more of a battlefield commander because he's he's their responsible for moving regiments around but he's also responsible for holding together. what will become an international coalition. there there most similar i think rob first of all, they're two of the twelve generals in american history who become president. but they're most similar in that they are the best political generals we've ever had. and by that i mean in washington's case after he takes command of the continental army
in at cambridge in july of 1775 that month he writes seven letters to his political masters the continental congress. his correspondence is full of letters to colonial governors. they become state governors in 1776 committees of safety. he is really working the political structure part of this is to demonstrate his subordination to civilian control. this is a very fraught subject in the 18th century. they all know who cromwell was and he wants to demonstrate he's making this up as he goes along and we still abide by it today. he's making the clear declaration that civilians are running the war they are controlling him eisenhower. similarly gifted in this way. he's chosen as a supreme commander of the allied
expeditionary force because as roosevelt says he has extraordinary political instincts. he's the best politician among them the generals eisenhower's think this is a slur and again, both of them recognize that the to again quote churchill the only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them and their job is going to be to hold together an allied coalition and eisenhower's case. there are 60 countries fighting in the united nations lowercase and the case of washington. he starts by in 1775 telling new englanders. yes. i know you've hated french canadians for 150 years because they have been conducting raids into new england with their indian allies. be nice to them. nice to them we need them and of course the french are going to come into the war in 1778.
he has a sequence of very close and important relationships with lafayette rochambeau degrasse and others that that, i think, really unifies their generalship over a couple of centuries. >> that's fascinating. as i was reading the book, again, based on what i have always thought about washington, even some of what you have said, as a battle commander, washington does have his moments. there's the climax of the book, spoiler alert, we win the american revolution. >> rob, come on. >> the book -- this volume, with the two trentons. you say george doubled down. can you tell us about that? >> i don't want to sell him short as a field commander. he does have his moments. these are the best of the moments that he has. he is desperate. he has been kicked out of new
york. he has been overrun at fort lee just across the hudson river on the jersey side from new york. he is being pursued across new jersey. his army is less than 3,000 soldiers. it's the size of a ladder day brigade. that's the continental army. they are bedraggled, disspirited. he crosses the delaware river into pennsylvania. they lick their wounds for a while. he is desperate. it's december of 1776. he comes up with this crazy idea to cross back into new jersey, across the delaware. you know what happens on christmas night 1776. he catches a german garrison at trenton by surprise. they are not drunk. one of the many myths about the american revolution. the commander is a very fine combat veteran. he is not drunk. they are surprised. they are destroyed.
he collects his prisoners. there's hundreds of them. crosses back into pennsylvania. instead of taking a victory lap and saying, yay for me, i finally one won, he doubles down. and instead of taking a victory lap, i finally won one, he doubles down. and he crosses back into new jersey. and this time he baits the british who they are at princeton. 15 or 20 miles up the road, and he baits them into attacking him the at trenton what he has the high ground and slaps him around pretty well, but darkness falls. it's not clear how he's going to get back across the delaware. it's full of ice. if he retreats south, he's potentially trapped in south jersey. so he goes east. he goes east around the left
flank of the british army to princeton where there's a rear guard and he destroys the rear guard. by this point shs the british heads are spinning. who is this guy? this isn't the general we have been fighting so far. then he goes north into the high ground of new jersey where he goes into winter quarters. he's safe. the brittish can't gt at him and he's going to refit, rest. it's a pretty brilliant campaign. no less than a battle cap and said, whoa. >> it's exactly what he said. that's the german. you need a german endorsement. but i will recommend to the audience, those portions are brilliantly written. they were carried along in the @ excitement. that was the definition of the american military. we will surprise you and bayonet you in your bed christmas night
if necessary. >> washington is the indispensable man. >> i guess that would be roosevelt, but maybe eisenhower. >> i think that's fair. it's almost a cliche about him now. when he dies at mount vernon in 1799, he has more than 300 slaves. you cannot square that circle morally. ask pit know in his will he freed those under his control. but nevertheless, he is a slave master. and his affluence, his success in life as with so many of the southern plantation owners is built on slavery. he is the indispensable man commanding the constitution. the american army, the continental army. he has a number of other things.
like eisenhower, he's very ro pus. . robust. he's 53 when he becomes commander. washington is a decade younger. he is, according to jefferson, the greatest horseman of his age. he's 6'2". when he comes into a room, you have no doubt who is in command. he's got great command presence. this counts when you're a commander under any circumstances, but when you're in a small war, a small army, your personal leadership, your personal ability to convey confidence is very important. like eisenhower, he has the ability to change his mind. he listens to subordinates. for example, he's against inoculate his troops against smallpox.
this is a very current issue. smallpox is the king. it's a tshl way to die. it makes covid look like a bad cold. and smallpox had ripped through the american army during the invasion of canada in '75, '76. washington had been against the crude method of inoculation that was available in which somebody with a smallpox postyule on their arm cuts it open, takes a straw or feather, dips it into the pus that's in there, cuts themselves on the leg or the arm and swabs this toxic stuff there. >> i want to thank you for coming to new orleans. i think it's time to corral you now. >> so if you think getting vaccinated is problematic, about 1% of those who are given the
smallpox deliberately this way died. about 13% or higher of those who get it naturally die. it's a very mortal disease. washington is against initially inoculating his force because it requires that they be quarantined for several weeks. and that makes them vulnerable. and it also means that they are capable of spreading smallpox if they are not quarantined. he changes his mind after the victories in trenton and new jersey. he changes his mind because he sees that i got to do it. i've got to do it. he issues it. you will not come into the army unless you have been inoculated. he enforces it rigorously. so that's an example of his flexibility. he's got a great eye for talent. eisenhower does too. washington sees that a 25-year-old overweight boston book seller named henry knox is going to be the father of american artillery he's a genius
as a gunner. or that 30 something quaker smith from rhode island will become one of the great battle captains in american military history. he sees these guys and promotes them and gives them responsibility. so these are some of the reasons why he is the indispensable man. >> you speak of the foundational truths of the american revolution. even if they are onlies a operational, which means we're still trying to arrive at them, what are those foundational truths? while you're on the subject, the foundational truths exist for world war ii? what do they tell us about this thing we are trying to work out called democracy? >> yeah, it's a really great question. i think there are foundational truths in the case of the american revolution, they are expressed most eloquently by thomas jefferson. we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are
created equal and they are endow ed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among tease are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. that's about as foundational as it gets. it's aspirational and it's a lie. there are 500,000 black slaves in the country, but it's what we want to be. and it's embraced. people get it. even if you're unlettered, the first third of the declaration of independence is this soaring dream of what we can become. i think for world war ii, the four freedoms occur to me. this is rooz vlt and the state of the union address in 1941. freedom of speech, freedom of wort worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. certainly it's aspirational.
we have hardly purged the world of those things. roosevelt on occasion talks about what he is hoping comes out of this war. self-determination is largely the montra that we see. now he wants to eradicate empires. obviously, the japanese and german empire have to go, but he no brief for the french empire. it's a source of great disappointment to churchill. and he wants to replace it with an more than empire, which he does. and the soviet empire is going to be their parallel. but those hopes for a mankind that is precluded from being fearful, from wanting, from not being able to speak freely, from not being able to worship as
they want to, these are foundational truths. these are things we still believe in. and he expressed them on behalf of all of us. >> i would like to give a nod to the title of this panel. the last question before i hand you over to the audience. this panel is called the greatest generations. what would you like to say about this generation that fought ask won the revolution? they pledged their lives, their fortune, their sacred honor. how would you compare them to the generation that won world war ii, the one we celebrate here at the museum. >> this is where i piss off some people. with respect to tom brokaw, i had greatest respect for the generation and it's not
reflective of my adoration. but fist of all, which generation are we talking about? or the generation of trigger pullers born in the 1920s. my father born in 1924, went into the army in 1942. so that doesn't have the same ring, the greatest generations, but beyond that, i think it tends to diminish the contribution of generations that were just as krit important to us as a nation starting with that revolutionary generation. that's a country of 2.5 million people versus a country of 140 million people in world war ii, but the generation that commits itself to fighting for eight years so that we can be here
today as we have convened in this wonderful country, i think you can't suggest that they are not the greatest generation. the civil war generation, fighting to hold together the union. that's a pretty great generation. so rather than narrow it down and when i raise this issue with brokaw, he says that's my story and i'm sticking to it. >> that's fantastic. that's really all i have to ask except you're writing a trilogy. you're committed. what's next? you're amongst 300 of your closest friends and i'm sure none of us will tell. >> well, i'm pretty busy for the next number of years. i'm probably eight months from finishing the research in volume 2 of the revolutionary war trilogy. all of us in the game are aware
of a new word the 250th anniversary, which is coming up in 2025. 250th anniversary of lexington and concorde. so we have our eyes on that. beyond that, life will take care of itself. >> that's great. we want to thank you. what a great conversation. always a treat. so i'm going to hand things over. >> we'll start to your right towards the back. >> would you agree or disagree with the statement that another george washington was the fact he had no male children? >> hm. he had no male children, he believed, because he was probably sterile. we know martha who had children if her first marriage was not. she was capable of bearing children. he was probably sterile because
we can go back and talk about smallpox. he had smallpox as a young man on the only trip he made outside of america was to barbados. he contracted smallpox. he was pretty sick. and it can make you sterile. and so it's believed that he had no issue as a consequence of that. he had no male children of his own, but he adopted martha's. he was a loving stepfather. embraced her extended family and his own extended family because he had siblings who had had kids and so on. the question presumes that there's concern that there will be a dynasty somehow, a washington dynasty. he's taken very careful pains to ensure, as he moves from being a general and resigning the
command of the continental army and going back to mount vernon in eight years he's only in mount vernon once. he goes home once in eight years and that's for a very short vitt. he commits himself to the peaceful exchange of power when the. after two term, that's it. if he had a son, would there be a rattle legitimate around the washingtons, i kind of doubt it. american politics, we're talking about 1799, american politics are pretty robust. there's a lot of really smart, capable guys out there. john adams, jefferson, madison, monroe, you know the list. and i think it's difficult to see that the country would have continenced this kind of die
nastic succession. >> it's a remarkable man who said i have had enough power and this. i'm done. >> exactly right. >> next question is to your right halfway back. >> i'd like to take a little issue with something you said earlier in your comments that george iii was wrong that if they lost the american colonies that they would lose the empire. the american revolution, in fact, was cited as an example for wars of colonial liberation. south africa, india, both vietnams, and so forth. so isn't it just a case of george iii being right but taking a little longer? >> we're all right if you give us enough time.
and the briish defeat in the war because it becomes a world war when they are fighting the americans, the french, the spanish, the dutch, they have angered the russians. it costs them. there's no doubt about that. but as adam smith has told them, wealth of nation was published in 1776, you'll make more money by treating them as trading partners than as states. he's very explicit about it. and that's true. as it turns out, we are the biggest trading partner after the war with britain, and the first british empire is succeeded by -- they have to fight the french again. it's what they do. but it's succeeded by another british empire that's going to be bigger, richer, more expansive globally than the
first british empire ever was. so decoltization is the way of the world, but it's going to take world war ii to really put the nails in the coffin where those aspirational issues that we talked about come to the fore and you have the creation of modern india, israel, kenya, all of the nations that have come being as a consequence of decolonization. >> it points out the continuing relevance and the drive for liberation. people want to live free. >> that's right. the american declaration of independence is cited over and over in movements of liberation around the world. and it continues to this day. >> gentleman to your left towards the front. >> good afternoon. you mentioned that george washington had 300 slaves at his death. can you comment on the
assertions made by the 1619 project that one of the primary reasons for us looking for independence was the preservation of slavery. >> yeah, now we're really into the can of worms. the 1619 project was a project by "the new york times" with great intentions. it was to commemorate 400 years of slavery in america for slaves arriving in 1619. and to look at what that meant to us as a country. there was sol very ambitious, very sweeping, in some cases i think quite wrong. now there's a book, i think it's out this week, they have converted that newspaper project into what sounds like a very interesting collection of essays on the larger theme. from what i have read about the book, i have not seen it yet,
but they have revised some of their thinking about some things and they have expanded and they have really worked the tochic. topic. it sounds like the book is excellent. the assertion that the revolution was fought to propagate slavery is just wrong. we can say a lot of things about slavery as the original sin, but the revolution begins in new england. it's thot that there's no slavery in new england. rhode island in particular is very active in the slave trade. ask there are slaves in all of the new england colonies, but it is a very small part of the economy and the culture of the fire brands who start the revolution. samuel adams is not declaring war on the king in order to preserve slavery. that's just not what's working. and you can go back and look at
the original documents and it's pretty clear. slavery becomes very complicated in the revolution as it is through all of our history. you have the british offering in virginia to give slaves their freedom if they will come fight for the brits. it turns out it's a disaster for those slaves who do that. because they are treated badly, sickness sweeps through them, smallpox begun, dysentery, and there are efforts by the american states to enlist black units. rhode island has a black regimen it's more like a company than a full regiment. there are proposals that south carolina in 1780, they are about to be run in charleston. hey, why don't you arm your slaves to fight the british in
charl storl. they said i would rather die than do that. so this is very complicated. but the notion that the animating principle behind the revolution is to keep slavery going. first of all, who is the largest slave trading nation on earth? great britain. the slave trade has run out of liverpool. slavery is still legal in britain at this point. so they are farther along. no doubt about it. they are farther along than the americans are in recognizing that it's a moral abomination and that it needs to go. but it is not why we fight the revolution. >> to your left again towards the front. >> thanks very much. rick, as somebody who is born,
raised and lives in the boston area, i found the first half of your book great the second half, not so much. >> that's pretty provoke y'all. >> i don't know if you studied this, but ironically, the greatest defeat by the u.s. in the indian wars occurs not in grant's watch but on washington's watch. when a group of a thousand or so regular army are almost massacred in 1791. do you have any thoughts -- you started all about washington's role as a commander-in-chief because it also when i read about it, it seemed like he didn't -- it's like eisenhower where there's the emphasis on the military. any thoughts on that?
>> the issues during the revolution. the indians incited by the british are conducting raids on the frontier, which at that time is western new york and along the pennsylvania border. and there are lots of massacres and they go both ways. and washington in 1779 organizes the biggest campaign that he's going to conduct in 1779 is against the indians. he sends general sullivan and another army under general clinton and they destroy 40 indian towns. in an effort it's punitive and it's an effort to push them back into canada to keep them away from the frontier. it's very ineffective because the indians basically like to be take a page from them, they just fall back and fall back. very few are killed or capture ed. and when the armies leave that
area, the indians are going to resume the raids that they have conducted. i'm not entirely sure i understand your question, but washington is commander-in-chief certainly recognizes that the essence of leading an army of liberation is political. and very few things that he does don't have a political component to them. and he thinks about politics. and he recognizes the political consequences of what he's doing. let's remember that washington is a virginian. had he shows up to take command of the army in 1775 in july, he has almost nothing good to say about the army he's taking over. they are all new englanders. there are a few riflemen, but they are basically nebraska
theers. he writes about dirty new englanders. he has nothing good to say about the junior officers. . he has got to reognize -- he's been out of uniform for 17 years from when he was a militia colonel. so there's a lot of things he doesn't know. there's some things he's forgotten. one of those things that i think he has to take on very quickly is the mystical pond between leader and lead. he's left mount vernon in the care of all those slaves back there and his overseers and his cousin, who is running the farm for him, and martha is there. most of the soldiers who have come to fight at his side have left their farms and their shops and it's a problem for them it's a problem because you have no income. you have left your wife and kids
at home. they have sacrificed immensely for the cause. this is going to go on in one form or another for eight years. washington has got to acknowledge that sacrifice. he has to embrace it. he has to will himself to them. in a way that they know in their bones that he understands who they are and what they are giving up. it's the essence of leadership. we're not just talking about military leadership. and he comes to that realization slowly and we see over the course of the first several years of the war this commitment not only to the cause, but a commitment to washington because he has a reciprocal affection that develops for them. this is a critical component of his success as a military
leader. >> that leading the common man. wellington, i don't know if these men scare the enemy, they scare the hell out of me. things he said about his own troops. >> connie on your right, gentlemen. >> could you comment a little bit about the escape from the battle? some call that an american dunkirk. >> yeah, i think that's not a misplaced analogy. i mentioned that washington gets his butt kicked at long island. he doesn't realize that the brits lead by general clinton, who will become the commander-in-chief, are outflanking him going around his left end. and the americans wake up this is late august of 1776. the americans wake up and the enemy is behind them. this is never good. and there's a pretty good drubing inflicted and the
american forces who have been positioned on a ridge line looking toward staten island are falling back in chaos and disbelief and some of them drown trying to get away. washington is watching all this from some high ground. he's shaking his head. they fall back to brooklyn. brocklin is a little village at the time. it has entrenchments around it. it's a pretty substantial fortified place to take refugee. as the british and the germans are coming ever closer. they are within several hundred yards. and washington realizes that he's in danger. he's pinned against the east river and he's in danger of being obliterated. in that case shs, the war probably does end so he agrees with his senior commanders that
we will leave tonight. he orders every fishing smack and sailing ves the that you can find to be brought to coves on the east river and the forces tiptoe down to the water side. if you go to the brocklin bridge today on the brocklin side, you can see there's signage of where this happened. it's at the base of the brooklyn bridge today. they slip away. a wind picks up and it's favorable to them. then there's a fog that comes in. the british don't know that they are leaving. and the next morning comes, the british, theyen don't hear much from behind the fortifications. they send scouts forward. they see the last of the boats, washington is in one of those last boats crossing the east
river. it's a miraculous escape back to manhattan where they will live to fight another day. they are going to be vikted manhattan soon after that. it just isn't going well in the campaign for new york, but he has preserved his army, which is the critical thing for him. he's got to have an army if he's going to fight a war. >> a friend of the museum who spoke here has written a really good box on this topic. the indispensables. it takes you through it chapter and verse. your section is a chase. >> next question in front. >> your continued visits to the move seem. is it possible to compare and
contrast the experience of the soldiers themselves? and can you also comment on their progression from the beginning of the wars to the end as fighting soldiers? >> that's a very good question. i will try to be us is zingt because dissertations can be written on this great subject. world war ii, 16.1 million in uniform in world war ii in a country of 140 million. they are not always extremely well trained, but they are trained. particularly as we begin pushing those divisions into europe and into the pacific, they have had a fair amount of time of combat veterans taken from other divisions. so there's a plan for making them available for combat. now the plan doesn't -- the
106th division shows up and they are not only the newest, greenest unit in the army, they are the youngest because they are the first division to be taking 18-year-olds. and they get destroyed. so the plan doesn't survive contact with the enemy on occasion, but for the most part, i think that that force, the american force and particularly the army is pretty formidable. and it gets stronger as you go along. part of what's happening is the sifting out of the capable from the incapable. of the physically vigorous from those who cannot handle it physically or mentally. of the lucky from the unlucky. what's the trait he cherishes most? luck. never to be underestimated in life and never to be underestimated in waur. so those junior officers, senior
officers are all rising to the top so they can lead that force that is going to fight the last year of the war. it's a ferocious army. it's different in the revolution. first of all, the notion of a farmer leaving his plow and grabbing a musket in defense of freedom, that's pop. trying to fill the ranks is an agonizing problem for washington and the congress. and everybody associated with the mesh war effort. to the point where i mentioned should we arm the slaves? to the point where paying substitutes becomes as common as enlisting men in the army? and their capabilities, there are a number particularly of officer who is have had experience in the french and
indian war as washington has, and that's very valuable. these guys have smelled gun powder. they know something about campaigning. but fo for most of the rank and file, they are familiar with fire locks and muskets because everybody has got one. but trying to teach them the riggers of semiprofessional army, that's going to take years. and the fact that there's such turnover make it is very problematic. so by the time you get to yorktown in 1781, okay, it's a pretty good army. but we don't win yorktown if we don't have the french. we don't win the war if we don't have the french. so it requires some external bolstering to be successful.
>> we're going to go a little long on this q&a session so we can get two more questions in. >> first, i want to say this was really great. i really enjoyed it. i want to ask you something you touched on. during the vietnam war, there was a lot of, in this country obviously, different attitudes and attacks on the war. in england, was there much of that in england against sending the british, their soldiers over to us to fight? and are there any books about that? i have often wondered what they really felt in england and how i could learn a little more about it. >> yeah, i agree. that's a really good question. it's an interesting issue. i spend a lot of time on the other side of the hill. this first book we're with the british army and the king and the cabinet a lot.
and that issue is something that i think is fascinating. there is a robust opposition in britain. and it has some of the greatest minds of british politics aligned with it, including edmond birk. including charles james fox, who is probably the greatest in parliament, and that's say something when you compare to birk and chatham at his best. they are against the war. they are against the war in part because they are against the king. they are against the ministry as it exists. they don't like -- thr looking for power themselves. they don't like domestic politics. and they are a robust, noisy opposition. they are also relatively small. they are always in the minority
in parliament. they move repeatedly to either reprimand certain generals or the progress of the war or whatever, and they always fall short by a lot until we get very late in the war. out in the countryside, how do people feel it? in britain they are electing their parliament, so the parliament is large ri reflecting british publicing opinion. there are doubts about it. what are we doing? this has gone on for a long time. it's really expensive. the people are agitated about it because taxes keep going up. they read the casualty lists. there are a lot of dead british soldiers. and they are never coming home. they are going to find a grave in a foreign field. so there is anxiety about it, but the anxiety does not translate into a significant
enough political opposition to change direction until really yorktown. saratoga gives them pause because the british army having invaded in 177 is trapped and destroyed. it's a very large shock in britain. that works in two ways. the britsz rally around the king. and rally around the cause because now it's not those pesky, noiy, dirty americans. it's the french. it's very similar to the 1588.
they are off the coast with plans to take portsmith. the biggest, most important british naval base and there's even talk of maybe marching on london. it goes wrong. this fleet is stricken with bad luck and with disease. but at this point, the british people are fully on board this war, the american aspects of it are really kind of a footnote. and so that's one of the reasons why their support continues into the 1780s. >> the question to your left halfway back. probably a short answer as well. >> the capture of the mercenaries, did that lead to
like the reason why mercenaries started to become unpopular? you don't hear much about it later on? . is that why the british probably declared them drunk instead of saying that they were just captured? >> the british were looking for scapegoats. because it's the british who put them there. the disposition of of those compounds including trenton, that was a british brainstorm. it was stupid. they were very exposed. the use of mercenamercenarie thehouse of a german axillary troops have been common throughout the 18th century. remember that george iii comes from stock. his great grandfather and grandfather were born in germany. so tapping into that reservoir
of man power was a natural thing for them. the british are never going to renounce the use of mercenaries. thr going to be with us in this country in the war until the end. one of the things that happens, the last thing i will say about it and end it there is that when those hundreds go into capti captivity, they are for the most part sent to what we know is pennsylvania dutch country. dutch is a proversion of deutsche. they are germans who emigrated to pennsylvania. there are a lot of germans in pennsylvania and maryland, some in new york. and the prisoners are sent out there in part to work. the same way that prisoners in world war ii worked on farms in the midwest and so on. and they are locking around and saying, this ain't half bad.
a lot of them end up staying. and when you drive around carlisle or points east of there in pennsylvania and see all the german names, you can bet your bottom finnic that a lot of them are prisoners who decided not to go back to germany. >> the number of times we got germany into this discussion, i'm really impressed. i want to thank you personally for that. [ applause ]
follow president biden's historic pick for the next supreme court justice from the nomination announcement all the way through the confirmation process. on c-span, c-span.org or by downloading the the free c-span now app. >> i can report to the nation america is on the move again. >> live tuesday, march 1st, the state of the union, president biden addresses a joint session of congress and the nation reflecting on his first year in office and laying out his agenda for the year ahead. live coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. eastern. the president speaks at can the followed by the republican response and we'll take your phone calls. the state of the union address
live, tuesday, march 1st, at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. at least six presidents recorded conversations while in office. hear many of those conversations on c-span's new podcast. presidential recordings. >> season one focuses on the presidency of lyndon johnson. you'll hear about the civil rights act, the 1964 presidential campaign, the gulf incident, the march on selma, and the war in vietnam. not everyone knew they were being recorded. >> certainly, johnson's secretaries knew because they were tasked with transcribing many of those conversations. in fact, they were the ones who made sure that the conversations were taped as johnson would signal to them through an open door between his office and theirs. >> you'll also hear some blunt talk. >> i want a report of the number
of people assigned to kennedy on me the day he died, and the number assigned to me now, and if mine are not less, i want them less right quick. i promise you i won't go anywhere. i'll stay behind these black gates. >> presidential recordings, find it on the c-span mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts. once again we're going to bring back things closer to home front. take a different lens and dive into the topic of the united states during the 20th century. a. lewis will lead this panel on the relationship between african-american veterans and movements of equality at home. adrian is a long-time friend of the museum. the professor of history at the university of kansas in lawrence.