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tv   Historian Rick Atkinson on Citizen Soldiers  CSPAN  February 23, 2022 4:07pm-5:16pm EST

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ammunition and blew it up. and they came out pretty fast after that. yeah. >> you can watch this interview if its entirety along with other oral histories at c respond.org/history. c-span's american presidents website is your one stop guide. find the story of their lives and presidencies all in one easy to browse c-span website. visit c-span.org/presidents to begin exploring this rich catalog of c-span resources today. you know, i'm animated for this next panel. i have been thinking about a comment by george washington to the effect that, you know, when i put on the soldier, meaning the uniform, i do not take off
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the citizens. so for our next session, this is our general raymond e. mason distinguished lecture on world war ii. during the second world war, general mason served in the european theater in the fameth fourth armor division under general patton. the raymond e. mason foundation is intended to feature writers, scholars, journalists and distinguished members of the armed forces and journalises. today we certainly have a speaker that is all of those. i have tried to follow our speaker from the publication of the gulf war account. ever since then, and everything he produces, i'm always incredibly impressed. this year our mason lecturer is
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pulitzer prize winning historian and journalist. both of those in there, historian and journalist, ricked a kinson. he will talk about the long history of soldiers in american history and joining him is our own senior historian dr. rob is a tino in this conversation. with that, i am anxious to hear this, so i will turn it over to rob. >> thanks so much. >> rick, it's always a treat to be with you on a stage or anywhere. i always feel a heck of a lot smarter after we have talked for an hour. there is a false dichotomy between scholarly history and popular history. rick atkinson has obliterated that distinction because he is one of the preeminent scholars of the u.s. army and world war ii and other things and he is also extremely popular in a way that many of us are jealous. it is wonderful, rick, thanks
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for coming. >> rob, always a pleasure to be with you, anywhere on stage or off stage. >> great. so you have written the first volume of a trilogy now on the american revolution, it is entitled the british are coming. if you don't own it yet you will at some point in your life. i am confident. it is brilliantly written, brilliantly researched. how different is it researching a book on the american revolution from a book on world war ii. you have been in the george the third archives. you spent a decade talking with eisenhower and patton and the figures of the u.s. army in world war ii. how different is it talking to george the third? >> he has a funny accent. one of the reasons that i decided 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.
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whence they derived. that required going back to look at the revolution and continental army. to understand the forces you have to understand their adversaries, whether you are studying world war ii or the revolution our adversary was the last king, george iii. his papers are kept by queen elizabeth ii, she opens all the georgean papers, the four men named george who became king in the 1th and 19th century. she decided in 2015 to open them up for the first time to scholars, part of a digitization process. i was one of the first allowed in to take a look. >> wow. >> i was the first -- i went there in april of 2016. i would show my badge every morning at the henry the viii gate at windsor castle and show my badge again at the norman gate and climb 119 stone stairs
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and 21 wooden stairs to the tower, and there were 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. he kept not only his correspondence himself. he not only wrote the experiencedence. he wrote the copies himself. he is a great list maker. lists of my reg nents abroad from 1765 to 1775, recipes for insecond side. theater reviews. i would -- he had a steely mean mooep, he was a particularly effective brutus. as you pal 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
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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, it would be the end of the british empire 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 huge tracts of line, canada, heavy a billion ferttlez acres, sugar islands, parts of india. and he believes that if those track shows rebellious americans slip away it is 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
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years. and watching the wheels turn in his head is -- was a fascinating experience. >> claws wits says, who i mentioned a confuse times at this conference -- you can never -- it is a drinking game -- you should never deceive yourself as a commander about what kinds of war you are fighting. this is the first -- you have to figure out what it is and move on from there. the british are coming takes from lexington to princeton, the outbreak into the new year, of 1777. in terms of world war ii, where would that be for the united states? how far with we through the saga? is it casta rene pass or something? >> i think it is probably closer to tunis in may of 1943 where, after some real lows the allied force, american and british, wins flew, and clears the north african coast and we have landed of course in 1942 in morocco and
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algeria, and the seven-month campaign through the atlas mountains and we drive and germans -- destroy the german army. i think that corresponds to where we are after washington's unbelievable victories twice at trenton and once at princeton. we are at early 1777 at that point. to paraphrase churchill, it is not the beginning ends but it is probably the end of the beginning in both those wars? i am fortunate right now, there are few individuals in the world who could even take a crack at the question i am about to ask. other commonalities between these wars. technology was different. machine gunts, from flint lock muskets. but in the end does that sort of thing matter? what are the commonalities
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between the wars you are studying. >> completely different on some levels, the weaponry, transmissions, communication is completely different as it was from the 18th century as it is in the 20th century. i think the thing they have most in common, our first -- our wars as a nation are existential. our way of life. i think it's not too much of a stretch to say. and people have been talking about it here for a couple of days now, that our existence as a people and what we most sincerely believe is at stake in world war ii. 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
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that category. >> we had presidential counsellor and eminent his for onjohn morrow up here yesterday. he said 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 studied so deeply -- any way either one of them could have been avoided? >> you know, in the case of world war ii, i think if stef stall phenomenonberg had been earlier or more successful -- >> or hitler got run over by a bus? >> something hike that. it is hard for me -- we heard the panel this morning talking about the final solution. alex talked eloquently about what they had in mind. and i think when they are thinking in those terms, that early in the conflict, it's hard to imagine how you are going to avoid war. they are going down a very dark road very early. so i don't see how world war ii gets avoided. it can go in different
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directions. it can turn out differently. 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 has been -- someone had the with it to envision, say, the commonwealth. no one could see it. no one could see that britain would have a loose arrangement in which there was kind of a collection of nations, canada, australia and so on that have kind of a sentimental attachment to the mop arcy, were independent, were aligned in their commitment to basic western values. but it is a very loose aminement. now, had that been proposed in 1774, maybe. maybe it gets avoided. but that is not the way george iii, lord north, his prime minister, and the rest in britain see it.
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blows will decide. this is what george says in 1774 blows must decide. >> maybe the commonwealth came about precisely because of what happened? >> it certainly influenced thinking about how can we avoid this messy relationship with our vas i will states. >> let me ask you, what happens if we -- if the united states or the american country, what happens if we lose these wars? can i ask you to speculate on a defeat in the american revolution, or maybe in a more grandiose question, if we lost world war ii. >> well, if we lose the revolution, if washington is captured or killed, if the
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congress is arrested and basically the rebellion is suppressed, it's hard for me to see that that is a steady state for britain. when the revolution begins, there are 2.5 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 rate of increase that has never been seen in europe. so we are going to get big and muscular and we have all of the advantages of a potential continental power. how britain keeps that under control -- now, they have kept the indian subcontinent under control for a long time. but i think it is going to be very difficult for them. and if they win they are going for 2 million rebellious, angry colonists that are going to have to be policed. it is going to be expensive. some of the opponents in britain, like edmond burke,
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chatham, the former william pith. they see it is really expensive if we win, expensive fighting it and expensive if we win. i don't see that the status quo is going to obtain long. world war ii -- >> this is the big one. feel free to go as far as you want. >> you are well positioned. you are fluent in german. [ laughter ] >> i could say something, but i won't. we would all be sing in german today. as the saying goes. great. that's good enough. one of the things that bounces off of every page of this book, your treatment of the american revolution, rick, is that this is -- the revolutionary war, the american revolution, is also a kind of civil war. there is domestic impact here. and that separates it from world war ii, no? i mean that's one of the areas in which the two conflicts
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diverge? >> absolutely right, rob. the opposition to american entry into the war ends when the war begins. the america first movement dies on the vine and there is a sense of 140 million people in america rowing the boat in the same direction. the american revolution is a revolution, but it's also the first civil war. it's a nasty civil war. it anticipates the civiliar -- the civil war in a lot of ways. it is estimated 15% of the whites were loyalists, supported the crown and in some cases fought in loyalist units under british 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 a nasty fracture in the
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body politic. so you see right from the beginning the rebels, let's say us, recognizing that draconian measures to suppress dissent are paramount if they are going to prevail. they are already up against it because they are fighting one of the best professional armys in the world. they are fighting the greatest navy the world has ever seen in the royal navy. they are fighting 30,000 german mercenaries, the herbans. >> thank you. thank you. i want a shout out to the german this is the american revolution. thank you. >> that's right. and they are fighting this fifth column in the loyalists. so if you are loyal to the crown, or even if you are a fence straddler unsure of the wisdom of rebellion against your government you are subjected to dreadful treatment. -- of your property.
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jailing, exile, execution in some cases. and this gets nastier as is the wouldn't of civil wars as it goes along. so by the time we are in the back end of the war, most of which is fought in the south it is brother against brother, families split apart, families split apart by irreconcilable differences. franklin's son is in new jersey. he remains loichlt loyal. he is george floyd. franklin exisles him. his only son, the son who performed the kite flying experiment with him, the joif his life. and that's the level of the civil infighting during that time. >> george washington plays a major role in the book, i assume in the next two fols volumes as well. why was washington such a great leader?
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let me go deeper there. is he more of an eisenhower? this is how i was brought up to think of george washington by that i mean an able administrator, he makes factions work together and makes sure all moving parts are oiled. marvin eisener, perhaps less of a great captain, less of a napoleon or frederick the great. >> i had the privilege of living with eisenhower metaphorically for 15 years. and now i am in the same situation with washington. and the deeper i saw into eisenhower, the more i admired him. i am feeling the same about washington. on the surface they are different. warn washington, the men are born, he is wealthy and he becomes very wealthy when he marys the wealthiest widow in virginia. he is a colonel under the fremp
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and indian war. he has seen a lot of combat. eisenhower has sever heard a shot fired when he becomes a teeter commander before operation torch in the invasion of north africa. there are a lot of differences, in what they command. eisenhower is commanding millions. washington's army is rarely more than 20,000. but they have some similarities. one is that they are not very good tacticians. washington makes mistakes. he just -- he's a surveyor. so he should know land. right, should be able to read the ground. bafttlez long island, he miss reads the ground, gets outflanked. his army gets mald. he makes hiss takes at brandywine. fort washington on the current upper west side of manhattan. he misreads that. 3,000 american troops, november 1776, are trapped and killed or captured. he's not a great field marshall.
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he's not a great captain. eisenhower is the same way. eisen house, straits of ma seen ax battle of sicily. he doesn't see what is happening in front of him. four german divisions are going to get away and we are going to fight them over and over and over again on the mainland of italy. he's at fellis with bradley. doesn't really see what is happening there, 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 the sin terrific gal 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 is there responsible for moving regiments around. but he's also responsible for holding together what will become an international
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coalition. they are most similar i think, rob -- first of all, they are two of the 12 generals in american history who become president. but they are most similar in that they are the best political generals we have had n. washington's case after he takes command of the continental army in cambridge in july of 1775, that month he writes seven letters to 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.
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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 is similarly gifted in this way. he's chosen as supreme commander of the allied competitionary force because, as roosevelt says, he has extraordinary political instincts. he's the best politician among them, the generals. eisenhower doesn't 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. in eisenhower's case there are 60 countries fighting in the united nations, lower case.
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and the case of washington, he starts by, in 1775, telling new englanders, yes, i know you have hated french canadians for 150 years because they have been conducting raids into new england with their indian allies. be nice to them. be 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, row sham bow, degrasse and others. that i think really unifies their generalship over a couple of centuries. >> that's fascinating. i -- you know, as i was reading the book again, based on what i have always thought about washington, even some of what you have said, you know, as a battle commander, though, washington does have his moments. sort of the climate of the back -- spoiler alert we win the american revolution. i didn't want to tell everyone. >> rob, come on. >> so the bookends -- this volume ends, i should say w the
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two trentons, victories at trent ton and princeton. you say george doubled down at the second trenton. can you tell us about that? >> opened to sell him short as a field commander. he has 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 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 latter-day brigade. that's the continental army. and they are dedraggeled and despirited. he crosses the delaware river into pennsylvania. they lick their wounds for a while. he is really desperate, it is december of 1776. and 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 garrisson at
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trenton by surprise. they are not drunk incidentally, one of the many myths about the american revolution. the commander, colonel roll is a fine combat vet rachbl he's not drunk. but they are surprised. and they are destroyed. so he collects his prisoners. there is hundreds of them. crosses back into pennsylvania. instead of taking a victory lap and saying, you know, yea for me, i finally won one, he doubles down. and he crosses again, back into new jersey. and this time he bates the british, who are basically the british army is at princeton, 15 or 20 miles up the road and he bates them into attacking him at trenton where he has the high grounds on the creek and slaps them around pretty well. but darkless falls. it's not clear how he's going to get back across the delaware.
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it's full of ice. if he retreats south he is potentially trapped in south jersey. what does he do? he goes east, around the left flank of the british armty to princeton where there is a rear guard left there. and he destroys the rear guard. by this point, the british heads are spinning, who is this guy? this isn't the general that 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 there. the british can't get at him. there he is going to refit, rest. it's a pretty brilliant campaign. no less a battle captain than frederick the great looked at and it said whoa. >> exactly what frederick the grey said. i was receipting his papers. >> that's the german. >> german version. if you need a german endorsement. frederick the great is as good as it gets. those i will recommend to the
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audience, those portions were brilliantly written, carrying me along in the excitement. and that's the american military, we will surprise and you bayonet you in your bed christmas night if necessary for the liberty of the country. >> yes. >> washington is the indispensable man. isn't he? i guess that would be roosevelt for world war ii, or eisenhower. but it is washington for the american revolution. >> it is almost cliche -- first when he dies in september of 1799 he has more than 300 slaves. you cannot square that circle morally. i know if his will he freed those that were under his control but nevertheless he is a slave master. his affluence, his success in life, as with so many of the southern plantation owners, is built on slavery. so there it is. but he is the indispensable man
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commanding the indispensable institution, the american army, the continental army. because he's got a number of other things going for him. for one thing, like eisen house, he is very robust. when eisenhower -- eisenhower was born in 1890. so he's 53 when he becomes supreme commander in the mediterranean. 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 are a commander under any circumstances but when you are in a -- you have a small war, a small army. your personal leadership, your personal ability to convey confidence is very important. like eisenhower, he has the
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ability to change his mind. he listens to subordinates. for example, he's against inok lating his -- inoculating his troops against small pox. this is a very current issue. small pox is the king of terrors. it is a terrible way to die. it makes covid look like a bad cold. and small pox had ripped through the american army during the invasion of canada in '76 -- in '75-'76. and washington had been against the crude method of inoculation. somebody with a small pox pus actual on their arm and swabs this toxic stuff into a fresh
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cut on the recipient's arm. if you think getting vaccinated is problematic. about 1% of those given the small pox deliberately this way die. 13% of those or higher who get it naturally die. it is a mortal disease. washington is against initially inoculating his force because it requires they be quarantined for several weeks. that makes them vulnerable, they are also capable of spreading small pox if they are not quarantined. he changes his mind in morristown after the victories in trenton new jersey. he changes his mind because he sees that he's got to do it. he issues an edict, you will not come into this army unless you have been inoculated. he enforces it rigorously. that's an example of his flexibility. he has a great-high eye for
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subordinate talent. washington sees an overweight boston book seller named henry knox is going to be the father of american artillery. he is a genius as a gunner. or that a 30-something quaker anchor smith from rhode island named nathaniel green 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. >> rick, you speak of the foundational truths of the american revolution. you use did -- ebl you said even if they are only aspirational which heens we are still trying to arrive at them. what are those foundational truths? while on the subject, do foundational truths exist for world war ii? what do they tell us about this thing we are still trying to
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distill out for democracy. >> i think there are foundational truths. in the american revolution exthey are expressed most eloquently by thomas jefferson. we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are quieted equal, they are endowed by their creator of certain rights, life, liberty and happiness. that's as aspirational as it gets. it is aspirational and it is a lay because 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 are unlettered. in the first third of the declaration ever independence is this soaring dream of what we can become. you know, i think for world war ii, the four freedoms occur to me. this is roosevelt in his state of the union address in early 1941, freedom of speech, freedom
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of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. certainly it's aspirational. we have hardly purged the world of those things. roosevelt, you know, on occasion, talks about what he is hoping comes out of this war. he -- you know, self determination is largely the mantra that we see. now, he wants to eradicate emspires. obviously, the japanese and german empire have got to go. but he has no brief for the british empire or the french empire. it is a source of great disappointment to churchill. and of course he wants to replace it with an american empire, which he does. and of course the soviet empire is going to be there parallel. but those -- those hopes for a
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mankind that is precluded from -- from being fearful, from wanting, from not being able to speak freehly, from not being able to worship as they want to, these are foundational truths. these are things that we still believe in. and he expressed them on behalf of all of us, i think. >> i would like to give a not to the title of this panel, my last question before you hand you over to the tender mercies of the audience. this panel is called the greatest generations. what would you like to say about this generation that fought and won the revolution? 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. >> here we go. i want to go back to that inoculation talk. >> with all due respect to my
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close friend, our friend, tom brokaw, i have always had issues with the greatest generation for two reasons. and it's not at all reflective of my admiration. god, i devoted a large part of my life to commemorating and celebrating those who fought in world war ii. first, are we -- first of all, which generation are we talking about? so the greatest generations doesn't have the same ring. >> no, it doesn't. >> beyond that, i think it tends to diminish the contributions of generations that were just as important to us as a nation starting with the revolutionary generation. you know, that's a country of 2.5 million people, versus a country of 140 million people in
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the -- in world war ii. -- [ no audio ] -- when i raised 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 you except for one more. you are writing a trilogy. you are committed. what's next, rick. >> after the american revolution -- i am pretty busy for the next number of years.
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i have -- i am probably eight months from finishing the research on volume two of the revolutionary war trilogy. all of us are in the game are aware of a new word in our vocabulary. the semiquinn centennial, the 250th anniversary of electioning ton and concord coming up in 2025. so we have our eyes on that. and then beyond that, life will take care of itself. >> that's great. i want to thank you, rick. what a great conversation. always a treat. rick atkinson. >> thank you, rob. >>. [ applause ] >> and so we were arrived at the portion of our program i am going to hand things over. i think i see jeremy collins. >> we will start to your right towards the back, gentlemen. >> would you agree or disagree with the statement that another george washington's assets was the fact that he had no male children?
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>> well, he had no male children, it is believed because he was probably sterile. we know that martha, who had children from her first marriage was not she was capable of bearing children. and he was probably sterile because we can again go back and talk about small pox. he had smallpox as a young man. the only trip he had outside of the united states was to barbados. he contracted small pox. he was pretty sick. it can make you sterile. so it's believed 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 september father. embraced her extended family and his own extended family because he had siblings who can kids and so on. the question presumes there is concern there will be a dynasty
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somehow, a washington dynasty. he's taken careful pains to ensure, you know, as he moves from being a general and resigning the command of the continental army and going back to mount vernon. incidentally, in eight years he is only at mount vernon once. he only goes home once. and that's an issue. he commits himself to the peaceful exchange of power when he's president. after two terms, that's it. if he had had a son, would there have been a, you know, rallying around the washingtons? i kind of doubt it. american politics by that point, now we are talking about 1799 -- american politics are pretty robust. there's a lot of really smart, capable guys out there. john adams, jefferson, madison,
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monroe. you know the list. and it's i think difficult to see that the country would have countenanced this kind of dynastic succession. >> it is a remarkable man who says i have had enough, i have had enough power, i have had enough this, had enough that, i'm done. >> exactly right. >> next question is to your right, of a way back with connie. >> i would like to take a little issue with something you said earlier in your comments, that george iii was, in fact, wrong when he said that if they lost the american colonies they would lose the empire. the american revolution in fact was cited as an example for lots of decolonialize igs or wars of colonial liberalation. south africa, india, both vietnams, and so forth. isn't it just a case of george
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iii being right but it taking a little longer? >> well, we are all right if you give us enough time. [ laughter ] i mean, look, the american colonies split away, and the british defeat in the war -- because it becomes a world war and they are fighting not only the americans but the french, the spanish, the dutch. they are angered the russia. it costs them. there is no doubt about that. but as adam smith has told them, wealth of nations was published in 1776, you will make more money by treating them as trading partners than treating him as vas i will states. he's very explicit about it. that's true. as it turns out we are the biggest trading partner after the war with britain. and the first british empire is then succeeded by -- of course they have got to fight the french again. it's what they do.
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[ laughter ] 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 decolonization 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 the nations that have come into being as a consequence of decolonization after world war ii. >> good point, though, it points out the drive for liberation, people want to live free. >> that's right. the american declaration of independence is cited over and over in movement of liberation around the world. and it continues to this day.
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>> gentlemen, to your left, towards the front. >> good afternoon. you had mentioned that george washington had 300 slaves at his death. can you comment on the assertions made by the 1619 project that one 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,
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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 not 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
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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
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slaves to fight the british who are encircling charleston. south carolinians say they 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,
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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 provokial. >> 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
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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
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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.
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he writes about dirty new englanders. he has nothing good to say about the junior officers. he has got to recognize -- 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 bond 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
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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.
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>> 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 of long island? and some call that an american dunkirk. i'm just curious your thoughts. >> 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
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drubbing 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. brooklyn is a little village at the time. it has entrenchments around it. it's a pretty substantial fortified place to take refuge 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, the war probably does end. so he agrees in a counsel with
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his senior commanders that we will leave tonight. he orders every fishing smack and row boat and sailing vessel that you can find to be brought to coves on the east river. and the forces tiptoe down to the waterside. if you go to the brooklyn bridge today on the brooklyn 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 very providential fog that comes in. the british don't know that they are leaving. and the next morning comes, the british, they 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.
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it's a miraculous escape back to manhattan where they will live to fight another day. they are going to be evicted from manhattan soon after that. the british land at kips bay 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 book on this topic. the indispensables, it's called. it takes you through it chapter and verse. your section is a chase. >> next question in front. >> your continued visits to the move seem. as usual, you're excellent. we appreciate your continued visits to the museum and your book was excellent. is it possible to compare and contrast the experience of the
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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 succinct 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,
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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 war. so those junior officers, senior
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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.
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these guys have smelled gun powder. they know something about campaigning. but for 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 rigors 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
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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.
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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.
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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 largely reflecting british public opinion. there are doubts about it. what are we doing? this has gone on for a long time. it's really expensive. the people paying the most in taxes are increasingly 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
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translate into a significant enough political opposition to change direction until really yorktown. saratoga gives them pause because the british army having invaded down in lake sham plain in 1777 is trapped and destroyed. it's a very large shock in britain. when it becomes a global war, that works in two ways. first, the brits rally around the king and rally around the cause. because now it's not those pesky, noisy, dirty americans. it's the french. we can all get behind that. it's really quite something. the french and the spanish send
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an armada in 1779 very similar to the armada of 1588. they are off the southern coast of england with plans to take portsmouth. 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
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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 mercenaries, but thehouse of a german axillary troops have been common throughout the 18th century. remember that george iii comes from stock.
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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 captivity, they are for the most part sent to what we know is pennsylvania dutch country. dutch is a perversion 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 looking around and
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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 ] vice president richard nixon and his wife pat circled the globe in july of 1956 with stops in hawaii, the philippines, south vietnam, taiwan, pakistan and turkey. during every stop then vice president nixon encouraged allies to resist the influence of chinese and soviet communism.
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>> he especially enjoyed meeting the children. ♪♪ >> there were handshakes too for their elders, for the parents and to escape communist tyranny and live in a land that offered liberty. the vice president met the roman catholic priest and others who worked selflessly to make this camp a growing and a living thing. he saw new farm equipment. an unforgettable experience for the vice president. he felt he was witnessing here one of t

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