I’m reading a book of historical criticism by Gordon S. Wood presently. I am enjoying it. He’s a cantankerous old fart who doesn’t approve of anyone’s version of history, not even his own. That’s the best type of historian if you ask me. Humility like that takes you a long way. But I digress.
I’m reading his book and came across this sentence about Turner’s “frontier thesis” on American history. You all know it—at least you should—how the frontier being open for so long was one thing that allowed America the space to create institutions of democracy and liberty. (I know, I know, just bear with me, okay?)
So I get to this sentence, “Although Turner’s particular “frontier thesis” has long since been modified or discredited, the general assumption of his interpretation—that American society can best be understood as a response to the circumstances of the New World—have remained very much alive through the twentieth century.”
And for some reason the rotund and orotund voice of Winston Churchill began a replay loop in my head, until I was reminded of a famous quip by him.
Winston replies, “well, every time you see something big you want to nationalize it.”
Oh, wait, wrong anecdote. Sorry, I was thinking about the one (most likely apocryphal) when he is lambasted by an opponent of Jackie Fisher’s reforms to the Royal Navy.
Churchill’s opponent screeches his imprecation at Churchill across the hallowed chamber of the House of Commons in Parliament, “why, you’ll destroy the customs of the Royal Navy!”
“And what are those customs,” bellows Churchill in return, “I shall tell you in three words: rum, sodomy and the lash.”
Indeed, I have always held the particular belief that America’s peculiar greatness came from three things: slavery, genocide and the Royal Navy.
Am I wrong?
First, African slaves built the New World, not Anglo-Saxons. Anglo-Saxons owned the Africans what built it. I don’t giving a flying single-horned white pony that farts rainbows what you think. I am right about this.
Second, Africans built the New World on land that was stolen from First Nations who were (in most cases knowingly) obliterated by disease that they had no defense against. This was done in the first case. Bartolome de Las Casas was writing about how the Spaniards were already doing this in 1542. That’s only fifty years after the “discovery.” And it was done in the last cases, too.
Now, to label this genocide is to commit an historical sin called anachronism, as the term didn’t exist until the early 1950s when Ralph Lemkin coined it. But so what: that’s what happened. Our ancestors—yes, yours and mine (unless you’re African American or of Native American ancestry) engaged in one of the, if not the, greatest genocidal run ever committed in history by killing off all the First Nations. To add insult to injury the only ones left over were shuffled off on to the worst land in the entire nation imaginable: Oklahoma. After the Indians were gone white settlers brought their chattel slaves to do the heavy lifting of farming and such.
Finally, what protected this 125-50 year recurring cycle of events?
The British navy.
America was made great by slavery, genocide, rum, sodomy and the lash.
Glorious, ain’t it?