Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past

Founding Myths:
Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past
by Ray Raphael
The New Press
Paperback, $15.95
368 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-59558-073-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“Whoever controls the narrative controls history. This is a powerful message. Those who ignore it will remain blind to the manipulation of others, but those who get it… will be able to challenge authority and take control of their destinies.”
n Excerpted from page 277.

Every youngster in America is expected to study, memorize, recite and
internalize a collection of generally-accepted folklore about the supposedly selfless and sacrosanct Founding Fathers credited with creating the country. Though passed off as history and re-circulated as such for generations, the truth is that most of this nonsense is actually made-up malarkey strategically designed to serve the agenda of the nation’s power elite.
Think about how quickly the killing of NFL star-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman by friendly fire was spun into a valiant death while leading a counterattack against Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan. Or how rescued POW Jessica Lynch, praised as a hero for shooting numerous Iraqis till she ran out of bullets when her company was ambushed during the early days of the Iraq War, later confessed that she had never used her weapon that day.
Well, similarly, the so-called “patriots” who declared their independence in 1776 have benefited from a bounty of equally-outrageous tall tales, many of which are carefully exposed for the outright lies that they are in Founding Myths by Ray Raphael. The author, a professor of history at Humboldt State University, is not one to mince words in the process of toppling a beloved cultural icon.
For instance, he sets the record straight about Paul Revere’s fabled midnight ride, explaining it away as essentially a fabrication dreamed up 85 years after the fact by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. According to Professor Raphael, Longfellow “conjured up events that never happened,” including that claptrap about warning “The British are coming! The British are coming!” or signaling “One, if by land, two, if by sea.” Apparently, British soldiers were already stationed all over the colonies, and Revere was arrested by on the spot by loyalists soon after arriving in Lexington on the night in question.
The fanciful legend of Molly Pitcher is another doozy, having mysteriously surfaced some 70 years after Battle of Monmouth, during which she is said to have carried water to soldiers until turning her attention to manning a cannon after her husband had been felled by enemy fire. Now we know that no such person ever existed, yet in 1876, in conjunction with the country’s centennial celebration, a headstone with that name was placed, with much pomp and circumstance, on the unmarked grave of a “vulgar and profane… hard-driving, cursing, old woman with bristles in her nose” who had “died a horrible death from the effects of syphilitic disease.”
Others knocked down off their pedestals, here, are Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Patrick Henry. Raphael also indicts typical school textbooks for either ignoring the black perspective during the Revolutionary Period entirely or misrepresenting African-Americans as having been content with their lot in the face of research which reveals that even “more slaves fled from the South during the American Revolution than… the Civil War.”
It’s fun to pretend, isn’t it?

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