Rick Atkinson: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Michael Martys: Now I’d like
to introduce David Moskowitz, the Head of Government
Relations and Public Policy for Wells Fargo to
introduce the presentation.>>David Moskowitz: Thank you. And this is the grand
finale of the book festival. I think one of the things
we’ve learned is that reading and literacy really
impact everything. They impact our personal
development. They impact the economy. They impact the environment
that we’re in. And since, I think 2001,
thousands of people have come to the Library of Congress
National Book Festival for an opportunity
to hear from some of the greatest literary minds
of our time and the opportunity to see the depth of the
imaginative brains of all of these wonderful authors. And we’re going to
hear from one shortly. I’m David Moskowitz. I’m Head of Government Relations and Public Policy
at Wells Fargo. I’m really happy to be here. We’ve been committed to
the D.C. area since 1914. That’s 160 years. Partnering community lenders and
organizations to improve lives and strengthen the
communities that we work with. That includes the
National Book Festival. This is the ninth year that
we’ve been a charter sponsor. We can see what this festival
does and what the Library of Congress does to nurture
the enthusiasm for reading and the related growth
of our opportunities. In 2018 Wells Fargo team
members read to 106,000 children and donated more
than 58,000 books through our Reading
First Program. We really put our money
where our mouth on this and I really hope that while you
were here today you had a chance to visit our booth
downstairs and see some of the fun activities
that we put together which are really intended
to do one thing which is to help make reading fun and
ignite the desire to read. So now to why we’re here. I’m honored to bring to the microphone Manuel
Roig-Franzia who’s a writer for “The Washington Post”
style section. He will introduce this evening’s
speaker, Rick Atkinson, who will discuss the first book
in his “Revolution” trilogy, “The British Are Coming:
The War For America, Lexington to Princeton,
1775-1777”. And having read “The
British Are Coming” as well as Rick’s award winning
“Liberation” trilogy, I can say it was a
thrilling, cinematic, and mind opening experience
about the birth of our country and the sacrifices that
were made by these patriots. And with that, Manuel. [ Applause ]>>Manuel Roig-Franzia:
Hello everyone. I’m delighted to be here to
introduce you to Rick Atkinson. So some of you may know Rick
Atkinson from his deep reporting at “The Washington
Post” when he was there. And certainly many of you
know him from his trilogy of excellent books
about World War II. But before all that, before
the front page stories, before the accolades and
the best seller lists, Rick Atkinson was a 20 something
reporter at a newspaper that no longer exists,
the “Kansas City Times”. And in 1982 Rick Atkinson
was awarded the highest award in journalism, The
Pulitzer Prize. And I looked it up and this
is what the Pulitzer committee said: “For the uniform
excellence of his reporting and writing on stories
of national import”. And what jumped out at me
there was the plural, stories. Not just one story that he
spent all year working on, but multiple stories
about multiple topics. One was about the
chaotic management of water resources
in the country. But then a completely
different topic, an examination of the U.S. Officer Corps
that focused on a group of graduates from West Point. And so I guess when I looked
at that, it made a lot of sense to me that one of our
foremost chroniclers of World War II would now
be turning his attention, his voice, the power
of his research, to a completely different
conflict that matters so much in our history. And with that I would ask you to welcome Rick Atkinson
to the stage. [ Applause ]>>Rick Atkinson: Thanks for
that Manuel, and good evening. Apologies to those of you who
are here looking for McCullough. [laughter] You missed
him by an hour. We’re going to turn out
the lights here tonight on the 2019 National
Book Festival and it’s been great as usual. I live here in Washington and the National Book Festival
is my favorite event in our town because it assembles
the components that make reading a miracle. Authors, editors, publishers,
readers, and of course books. A book festival, like a
library or a great museum, can serve as a time machine. It can transport us to distant
eras and faraway places. And we’ll use this
setting to do exactly that for a few minutes this
evening, traveling to a place in time of bitter
partisan rancor, uncertainty about the present,
deep anxiety about the future, and savage, political discord. And no, we’re not
going to Capitol Hill. [laughter] The last time I was
here I had finished a three volume 750,000 word narrative
about the American role in the liberation of
Europe in World War II. A project that took me 15 years. And even before that third and
final volume was published, I was pondering what to do next. And I kept thinking of Jack
London’s advice that rather than sit back and wait for
inspiration, an author ought to light out after
it with a club. And the obvious thing for
me would have been to pivot to the pacific and do for
that campaign what I had done for the campaigns in the
Mediterranean and the European– western European theatres, but
that would have required me to start World War II all
over again at Pearl Harbor or even earlier and that
didn’t have much appeal. And besides, I couldn’t shake
a fascination that I’ve had with an earlier century
and a different war. So I took my club and
I set out after it. So I’ve now completed the
first volume in what I hope, knock wood, will
be another trilogy. “The British Are Coming”
opens with a long prologue in June 1773 when King
George III, our last king, travels to Portsmouth on the
southern coast of England for a four day review
of the Royal Navy. It’s a fantastic, proud display of military muscle precisely
a decade after the creation of the first British Empire
with Britain’s great victory over France and Spain
in the Seven Years War. We call it the French
and Indian War. 1773 is the year the
phrase, “The sun never sets on the British Empire”
was coined. And this volume ends with
the battles and Trenton and Princeton in early 1777 which together resuscitated
American hopes that had seemed all
but extinguished. Well, perhaps we can agree
that there is a lot to dislike about the founding fathers
and the war they waged for American independence. The stirring assertion that all
men are created equal did not of course apply to
500,000 black slaves. That’s one in five of all
souls in the 13 colonies when those fine words
were written in 1776. Nor was it valid for
Native Americans. For women. Or indigents. For the eight year duration
of the American Revolution, those who remain loyal
to the British crown, and even fence straddlers who
were uncertain about the wisdom of armed rebellion against
their monarch were subject to dreadful treatment; public
shaming, disenfranchisement, confiscation, beatings,
torture, exile, and execution. Some were imprisoned on Hudson
River scows anchored below Albany or in an old
Connecticut copper mine where they were lowered by
[inaudible] 70 feet below ground to rock walled cells
known simply as hell. Partisan belligerence
metastasized into civil war. John Adams later said I would
have hanged my own brother had he taken part with our
enemy in the struggle. Conformity, censorship,
and zealotry flourished. In a defensive war waged for
liberty and basic human rights, the Americans promptly invaded
Canada in an attempt to win by force of arms what could
not be won by blandishment and negotiation– a 14th colony. This was the first but hardly
the last American invasion of another land on the pretext of bettering life
for the invaded. The enduring image of a
yeoman farmer leaving his plow in the fir to grab a
musket and go off in defense of liberty is mostly mythical. During the Revolution, General
George Washington’s army was rarely larger than
20,000 soldiers and sometimes as small as 3,000. This in a country of
two and a half million. Particularly after the initial
marshal enthusiasms aroused at Lexington, Concord, and
Bunker Hill had begun to fade in 1775, relatively few
American men volunteered for military service, especially
if it involved enlisting in the– for the duration in
the badly armed, badly led, badly clothed, badly fed
American Continental Army. And yet, who would deny
that the creation story of our founding remains
valid, vivid, and thrilling. Even in 2019 at a moment when
national unity is elusive, when our partisan rancor
seems ever more toxic, when the simple concept of truth
is assailed, the story informs who we are, where we came from,
what our forbearers believed, and perhaps the most profound
question any people can ask themselves, what they
were willing to die for. Indeed, at least 25,000 of
them– 25,000 Americans– died for the cause,
and perhaps many more. It’s a larger proportion of
our population to die in any of our wars other
than the Civil War. So what can we learn from
that ancient quarrel? First, that this nation
was born bickering. Disputation is in
the national genome. Second, that there are
foundational truths that not only are indeed true
but are, as the Declaration of Independence tells
us, self evident. Third, that leaders worthy of
our enduring admiration rise to the occasion with acumen,
grit, wisdom, and grace. And fourth, that whatever
trials beset us today, we have overcome greater perils,
existential perils before. That should be of great comfort. We’re the beneficiaries of an enlightened political
heritage handed down to us from that revolutionary
generation after many subsequent struggles. It includes strictures on how
to divide power and to keep it from concentrating
in the hands of those who think primarily
of themselves. We cannot let that
heritage slip away. We cannot allow it
to be taken away. We cannot be oblivious to this
priceless gift or the hundreds of thousands who have
given their lives over the past 243 years
to affirm and sustain it. Now the American Revolution
was not a war between regimes or dynasties fought
for territory or the usual commercial
advantages, but rather an improvised
struggle between two peoples of a common heritage who
had been gradually sundered by divergent values
and conflicting visions of what the world could become. The Americans eventually won by embracing fewer
strategic misconceptions than the British did. Certainly the rebels could
be wrong-headed in believing, for example, that they had
greater economic leverage over the mother country than they actually
possessed for example. Or in caricaturing George
III who sat on this throne for 60 years and was shrewder,
more complex, and more admirable than the overbearing ninny who
still dominates our imaginations and even somewhere is mincing
across the stage in Hamilton. [laughter] Yet, George and
his ministers made three critical miscalculations. One, that most colonists
remain loyal to the crown, notwithstanding troublemakers in New England capable
of rousing a rabble. Two, that firmness,
including military fire power, would intimidate
the obstreperous and restore harmony. And three, that failure to
reassert London’s authority in America would
eventually unstitch that newly created British
empire encouraging insurrections in Ireland, Canada,
the Sugar Islands in the West Indies, India. It’s an 18th century
version of the Domino Theory that would propel America into
Vietnam two centuries later. Britain also underestimated
the difficulty of waging a protracted
war across 3000 miles of ocean in the age of sail. For eight years as
it turned out. Expeditionary warfare,
whether waged in North America in the 18th century
or in Central Asia in the 21st century,
is among the hardest of all marshal enterprises. The British Army in the
Revolution unable to gather food and forage from the
American countryside without being ambushed relied
largely on provisions shipped from England and Irish ports. But, for example, of 40 supply
and transport ships dispatched across the Atlantic
in the winter of 1775, only eight of those 40 reached
the king’s forces directly in Boston. The rest were blown by gales
back to Britain or blown by gales to the West Indies, or
intercepted by rebel marauders. Of 550 Lincolnshire sheep
carried aboard ships that actually made
it to Boston– that breed was deemed the
fittest to undergo the rigors of that voyage– only 40 of
those 550 sheep arrived alive. 290 hog shipped, just
74 survived the trip. Most of the 5200
barrels of flour in one shipment proved
to be rancid. When the British moved to New
York in the summer of 1776 and they requested
950 horses in order to pull their artillery wagons
and their supply wagons, of the 950 horses that were
in fact shipped from Britain, 412 died during the voyage. Hundreds more were
ruined beyond use when they actually
arrived in America. Similar difficulties plagued
the British for years. Logistics is always hard in war. I’ve personally seen just how
difficult it is in Somalia and Bosnia, Iraq,
Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Even when the American
rebels were fighting on their home turf, they
faced enormous difficulties. Of 75 official letters that
General Washington wrote in January and February of 1776, half mentioned munitions
shortages, often in pleading, fretful terms, particularly
about shortages of gun powder which he just called
“the thing”. It’s difficult to make
musket balls without lead. And by the summer of 1776 the
Americans were desperately short of the stuff. In New York, more than
100 tons of lead weights from fishing nets and clocks and window sash cords were
collected to make bullets. Along with lead from downspouts and window glass
[inaudible] and pewter dishes. Without salt, armies and navies
couldn’t stockpile the meat and fish needed to
move anywhere. Two bushels of salt,
more than 100 pounds, are needed to cure
1000 pounds of pork. Before the war, Americans
imported about 15 million
bushels of salt annually. Half from the West
Indies and half from Britain and
southern Europe. The British Trade Embargo
when the shooting started, strangled two thirds
of those imports. And to encourage salt
works along the coast, including the coast of
Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, pamphlets were printed
with salt making recipes. All the old women and
children are going down to the Jersey shore to
make salt, John Adams wrote. But 400 gallons of
sea water are needed to boil off a single
bushel of salt and that takes huge
stockpiles of fire wood. Virginia– let’s pick on
Virginia for a minute– they spent more than 6,000
pounds, a huge sum of money in those days, to build
evaporation ponds along the Chesapeake Bay. They collected only 50 bushels. Probably the most expensive
salt in the history of salt. Yet, those problems,
substantial as they were, hardly matched Britain’s
problems. The thousand tons of
bread required each month to feed British soldiers in New
York often arrived from depots in Cork moldy and
infested with Irish rats. And there’s no rat as
nasty as an Irish rat. [laughter] And those rats soon
infested British storehouses on Staten Island. For the winter of 1776-77, the British needed 64
cords of fire wood. 70 tons of candles. The daily allowance of a
gill of rum for each redcoat. A gil was five ounces. It’s about a gallon a month
which gives you an idea of inebriation problems
in the British army. That supply of rum
took an enormous amount of shipping space. 400 transports and
victualling ships to move and supply the large force in New York including
to carry the rum. That’s triple the tonnage they
used in the Seven Years War. Now let me talk for a minute
about George, our last king. I know Andrew Roberts who was up here before me is
working on a book about him. I beat him to it. [laughter] Well he’s an
intriguing adversary. Queen Elizabeth II
only recently opened up to outside scrutiny the
Georgian Papers, which she owns, as part of a project to
catalog and digitize the papers from all four Georges
who became king in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are 350,000 pages, mostly
from the reign of George III, most of them previously
unpublished. And I was among the first
in allowed to take a look for a whole month in April
2016 at Windsor Castle where the papers are
kept, just west of London. And every morning I would show
my badge at the Henry VIII gate to get into the castle and then
show my badge at the Norman gate and I would climb 102 stone
steps and 21 wooden stairs to the garret of the
Round Tower begun by William the Conqueror
in the 11th century. And there are the papers in
gorgeous, oversized red binders. George was his own
secretary until late in life when he began to go blind. And he wrote not only most of
his correspondence himself, he also made the copies. And as you pall through these
pages, there’s a tactile sense of being in his presence. Among other things he’s
a great list maker. Lists of British garrisons
abroad from 1764 to 1775. Of Royal Navy vessels under construction
in various shipyards. Of all his regiments in America
with the number of officers, musicians, and rank and
file for each tabulated with arithmetic scratching in
the margins as he did his sums. George copied out his own
recipes for cough syrup. Rosemary, rice, vinegar, brown
sugar, all boiled in silver. And insecticide. Wormwood, vinegar, lime,
swine’s fat, quicksilver. He was interested in everything
from music and astronomy to horology, the study of time, and the use of manures
in agronomy. He was known as Farmer George. He’d married an obscure, drab
German princess, Charlotte. As in Charlottesville, Virginia,
Charlotte, North Carolina. She learned to play
“God Save the King” on the harpsichord during her
voyage to England from Germany. They married six
hours after they met and he had the marriage
bedroom decorated with 700 yards of blue damask and
large basins of goldfish because nothing says I love
you like a bowl of goldfish. [laughter] The happy
union proved fertile. She produced children
with lunar regularity. 15 eventually. And we see in his
personal correspondence that George is a caring father. He’s invested in the
rearing of his kids. And through all this he’s trying
to figure out the proper course for the British empire, for the
monarchy, and for his people. He’s easy enough to dislike,
but impossible I find, to detest or simply dismiss as a
reactionary autocrat. The war he chooses to wage– and he chooses, he is driving
the train– that was is brutal, bloody, and often savage. Unlike modern war, killing in the 18th century
is usually intimate, at very close range,
often with a bayonet. And that’s partly because 18th
century muskets were mostly inaccurate beyond 50 or 60 yards and mostly hopeless
beyond 100 yards. Scholars have calculated that
in the fights at Lexington, Concord, and in the
British retreat to Boston on the first day of the
war– April 19th, 1775– the Americans fired
at least 75,000 rounds but only one bullet in every
300 actually hit a redcoat. The shot heard ’round the
world probably missed. [laughter] On the other hand,
mass musket fire by clusters of men firing in volleys sending
swarms of one ounce lead slugs down range at perhaps
1000 feet a second, that could be devastating. A man five feet eight inches
tall had an exterior surface of 2550 inches of which
1000 was exposed to gunfire when he was facing an enemy
frontally at close range. Given the primitive inadequacy
of 18th century medicine, which is hardly worthy of
the name, if you’re hit in the torso, you have more
than a 50% chance of dying. If you’re hit in the
head your chances of survival are even smaller. By the way, later studies by
the British Army demonstrated that soldiers wearing
conspicuous red uniforms were more than twice as likely to
be shot in combat as those in muted blues and grays. [laughter] Duh. American marksmen, especially
those few with rifles which were more accurate than
muskets but harder to load and couldn’t carry a bayonet,
those marksmen learned to target the brightest
of the redcoats. Those that were almost
vermillion in hue, because they were
usually worn by officers who could afford the
more expensive dyes that made those coats pop. It was like wearing a sign on
your back that said shoot me. [laughter] The Battle of
Bunker Hill on June 17th, 1775, the British captured
roughly a square mile of rebel held territory
at a cost of over 1000 casualties
including 226 British dead. “The British are
coming” is not something that Paul Revere
called while galloping through the Middlesex
countryside in the very early morning
of April 19th, 1775. That wouldn’t have made
sense to people who still at that moment considered
themselves to be British citizens. What he’s quoted as shouting
over and over again is “The regulars are coming out”, meaning the regular British
Army coming out of Boston. But I used “The British
Are Coming” as a metaphor, as a title because
it is a metaphor for what those first couple
years of the war are about. The British are coming
relentlessly with most of their ferocious,
professional army. With nearly half of the greatest
navy the world has ever seen. With 30,000 German
mercenaries– Hessians. And they’re coming to kill
your men, rape your women, plunder your homes, and in some
cases burn your town to ashes. It’s a dire thing. Well those are some
of the nuts and bolts of 18th century warfare, but what are the emotional
guts of the Revolution? That’s what still moves us,
stirs our pride, makes us feel that those men and women of a dozen generations ago
have something to say to us. Why is that? Certainly that Revolutionary
generation can seem so distant as to seem almost
a foreign people. If irony and skepticism
are the twin lenses of modern consciousness, the Revolutionaries
often seem archaic. They’re much less
ironic and skeptical than their latter
day counterparts. They speak English but
they have their own argot and their own idiom,
their own slang. For example, passing counterfeit
money, widely practiced in the 18th century, was
known as showing the queer. Someone who died took
heaven by the way. British soldiers in Boston by the way sometimes called
the Americans derisively, “Johnathons”. But those are minor differences. We rightly admire those
Americans for their endurance, their pertinacity,
their sacrifice. Not only displayed by
men serving in the ranks, but by others swept up
in those fraught events. The fraught events
of those times. Lois Peters of Connecticut
hadn’t seen her husband Captain Nathan Peters when
she wrote him, “pray come home as
soon as possible. A visit from you at any
time would be agreeable”. [Laughter] Meanwhile she
would harvest the corn, sell their oxen for enough cash to keep the family saddlery
solvent, sew him a shirt, and take great pleasure
doing it she wrote him, and keep faith for the future. She signed her letter– that
letter and all of her letters– Your loving wife until dead. General Nathaneal Greene,
a Quaker anchorsmith from Rhode Island makes one of
the worst operational decisions of the war by leaving 3000
American troops exposed and vulnerable at Fort
Washington in Manhattan where in the space of eight
hours on November 16th, 1776 they’re trapped
and killed or captured. This is a period when
American generalship is often characterized by miscalculation,
misfortune, imprudence and deficient military skills. But Green picks himself
up, takes a deep breath, and writes to Cate his wife, “the virtue of the
Americans is put to a trial. I’m hardy and well despite all
the fatigues and hardships. Be of good courage. Don’t be distressed. All things will turn
out for the best”. Be of good courage. He’s speaking to us. To you and to you. He’s certainly speaking to me. Well if the central figures in our creation story have
frequently been involved in reverence, they
nonetheless remain beguiling. They’re worthy of perpetual
scrutiny and often of emulation. Washington is a case in point. Yes he owned more than
300 slaves when he died at Mount Vernon in 1799. You cannot square
that circle morally. He demonstrated shortcomings
as a tactical commander at Long Island, Fort Washington
and other battlefields. The man who proverbially
could never tell a lie sure could prevaricate. [Laughter] Washington’s carping
about his troops, his officers, and his lot in life– I distrust
everything he grumbled in 1776– transforms the demigod into
a sometimes petulant mortal. Yet great responsibility
enlarges him. He rightly embodies the
sacrifice of personal interest to a greater good as well
as other republican virtues. Republican small r.
Probity, dignity, moral stamina, incorruptibility. Traits that should remain true
north for every citizen today. Traits that we should
demand in our leaders. [ Applause ] Lesser personalities
largely lost to history speak to Americans in the 21st
century of constancy and an antique patriotism. “Heaven only knows
what may be my fate”, Captain John Macpherson
wrote in a last letter to his father before
being killed at Quebec. “I experience no reluctance in
this cause to venture a life which I consider is
only lent to be used when my country demands it”. Likewise, Lieutenant Samuel
Cooper wrote his wife, “the dangers we are to
encounter I know not, but it shall never be
said to my children, ‘your father was a coward'”. He too was killed at Quebec. Some years ago the distinguished
historian John Shaw wrote that the Civil War, like
every other major event in American history,
including the second world war, has a tragic, human,
two sided quality that the Revolution
seems to lack. The whole complex of
revolutionary events takes on a smooth, self-contained
character that makes getting the
right emotional grip from the subject very difficult. My premise is that tragedy
is the bedrock of every war because every war
is about young men, and now sometimes young
women, dying young. So we see Lieutenant Edward
Hull, a young Scottish officer in the 43rd Regiment afoot
shot at Northbridge in Concord, then shot again during the
British retreat toward Boston, captured by the Americans. In agony from three
bullet wounds, sucking on an orange donated
by a compassionate rebel, he lingers for nearly two
weeks in a twilight of pain and remorse before he too
takes heaven by the way. Or we see Ile aux Noix,
the island of nuts. A couple hundred acres in
the Richelieu River just above the New York
border where thousands of American soldiers
retreating from Canada in June 1776 jammed
a malarial hell– half of them suffering
from smallpox, dysentery, typhus or some other
God-awful malady, infested with lice and maggots. One doctor wrote we had
nothing to give them. It broke my heart and I wept until I had not more
power to weep. We see Matthew Patton
at Bedford, New Hampshire whose son John
had survived a gunshot wound to the arm at Bunker Hill but
did not survive Ile aux Noix. Mr. Patton wrote simply in
his diary, I got an account of my John’s death of
the smallpox at Canada. He was 24 years and 31 days old. Historian Bruce Catton
considered the American Civil War a redemptive tragedy. Surely the same can be said
of the American Revolution. It embodied the enduring
aspirations of an idealistic people and
brought forth a nation abounding with a sense of destiny. No wonder the world was agog. “The cause of America”, wrote
the essayist Thomas Paine, “is the cause of all mankind”. Even now the war for
independence offers clues to our national temperament. Here remains a bright mirror
in which we see traits that fashion the American
character from ingenuity and resilience to
brutality and pugnacity. We’ve come far in almost two
and a half centuries in power, diversity, tolerance,
and sheer scale. But in some respects, those ancestors remain
nearer than we know. Their existential
struggle churned up issues that perplex us to this day
including individual liberty versus collective security. The proper limits
on executive power. The obligations of citizenship. And the elusive quest for
a more equitable society. The tacit primal question
of 1776 persists in 2019. Who do we want to be? “Democracy is never a thing
done”, the poet and librarian of congress Archibald
MacLeish told us. “Democracy is always something
that a nation must be doing”. Even Jefferson’s
Declaration, our foundational, secular scripture,
“We hold these truths to be self evident” is a dynamic
thing, never a thing done. Something a nation
must be doing. The great Yale historian
Edmund Morgan wrote that, “the creed of equality did not
give men and women equality, but invited them to claim
it, invited them not to know their place and
keep it, but to seek and demand a better place”. The American Revolution
lasted 3089 days. The result was epical and
enduring, the creation of the American Republic, one of
mankind’s greatest achievements. Nearly 90,000 more
days have elapsed since those horsefly swatting
men writing The Declaration of Independence asserted a human
birthright of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Keeping faith with those
who fought, suffered, and died for the
principles we profess to still cherish requires more than a nodding acquaintance
with them. More than a perfunctory
acknowledgement of their struggles. For better and for worse,
their story is our story. Their fight remains our fight. Thanks very much for
coming this evening. Thank you. [applause] Thank you. Thank you. [ Applause ] Thank you. Thanks for that. If you have questions or comments we’ve
got microphones here and we’ve got a few
minutes left. You’re up sir.>>Audience member 1: Yeah,
my question is the fact that, well like the, well I think
the most interesting aspects of the American Revolution
is actually our following– the following policy of
the American Revolution. Like Benjamin Franklin who spent
most of his time in like London at least the first time, what,
how is the American Revolution from the point of view of like
the British internal politics, like how did that, you know,
and the Wiigs [inaudible]?>>Rick Atkinson: Yeah. Yeah. The American
Revolution, the prosecution of the counter insurrection which is what the British
were doing for eight years, was generally very
popular in Britain. The British people by and
large supported King George and his ministers in their
attempt to crush the Americans. Only later in the
war, 1779-1780 did that support really
begin to erode. Now there were opponents
of the war and they included some
extraordinarily powerful voices like Edmund Burke, one of the great statesmen
of the 18th century. But for the most part,
people felt that the effort to smash the rebellion was
righteous and in part it was because they bought into the
notion that were the Americans to slip away, it
would be the beginning of the end of the empire. Their prosperity depended on keeping essentially
[inaudible] states as colonies. And so the king and his
men were fundamentally able to keep folks behind them. Thanks for the question. Sir?>>Audience member 2: Hi. I grew up on the north
end of the Jersey shore and I was surprised, as I read
about what happened there, that it was a very
evenly divided account– Monmouth County– about a
third rebel, a third loyalist, a third people hunkering down
trying to get through it. And it was a guerilla war. It was pretty terrible. And I was wondering
is that unique? Were there different
regions that were more on one side than the other side?>>Rick Atkinson: Yes. Yes well loyalism,
today when we talk about counter insurgency
theory– whether it’s in Iraq or
Afghanistan or wherever– but we talk about human terrain. Petraeus uses the phrase a lot. The human terrain in the American Revolution
is incredibly complicated. In part because there are
these divided loyalties. There are those who are
really aligned fully with the rebellion. There are those who
remain loyal to the king. And there are those, who you
say, are somewhere in the middle and are just trying
to hunker down. It was probably about
20% of white America– 2 million people– who
were real loyalists. Who evinced loyalty
in some tangible form. That’s not enough, as it turns
out, to crush the rebellion. It’s also far fewer than the
king and his ministers believe. But there were pockets
of loyalism that were more substantial
in other places. New England tended
to be rebellious. There were not a whole lot
of loyalists in New England, particularly in Massachusetts. But in Monmouth County– of course there was a great
battle fought in Monmouth, the last major battle in the
north from the Revolution. Parts of New York. New York city itself tends
to be a loyalist hotbed. The Piedmont of North
Carolina, it’s full of Scotts who have emigrated
from the highlands. They had rebelled against their
king several decades before. They had been crushed. Many of their leaders
had been executed. They weren’t going to
make that mistake again. And so loyalism is strong in
that part of North Carolina. So there are areas where
loyalism is fairly intense. The percentage of the
population is higher. The war in the south which
dominates the Revolution in the last couple years is
incredibly bloody and brutal. It is– it anticipates
the Civil War– and it’s in part because of
these conflicting pockets of people who are willing
to kill each other, kill their neighbors,
rather than to exceed to their point of view. It’s a nasty thing, the American
Revolution, and it’s largely because of the reasoning
you put your finger on. Sir?>>Audience member 3: Yeah,
thank you for the book but two things have always– I don’t know if your
book answers it– two things have always
borrowed– bothered me about the
American Revolution which you sort of mentioned. One thing is, as you mentioned,
individual musket fire was very, because the gun powder in the
muskets was very ineffective, yet the mass firing
through formations that the English use
was very effective. The Americans didn’t
use that mostly. They weren’t trained to do that. But the English were and
they were very effective with the mass firing. The other thing is in terms
of small wars insurgency, counter insurgency, the
British were very well trained. They had Cromwell and
Montrose– Lord Graham– they had Montrose and
Cromwell, Cromwell, Montrose–>>Rick Atkinson: Yeah I know
there’s a question in there.>>Audience member
3: Yeah, there were– the two questions are one,
the question is why did we, or why did the British lose?>>Rick Atkinson: Yeah.>>Audience member 3: Okay? They had the mass firing–>>Rick Atkinson: Yeah.>>Audience member
3: very effective. And they had training
in counter insurgency. Why did we win? Why did they lose?>>Rick Atkinson: Yeah. First of all, we did adopt
at Washington’s insistence because Washington had been
trained as a militia colonel under British command
in the Seven Years War, so beginning really at Valley
Forge there’s an effort to impose the kind of
regimented fire and drill and military cohesion
that you describe. It’s not just a British thing. The Americans become
much better at it. And, you know, we show
on several occasions that we can slug
it out with them. The, you know, the issues of why
the– remind me the second part?>>Audience member 3:
The British were trained in counter insurgency.>>Rick Atkinson: Oh
counter insurgency. Well you know they were,
they had had some experience in the Seven Years War, the
French and Indian War here. So they had adopted their
tactics of counter insurgency but still you can’t say that they’re a [inaudible]
counter insurgency force. That’s not what they do. We’ll take one more question
and then we’ll call it a night.>>Audience member 4: So
in your book you comment about the mistakes that leaders
made in selecting terrain. So wondered if you could
comment on map making and topology studies–>>Rick Atkinson: Yeah.>>Audience member
4: back in that age?>>Rick Atkinson: Yeah. Well the British
have excellent maps. The Americans not so much. The British maps, a lot of which
are at Windsor Castle actually– the ones that were used and
these big maps were sent to the king so that he could
study them, they’re exquisite. The Americans are slower to,
of course they’re playing on their home turf
so maps are important but if you know a
guy who’s lived in this county all his life,
that helps to compensate for some of the shortcomings
in cartography. Terrain, you know George
Washington was a surveyor, as you know, when he was a
young man and you would think that terrain is his strong suit. He makes several terrible
mistakes when it comes to eyeballing the terrain. Long Island for example
in August of 1776. He just doesn’t read
the terrain correctly. He doesn’t recognize that the
forces that have been arrayed to repel the British
after they’ve landed on the western tip of Long
Island are very vulnerable to being outflanked around the
left end of the American line. Washington looks at it and
he just does not see it. Same thing at Fort Washington
which is three months later. He just does not see it. So trying to understand
the nuances of terrain and the importance of
terrain in tactical warfare, which is pretty critical when
we’re talking about the kind of close combat that
dominates 18th century warfare, is something where Americans
make mistakes frequently. Now the British also make
mistakes despite those fine maps. And sometimes, you
know, battles come back to who understands the terrain
better than his opponent. And if you can take
advantage of the high ground which is usually superior
to the low ground, if you understand the
vulnerabilities on your flanks, if in general you are able
to anticipate the weaknesses of your enemy’s position, then you’re in much stronger
position to win that battle. And it’s going to take a while for the American commanders
to really get there. Thank you again so much for
coming out this evening. Thank you. [ Applause ]

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