American History, Generalized by a Briton

My job at a foreclosure law firm basically entails the rigors on clicking copy and paste about a thousand times a day.  Needless to say, work doesn’t get much more rigorous.

Therefore, I spend most of my time listening to audio books.  I took David Reynolds’ America, Empire of Liberty for a spin.  Basically, it’s a History Channel take of American history presented from a Briton’s perspective, and is therefore only marginally more likely to elicit some of the notable controversies in American history that most people never learn about in their casual approach through undergrad U.S. history (at best) and high school American history (really, nothing more than a day care–level seminar in propaganda).

My initial reaction was to listening to a medium-posh British accent teach me about history, namely, patently absurd.  Nothing comes across more ironic than being lectured to about civilizing the misnomer of an untouched wilderness.  We get it, Columbus was a huge asshole, but let’s go over how great Britain was in its treatment.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about the inherent contradictions of our early American history, but let us no snob about it.

Reynolds did accomplish the notables I had already lodged in my mind before starting the audio book that could not be overlooked by a foreign observer.  First, American evangelical proslavery, evangelical temperance, and evangelical abolitionism.  The early history of America’s religious absurdity gets a damned decent play-by-play for such a generalized history of the United States.  Reynolds has no problem pointing out that in the antebellum south, Christianity was used to reign in doubting slaveholders, who feared by keeping their fellow man in bondage they were committing dreadful sins.  Christianity was used to remind them: “ho, but you bring God to these men, and they would but starve as naive children without the yoke of bondage” paraphrased of course.

My other must-tell from American history that get’s brought up is our national unwillingness to accept the independence and rights of brown folk.  For example, both the Cherokee nations during rampant reservationism and the Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh during the Treaty of Versailles, used the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to try and assuade the United States to express compassion for the downtrodden of the earth, under the boot of American expansionism and French colonialism respectively.  Let’s see how that turned out, shall we?

Finally, he includes some excellent cultural critique of suburban sprawl and its complete unsustainability in his passage about 1950s America.

One problem though: like most people, he puts the beginning of Vietnam squarely in JFK’s lap, something he contradicts himself on when he mentions that by the time JFK came into office, 2,000 military personnel were already in-country staging operations and training south Vietnamese.

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