This article in the New York times could read as benign; certainly it is one of the less inflammatory articles that have been published around the Occupy movement, yet I see it as clearly reflecting so many of these same behaviors and beliefs that we are reading about; that were at the founding of our nation, of our governmental and societal structure. The authorities want to retain control; remove the protestors to a part of town where they would be less visible, less of a nuisance; where they would impede the flow of things less, but they want to do it, they say, with total respect for the “the spirit of the movement that calls for peaceful assembly and protest to bring about social change.” Words. They are just words, attempting to slyly cover the lack of support and solidarity with 'the people' that their actions reflect.
Change is by nature disruptive. In order to be heard, you must make a sound and take action that follows suit. You must embody your voice. Reading about the Revolutionary war from the experience of the people rather than the governing class, gives us insight into some of the earliest efforts toward change in the USA. And gives me the realization that most of us are related to the people who were completely disrespected during this time in our history. Most of us are; however, conditioned to desire that we be related to a historical celebrity - to a hero. A hero as defined by who?
We are nearly through Chapter 5: A Kind of Revolution
I have included a lot of quotes from this chapter because I, myself, wasn't taught about this side of George Washington and his mode of command. And well, if you aren't reading the book, then I wanted to offer you the opportunity to know, as well.
Zinn exposes us to the experience of the majority of people, those who did not own a majority of the land and wealth. He tells of how the poor and working class whites were forced to be a part of the military and how they fought back and how the militant governing elite managed to retain their control and keep the soldiers of the Revolution and the civilians from overcoming them.
“Ruling elites seem to have learned through the generations--consciously or not--that war makes them more secure against internal trouble....The military conflict itself, by dominating everything in its time, diminished other issues, made people choose sides in the one contest that was publicly important, and forced people onto the side of the Revolution whose interest in Independence was not at all obvious. ”
“Here was the traditional device by which those in charge of any social order mobilize and discipline a recalcitrant population --offering the adventure and rewards of military service to get poor people to fight for a cause they might not see clearly as their own.”
“...the military became a place of promise for the poor, who might rise in rank, acquire some money, change their social status.”
According to John Shy, “Revolutionary America may have been a middle-class society, happier and more prosperous than any other in its time, but it contained a large and growing number of fairly poor people and many of them did much of the actual fighting and suffering between 1775 and 1783: A very old story.”
“The force of military preparation had a way of pushing neutral people into line...Shy says, “The mechanism of their political conversion was the militia.” What looks like the democratization of the military forces in modern times shows up as something different: a way of forcing large numbers of reluctant people to associate themselves with the national cause, and by the end of the process believe it.”
“But when the sacrifices of war became more bitter, the privileges and safety of the rich became harder to accept. About 10 percent of the white population, large landholders and merchants held 1,000 pounds or more in personal property and 1,000 pounds in land, at the least, and these men owned nearly half the wealth of the country and held as slaves one-seventh of the country’s people.”
There began to occur more and more uprisings, riots against the dominating upper class; against “the leading families who supported the Revolution, who were suspected of hoarding needed commodities.”
“New Year’s day 1781, the Pennsylvania troops near Morristown, New Jersey, perhaps emboldened by rum, dispersed their officers, killed one captain wounded others, and were marching, fully armed, with cannon, toward the Continental Congress at Philadelphia. George Washington handled it cautiously...He was worried that the rebellion might spread to his own troops...He sent Knox on his horse to gather up 3 months pay for the soldiers while he prepared a thousand men to march on the mutineers, as a last resort. A peace was negotiated, in which one-half the men were discharged; the other half got furloughs.”
“...a smaller mutiny took place in the New Jersey Line, involving two hundred men who defied their officers and started out for the state capital at Trenton. Now Washington was ready. Six hundred men, who themselves had been well fed and clothed, marched on the mutineers and surrounded and disarmed them. Three ringleaders were put on trial immediately, in the field. One was pardoned, and two were shot by firing squads made up of their friends, who wept as they pulled the triggers. It was “an example,” Washington said.”
Despite the growing class hatred, “...authorities retained control. They made concessions, taxing land and slaves more heavily, letting debtors pay in paper money. It was a sacrifice by the upper class to maintain power, and it worked.”
In order to persuade officers to stay in the army longer, they offered those who would stick it out to the end of the war, half-pay for life. “This ignored the common soldier, who was not getting paid, who was suffering in the cold, dying of sickness, watching the civilian profiteers get rich.”
And where George Washington saw necessary, violence and brutality were the modes of control employed over those Americans who were suffering, denied their rights and being forced to fight in the war. Nathaniel Green, a military commander for Washington in the lower south wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson describing a raid by his troops on the Loyalists: those who felt that it was better to pay duties and taxes to the British than be enslaved and commanded by the new American elite. “They made a dreadful carnage of them, upwards of one hundred were killed and most of the rest cut to pieces. It has had a very happy effect on those disaffected persons of which there were too many in this country.”