“A FEW BLOODY NOSES” by Robert Harvey


The Realities and Mythologies of the American Revolution
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A thin attempt at revisionist history about the American Revolution, from a “British perspective.”

Drawing on George III's statement of his war aims for the Americans (“Just to punish them with a few bloody noses”), British journalist Harvey (Cochrane, 2000) sets out to correct what he regards as America's “myths” about its War of Independence. What follows is a rather conventional military history of the War, which commendably if rather one-sidedly includes the African-American, Native American, and Loyalist experience. But there are some over-the-top statements. Harvey (who, strangely for a self-proclaimed debunker of myth, seems to have accepted the Parson Weems “I cannot tell a lie” fable about George Washington as fact) unfairly depicts Washington as a master of ruthless gamesmanship. Somehow, he casts Thomas Conway, who conspired with Horatio Gates to depose Washington, as a Washington victim, while General Charles Lee, court-martialed at his own request after the Battle of Monmouth as a result of a well-documented act of insubordination, is painted as a casualty of Washington's malice. Harvey simply asserts that Washington “brazenly lied” when he denied using profanity at Lee, although neither Lee nor anyone else asserted at trial that Washington swore. Nonetheless, Harvey compares Lee's fate with those of men like Robespierre or Trotsky. There is more in this extraordinary vein: Samuel Adams was “America's Lenin,” the Constitutional Convention was a “counter-revolution” conducted by “conservatives,” the anti-Federalists were “radicals,” etc. Oddly, since the Second Continental Congress was made of up of many of the wealthiest men in America, Harvey concludes that the American Revolution constituted, “in Marxist terms, ‘bourgeois’ revolution, in which a newly emergent middle class rose against a dominant propertied class.” The author ends with a crude disparagement of Washington's personality—tough, stubborn, mean-tempered, harsh, ruthless, among other things—which, he cryptically contends, embodies “the spirit of America today.”

Too much murky theorizing, and too many fanciful statements, spoil what could have been a workmanlike general history of the war.

Pub Date: June 15th, 2002
ISBN: 1-58567-273-4
Page count: 456pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2002


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