Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2019: Patriots Day!…” [UPDATED]

P.M. Lawrence is a commenter from across the pond who revels in picking at various nits here, some of which are worth picking, some not so much. Always erudite and informative, his comments often open up some neglected ethics trap doors, and in this comment of the day in response to my post about Patriot’s Day, the regional holiday of my beloved Massachusetts that commemorated the Battles of Concord and Lexington. (The only “famous” incident that occurred that same day in 1775 in my home town Arlington, then Menotomy, Mass., was that Jason Russell and some fellow Minute Men were massacred by British soldiers as they retreated from Concord.)

P.M. took umbrage at my characterization of the day’s events as “the inspiring story of how ragtag groups of volunteers faced off against the trained soldiers of the most powerful country on Earth.” This is certainly how I was taught about the early days of the Revolution, and despite P.M’s objections, I’m not certain that it wasn’t accurate enough for regional history. The matter naturally raises the ethical conundrum at the end of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”when the old newspaper editor says, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

I’m generally  in P.M.’s camp regarding fake history. As thrilling as it is to see Jim Bowie die fighting off multiple Mexican soldiers from his sickbed in the Alamo, it just plain didn’t happen, and his death shouldn’t be portrayed that way. I am not so certain that P.M. picked a valid historical nit to pick this time however, but he still earned a Comment of the Day (the last paragraph is from a follow-up comment) on the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2019: Patriots Day! Jackie Robinson Day!

I’ll be back at the end for a few comments.

“… the inspiring story of how ragtag groups of volunteers faced off against the trained soldiers of the most powerful country on Earth …”

Sigh. This fallacy keeps cropping up and should not be perpetuated. I will deal with it properly when I get the chance to write the fuller replies to some related matters, but for now I will point out the following more accurate material, leaving it up to readers to go into denial or go and check for themselves, as they prefer:-

They did no such thing, though what they did do was quite impressive enough as it was. They faced up against sizeable numbers of highly trained soldiers. There is absolutely no need or justification for mis-stating that those highly trained soldiers were from “the most powerful country on Earth”; they weren’t, they were British. The very real accomplishment would have been the same if they had faced as many Dutch or Danish regulars.

At that time, Britain was the strongest single naval power, though not yet strong enough to stand against France’s and Spain’s navies combined (that came with Trafalgar in 1805). Britain wasn’t able to secure its sea communications adequately because of that, which showed very visibly at the Battle of Chesapeake Bay and its consequence that Yorktown didn’t turn into a Torres Vedras or at worst a Dunkirk or Corunna but rather a Dien Bien Phu.

Spain, France, Turkey, Russia and China were all more powerful than Britain (then), though only the first two had material out of area capability. Certainly the last four had larger economies. But those first two later became allies of the rebels! Though they weren’t yet in 1775, the rebels were trying to arrange it and may have been planning around it (though we can’t be sure).

Britain was a very weak military power, even for its economic size, largely because of a deliberate policy for constitutional reasons: keeping the military small in peace time, and keeping it in foreign operations in war, meant that it couldn’t be used to override British constitutional arrangements. Things had been like that ever since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. That made Britain comparable to Denmark and Holland. It gets worse: the Dutch refused to comply with treaty obligations to release British troops (the “Scots Hollanders”), who were supposed to be on call as a reserve not needing training. Why else would Britain hire mercenaries (this is loose usage), if it had enough troops anyway?

Britain did have two things going for it, that helped it recover from the war but did little or nothing to help during the war: it had a stronger and more sophisticated financial system than nearly everybody but the Dutch, so it didn’t suffer from defeat as badly as France did from a Pyrrhic Victory; and, those conquests of the Seven Years’ War that weren’t lost by 1783, which at that stage were still military drains as they needed consolidation, came on stream enough to rebuild the British Empire.

…Although the story is worth repeating as a story, it should always be noted as such. To do otherwise is to perpetuate a fallacy that could get people into trouble even in our day by feeding them a myth of personal superiority or something of the sort (that’s how all this connects). It would make the teller an enemy of truth and a servant of the lie, all the more likely to do more and worse along those lines and all the less trustworthy and reliable for it. As someone recently asked around here, how many lies does someone have to tell for that to make him a liar?

I’m back.

  • There is little doubt that the Colonials/Rebels thought they were fighting the most powerful country on Earth. That certianly was the rhetorics used in the debate over the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress members who thought declaring independence was suicide. Oddly, nobody interjected the information that if you didn’t count sea power, England was no more powerful than Denmark—which still was a lot stronger militarily than the colonies, collectively of individually.
  • The British Isles, as I’m sure P.M. knows, was and is surrounded by water, so all Great Britain needed to defend itself was the strongest navy, which it had. Does that justify calling its troops on April 19th 1775 “the trained soldiers of the most powerful country on Earth …”? I guess it depends on how you measure “power.” [Note: I carelessly wrote “England” in the original version. I assure all that it isn’t because I didn’t now about Scotland, Wales and Ireland.]
  • The “Minute Men” were volunteers, and were untrained by British military standards: read George Washington’s denigrating letters about his soldiers a more than a year later. Ragtag is a fair description: they had no uniforms or standard weaponry. They had also never faced any kind of combat before. I can’t prove it, but I doubt any of the boys—many were also teenagers—settled the nerves of their comrades by pointing out, “You know, there are several nations with bigger economies than where these troops come from. We should be all right.”
  • The fact that Span and France helped the Colonies later is completely irrelevant to the matter at issue: the bravery and audacity of the volunteers facing an army that they knew was a lot better trained than they were, from a nation a lot more powerful than the colonies.
  • There is no reason to believe that those shivering kids and farmers waiting to do battle on the morning of April 19 didn’t think they were facing off against the “the most powerful country on Earth.”

That description is fairer to their courage and sacrifice than P.M.’s preferred, “Faced off against the weak army of an overrated European power.”

On Patriots Day, I’ll stick withe legend.

63 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2019: Patriots Day!…” [UPDATED]

    • dragin_dragon wrote, “Seems to me that some of those farmers were veterans of the French and Indian war.”

      Yes, the few trained the rest.

      Up to the point of actual bullets flying in combat it’s unproven training of an unproven ragtag group of non-professional soldiers – aka citizens.

  1. P.M. Lawrence wrote, “Britain was a very weak military power”

    BALDERDASH!!!!

    It’s true that the British military spread themselves a bit thin sometimes, why, because they were pompous asses at the time and thought that no one would attack the most powerful military on earth and if someone did they would bring down the entire power of the British military upon their foolish heads. The British at that time were quite pompous about their military power and they were quite powerful. Pompousness in the British leadership is why the British lost the war against the Colonial army, they had their heads buried so far up their pompous asses that they couldn’t recognize the growing military strength and international popularity of their enemy and they lost the biggest land grab prize on the planet at that time.

    All that’s in the past now and the USA and the UK are best of friends and I hope it stays that way forever.

    What I think is really interesting is that P.M. Lawrence is trying to intentionally downplay the vast military might of the British in the mid 1700’s as not being the most powerful singular military force on the planet at the time by cherry picking his facts without acknowledging the big picture all in an effort to downplay the fight that the Colonials faced. I think this intentional downplaying is meant to trivialize the accomplishment of the Colonials, this doesn’t wash with me. Rationalize all you want Mr. Lawrence, the fact remains that the ragtag Colonials faced down the most powerful singular military force on planet earth in the mid 1700’s, the fact that the British couldn’t back up their pompous rhetoric on the battlefields of the Colonies does not prove that they weren’t the most powerful military on planet earth at that time it just proves that their leaders were so pompous that their bias that they were the best made them “stupid”.

    Let me be clear about something; I was born in England/UK and had dual citizenship until I chose at 18 to renounce my English citizenship, I have very strong English and Scottish heritage, I have very strong heritage and connection with the United States and the Declaration of Independence. Due to my strong heritage on both sides I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying the history about our independence as a youth and as an adult. The United State’s war of independence was a huge slap in the face of British military might.

    Don’t believe me Mr. Lawrence, spend some quality time studying for yourself. The information from both sides of the pond is readily available to everyone and has been for well over a hundred years. There is loads of things written by both American and British historians. Do your research without trying to prove a preconceived notion and scrap the rationalizations and cherry picking.

      • Wayne wrote, “I think that greatly underestimated would be a better way of putting it than pompous.”

        Why did they underestimate their enemy; history has shown that they did so because of their pompousness. The war taught their leadership a seriously needed lesson.

        • Underestimated, yes — the British were hardly the first or the last to do so regarding the capabilities and resolve of indigenous people.

          On the other hand, when studying this period, I also find it hard not to reach the conclusion that, when fate was passing out brains and common sense to the top leaders of the two countries: Well, it seems to me that the Americans got to sup early and often at the trough, and the British were left to gather up the dregs.

          Not that there wasn’t the occasional brain cell wearing red, but there were an amazing number of truly gifted people in the colonies. Apparently to compensate, the British more than their fair share of incompetents.

          Not that I am complaining, mind you.

      • Great article, and one that provides useful perspective to both PM’s points and mine. Example: “Continental Soldiers Were Always Ragged And Hungry”

        I’ll take that as verification of “ragtag”…

    • I think your comment is a bit unfair.

      Yes, the British Empire was the most powerful political force at that time.

      That does not mean they are invincible. Had they had their entire military stationed in MA, the patriots would not have stood a chance. And, it seems plausible that, even if they were the strongest, they were still vulnerable to other powers. That’s international diplomacy. But, it does not feed the underdog “legend.”

      So, characterizing the underdog against the powerhouse is accurate, but has its own spin on the truth.

      Saying the French and Spain liked us is also spin. They disliked Great Britain and “the enemy of my enemy, etc.”

      And, the legend is further fed by the fact that the US were unique at the time. Canada, Australia, India, and Ireland (to name a few) did not gain independence until much later. The fact that the Empire held together for more than a century after the US left serves to enhance the underdog legend. Had the Empire fallen apart in 1785, the Empire would be characterized as a Paper Tiger.

      Bottom line: untrained boots in the ground were up against a better trained military force in a small venue in a northeastern colony. Those are the odds; they had a fighting chance and won. The spin is the story of the underdog who beats up the biggest kid on the block.

      Both are “true,” but you have to be able to distinguish between the big picture and the small picture.

      I appreciate PM’s perspective, but I can still appreciate the spin of the underdog legend.

      -Jut

      • JutGory wrote, “I think your comment is a bit unfair.”

        Unfair? I don’t think so. Now if you said I was too hard on P.M. Lawrence, I’d say that I resemble that remark.

        JutGory wrote, “Yes, the British Empire was the most powerful political force at that time.”

        Let’s be clear; I did not say they were “the most powerful political force at that time” I said they were the “the most powerful singular military force on the planet at the time” in the mid 1770’s.

        JutGory wrote, “I appreciate PM’s perspective”

        Even though his history classes probably taught some of that exactly how he presented it, I still consider his “perspective” as being cherry picked spin, but that’s just one man’s opinion.

        JutGory wrote, “I can still appreciate the spin of the underdog legend.”

        Spin? What’s there to spin about an unprofessional militia that grew into a much more “professional” military facing off with a professional military force with many years of battlefield experience both in officers and foot soldier ranks? Spin, I think not.

        • Zoltar Speaks,
          I hope to do you the courtesy of a full response, but tomorrow is guaranteed to no man.

          Unfair to PM? Too hard on PM? Tomato? Tomato? My earlier comment to Jack about “spin” makes my point. You and he both interpret the facts in a fair matter. One need not get into whose pompous head is inserted into which pompous ass to understand the dynamics in play here.

          Unfair? I stand by that. The accusation of pomposity is gratuitous. Speculation about Cranial-Anal conjunction is superfluous. What you had here is probably run of the mill colonialist mind-set. The Brits thought they controlled their underlings.

          Yes, you did not say that the British Empire was the most powerful political force at the time. You said most powerful singular military force on the planet.

          I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. PM brought up a significant point. The Brits were a dominant NAVAL power. That called into question your claim about singular military force. Your claim is much harder to evaluate. Both the Prussians and the Hessians had substantial armies of disciplined soldiers. The Chinese once had the largest navy (but no imperialistic tendencies). Which is the strongest singular military force? Hard to say, but the Brits made the most of what they had. Like I said: giving you the benefit of the doubt when he raised legitimate disputes about your claims.

          Spin? It’s all spin. PM and you can each interpret the facts in a specific way. The Patriots did not defeat the British military that day. They won a battle; they did not win the war. Was that important for them? Sure. Was that as significant for their opponent? Probably not.

          There is room for both you and PM to be right here. You both agree on the facts. You just differ in how you interpret them.

          Zoltar Speaks: “I think not.”

          I am not going to take that remark out of context merely for the purposes of a cheap laugh (but don’t tempt me again).

          (Hmmm…it appears I addressed everything you raised. Whaddya know. Great way to start the weekend).

          -Jut

          • JutGory wrote, “PM and you can each interpret the facts in a specific way.”

            That’s true.

            How do you explain away the fact that P.M. Lawrence wrote that “Britain was a very weak military power” and he also wrote that “Britain was the strongest single naval power” (which is undisputed); the strongest single naval power is an integral part of a “very weak military”, really? You cannot logically have both concurrently.

      • I think it’s unfair to call it spin, which implies that the spinner knows he is spinning. There is no question that the Revolutionaries believed they had defeated “the most powerful nation” and that the rest of the world saw the American battles and eventual victory in that light. In appreciating the courage in April 19, 1775, it is what the heroes perceived, not how historians assessed the conditions after the fact, that matters. Goliath does always grow a little bit larger over time, but in this case, not THAT much larger.

        • Two points:

          I don’t take “spin” to be deceptive, so that is, perhaps, an idiosyncrasy on my part.

          Facts: facts.

          Interpretation of facts: spin.

          Handful of soldiers fire on angry mob, killing a few: facts (slightly spun for succinctness).

          Boston Massacre: spin.

          In my view, spin is not bad. You just have to be able to identify what the facts are and what the interpretation is.

          Pick any fact: Trump said “x”

          When someone says “Trump is a racist,” I know they are not stating a fact, they are interpreting a fact (I.e. what Trump said).

          Second: It does not really matter what people thought. They might have thought they were overcoming unbeatable odds. That matters not. Was it true? If the angry mob grossly outnumbered the soldiers in the Boston Massacre, it does not matter what the mob thought. There are facts and there is spin.

          It does not matter if the Patriots thought they were up against unbeatable odds, except as it speaks to their spirit. But, if their thoughts are inaccurate, they can still be deluded.

          Brave and deluded.

          The facts are what happened on the ground.

          Any interpretation of the facts is spin.

          -Jut

    • “Britain was a very weak military power”

      Keep in mind that the British are famous for understatement.

      Also for Devonshire cream, Yorkshire pudding, whiskey and haggis.

      The last one is there as proof of my objectivity, not my taste: fame is fame after all.

    • ZS, I have actually researched this, quite thoroughly. May I most respectfully suggest that any view that does not flow from like research is most probably the true balderdash? That your own views’ passion suggests a lack of detached factual basis? It’s not as if I haven’t done some fact checking for an eminent historian myself, so I know how it’s done (see the acknowledgements in Geoffrey Blainey’s History of the World). If you want to put in the work, start with Redcoats and Rebels and The First Salute (to try to offset potential bias), then look into the supporting research done by historical novelists. Or don’t put in the work.

      Since I have been accused of bias and prejudice, and mischaracterised as being “from across the pond” (which it seems applies more to you than to me), I should perhaps remind readers that I descend from world travellers for three generations on both sides, that I am in Australia where I have lived for most of my adult life, and that my mother’s family were Irish politicals, including my great-uncle Leopold who was the Irish diplomat who negotiated with Germany about the restoration of the six counties. With that background, if I were to have any bias and prejudice it would be anti-British. But I am instead a servant of truth and an enemy of the lie.

      • P.M.Lawrence wrote, “May I most respectfully suggest that any view that does not flow from like research is most probably the true balderdash? That your own views’ passion suggests a lack of detached factual basis?”

        Bite me.

        • If you go full on at people, you really shouldn’t complain if they don’t give you a hard time in return. But you really would gain if you did do that homework. At the very least, you could then do what I once heard a salesman described as doing: bullshit from a position of strength.

  2. And then there’s the pros and cons of “asymmetrical warfare” card to be played. Shame on the Colonials for not standing in line!

    • Not only refusing to line up, but they took a single shot to kill either an officer or Indian guide and dissapear back into the woods.

      No honor whatsoever.

  3. England, as I am sure PM knows, was not and is not “surrounded by water”. The Stewarts might well have faired better if it had been.

    • See, it’s obnoxious and unnecessary to resort to technical gotchas when a point was clear. England in 1775 relied on air power because all of its enemies were separated by water. They didn’t fear being invaded by Wales or Scotland…Yup, I carelessly wrote “England.” Congratulations.

      • I’ll fix the error, as always. Anyone who wants to stand on-call to check my posts for such errors with a 20 minute turnaround is welcome to take the job. I’ll pay them exactly what I’m paid.

        • I have to say I sympathize. I recently spent far too many minutes distinguishing between England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. I am not entirely sure I got it right. By the end of it, I figured “those Limey bastards” was specific enough to be understood, but vague enough to be unassailable by critics.

          -Jut

          • You have to admit the terms are quite confusing. There is a great Venn diagram that explains them far better than a written explanation:

  4. Sorry. My underlying point was more serious and I wasn’t simply trying an irrelevant ‘gotcha’. Although in straight military terms you are right :” they (England) didn’t fear being invaded by … Scotland”, there were massive underlying tensions in 18th century Britain. The English aristocracy were still riven by powerful religious / political divisions and the throne was still insecure. Plots to seize power, conspiracies, secret societies and talk of ‘treason’ were routine. Many of the apparent threats to the ‘establishment’ played on the historical alliances between the (highland) Scotts, the Stewarts, the Catholics, and particularly the French and Spanish monarchies. The Jacobins were still a real threat. Understandably news of setbacks from America weren’t always front page news.

    Yes, it was quite rational to be fearful of a home based standing army in such times. You could never be certain who you could rely on. And to a somewhat paranoid English eye in 1780 Scotland may well have seemed a particularly dangerous home of intrigue and rebellion. An insulating barrier of water would have been very welcome.

    Extending imagination a little further forward, if history had run differently, wouldn’t Thomas Jefferson have enjoyed fanning the flames from France towards a real English revolution? Many of the Scotts would have been natural supporters.

  5. I read down through the comments very quickly, so I might have missed something. Since I have some German heritage, I have to ask: didn’t Germany help the colonists against the redcoats in the War for American Independence? Well, at least von Steuben? Didn’t that guy help in a big way to professionalize the Continental Army a bit more? If I’m exposing my ignorance, then please, somebody, help me to catch up.

    I mean, I know the British had Hessians on their side at Trenton, and a drunk commander there ignored a note that was passed to him, warning that Washington’s troops were crossing the Delaware River at night. There followed a Christmas Morning massacre, or something like that. I’ll shut up now. I didn’t even check Snopes before I wrote this.

  6. Just a little factoid:
    JutGory said: ” Canada, Australia, India, and Ireland (to name a few) did not gain independence until much later. ” Actually Jut, Oz wasn’t settled – by white colonists if you must – until 1788.

    We got to be here because the poms wanted somewhere to send civil prisoners after they lost the American colonies. If it wasn’t for the American War of Independence we’d probably be speaking French and driving Peugeot …… oh wait, I drive a Peugeot!

    • I’ve always thought Australia gained independence on 1 January 1901. But there is an argument that Australian independence was only gained on 3 March 1986 when the Australia Acts were passed in the Australian and British parliaments. Others have held that we will only have gained full sovereignty when we have an Australian head of state, unambiguously chosen in Australia.

  7. The British Isles, as I’m sure P.M. knows, was and is surrounded by water, so all Great Britain needed to defend itself was the strongest navy, which it had.

    Ah… no, not in 1775. What it needed for that then, and did not have until 1805, was a navy stronger than those of France and Spain combined – and even then, that would have forced it onto the strategic defensive in a way that would have led to even further naval weakening by cutting it off from its sources of naval supplies, and so to eventual defeat after even a few years of war. (When I first realised this, I thought it might be hindsight not available to contemporaries, but I later found that Tom Paine had mentioned it – and, if he knew, everybody who bothered to find out knew.)

    I can’t prove it, but I doubt any of the boys—many were also teenagers—settled the nerves of their comrades by pointing out, “You know, there are several nations with bigger economies than where these troops come from. We should be all right.”

    Of course not, just as they wouldn’t have been helped if they were “only” facing Dutch and Danes, as I already pointed out. But, many of those organising the rebellion had indeed argued – only partly incorrectly – that Britain would be unable to sustain combat operations long enough to win in the North American theatre, precisely because of that British situation. And that is indeed how things turned out, though it took longer than the rebels had anticipated.

    The fact that Span and France helped the Colonies later is completely irrelevant to the matter at issue: the bravery and audacity of the volunteers facing an army that they knew was a lot better trained than they were, from a nation a lot more powerful than the colonies.

    No, that is not “the matter at issue”, that is diverting to a matter that never was at issue and on a matter which I was very careful to stipulate. That is, that was the thinking behind the body of the earlier post, but it surely is not what I was drawing to readers’ attention.

    The real matter at issue, here, is supporting a thesis with faulty material. Even when the thesis is sound – perhaps particularly then – you shouldn’t go all fake news to get there.

    That description is fairer to their courage and sacrifice than P.M.’s preferred, “Faced off against the weak army of an overrated European power.”

    Readers, that is what is called a straw man argument, though possibly one made unintentionally under the effects of entrenched misunderstanding. He made it up, put it in my voice when I never even remotely suggested it, and then oiled off over the horizon concealed by its smoke – leaving the real point untouched: that the rebels who set the rebellion going did not face an uphill struggle overall, which has nothing at all to do with whether the fighters on that day were really facing a tough job. It can’t have had anything to do with that last, since I went to a great deal of trouble to forestall arguments about that by agreeing with it up front. But I suppose, like the Scorpion and the Frog, he could not help himself: once you buy into telling the legend, you have internalised the rightness of fake news – even to the point of no doubt unwittingly misrepresenting the position you are against.

    • Similarly, the North Vietnamese doubted whether the US would have the resolve and be willing to expend the lives and treasure to sustain support for South Vietnam—but that’s not the same as questioning US power.

      Your argument that I made a straw man argument is perplexing, as a simple reading of your original comment shows. “That description is fairer to their courage and sacrifice than P.M.’s preferred, “Faced off against the weak army of an overrated European power.” The description was ““… the inspiring story of how ragtag groups of volunteers faced off against the trained soldiers of the most powerful country on Earth …”

      Your entire comment was devoted to arguing that this description was “a lie” and that the accurate description would characterize England as having a weak army and far from the powerful force it was being represented as being at the time. Indeed, the way I initially described the Concord and Lexington—I was not speaking of the entire Revolution—events is how it was seen at the time by those risking their lives, and should be seen now. Yours was a Roshomon point, and worth making. But irrelevant to the issue at hand.

      • If you are telling me, here in the open, that I myself prefer to describe that as “Faced off against the weak army of an overrated European power”, then you are making that up out of whole cloth and ascribing it to me without my let. My own preferred description is up there for all to see, as well as in the original comment. If you want me to choose wording resembling yours, try “faced off against the trained forces of a power stronger than theirs” – though, of course, that is incomplete by leaving out all sorts of other considerations. (By the way, one tactful way to handle things like that is to ask “are you saying such and such?”, because it allows a rebuttal that is tactful rather than blunt and also allows a graceful retreat if the mistake is on the other foot, so to speak. It also allows a killer supplementary question to follow an over-hasty answer; Cork men do this.)

        I do not think that you should state that my ‘entire comment was devoted to arguing that this description was “a lie” and that the accurate description would characterize England [sic] as having a weak army and far from the powerful force it was being represented as being at the time’, for two reasons:-

        – I was very, very careful to allow the possibility that you were not deliberately lying, that the misinformation was not being deliberately peddled.

        – It was not represented as being a hugely powerful force at the time, and you also shouldn’t make out that I ever claimed that. Even people like Chalmers were arguing that the rebels would never get the allies they needed to make their side powerful enough (because the allies wouldn’t be such damned fools as to nourish their own revolutionaries like that – but they were, to their own great cost). Nobody then ever thought that such allies wouldn’t be that strong, if only they could be found. I am trying to dispel modern misunderstandings that make out that Britain was that strong – because it keeps cropping up and deceiving people in lots of contexts, so it is in fact relevant to the issue at hand. The issue at hand – here – is not whether those fighters were brave, it is whether you are perpetuating misinformation (and no, that is not calling you a liar, any more than I would call a political crank that).

        • Your lexicon is obviously too complex for me. You said that the British army was weak, and that those—now and at the time—who referred to the nation as “the greatest” or the most powerful”—were wrong, as in “over-rating”–and yet argue that “Faced off against the weak army of an overrated European power” is a misrepresentation of your meaning, then obviously we’re speaking different languages. To me, “preferred” is irrelevant, unless you are endorsing Humpty-Dumpty’s view of language. However you prefer to say it, my translation of what you wrote still seems accurate and fair.

          • Jack Marshall wrote, “[P.M.Lawrence] said that the British army was weak…”

            Actually, P.M.Lawrence wrote “Britain was a very weak military power” and he intentionally emphasized “very weak” and, this is a very important distinction, he used the word military NOT Army. P.M.Lawrence also wrote, “Britain was the strongest single naval power”. Military power of an sovereign nation is a combination of ALL the armed forces at the disposal of that nation. P.M.Lawrence acknowledges that Britain had the strongest single naval power (bold mine) and yet he openly stated that Britain was a “very weak” military power, it is not logical that the two concurrently existed.

            P.M.Lawrence has been spinning his wheels trying to back up his statement that “Britain was a very weak military power” and I honestly don’t think it’s logically possible to support the statement he made especially when he contradicts himself trying to support his rhetoric.

            • As Oscar Wilde remarked, “two peoples separated by a common language”.

              No, where I come from “military” does not refer to a combination of navy and army but to army matters alone. That is why there is or was a London club called the “Naval and Military Club”, drawing on each of those services. Perhaps you should tell them to drop the first part, just to see what they tell you. So, no, I’m not backtracking anything there, I’m clarifying it.

              • P.M.Lawrence wrote, “where I come from “military” does not refer to a combination of navy and army but to army matters alone. That is why there is or was a London club called the “Naval and Military Club”, drawing on each of those services.”

                I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that there has been a cultural difference in terminology in regards to the your personal understanding and usage of the of the word “military” and mine.

                Forgive me for using wikipedia toi check on the cultural difference between USA and Austrailia but it’s good enough in this case…

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Defence_Force

                The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is the military organisation responsible for the defense of Australia. It consists of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and a number of ‘tri-service’ units. The ADF has a strength of just under 80,000 full-time personnel and active reservists, and is supported by the Department of Defence and several other civilian agencies….(bold mine)

                That supports my argument that the military consists of all the armed services even in Australia.

                Then the same page states…

                Section 68 of the Constitution sets out the ADF’s command arrangements. The Section states that “the command in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth is vested…(bold mine)

                This supports your argument and shows a cultural difference in the language used.

                Here in the United States of America the word “military” refers to the combined force of all armed services. Too bad you didn’t make this perfectly clear earlier by just using the word Army. It doesn’t change my conclusions based on our cultural usage of the word “military” it just means that you have chosen to cherry pick the Army when making the statement “Britain was a very weak military power” essentially disregarding the existence of the British Navy. I obviously disagree with you on cherry picking the Army that but that’s fine, we can disagree on that.

                In conclusion, it appears that we are both more or less “reasonably correct” in our assessments, your narrowly focused view on just the Army and by view of the whole military establishment.

                At least now I clearly understand where you were coming from and you should clearly understand where I was coming from. This is not an apology; I’ll not apologize for unintended difficult in debate due to cultural differences, I’ll only apologize for my ignorance in not knowing there was a cultural difference in the usage of the word “military”. Accept this comment for what it is or reject it, it’s up to you.

                • Forgive me for using wikipedia toi check on the cultural difference between USA and Austrailia but it’s good enough in this case… [excerpt omitted] … That supports my argument that the military consists of all the armed services even in Australia.

                  I was in fact educated in England, despite spending my early life in the Middle East and Africa and settling in Australia after some other travel (mostly in Europe). Australia is not where I come from, it’s where I ended up and where I receive my impressions of current affairs (media bias hits other things than in other countries, for instance).

                  … it just means that you have chosen to cherry pick the Army when making the statement “Britain was a very weak military power” essentially disregarding the existence of the British Navy. I obviously disagree with you on cherry picking the Army that but that’s fine, we can disagree on that.

                  There was no cherry picking at all. I genuinely did not see how anyone could conflate the two, not knowing of any language barrier, but particularly when I was so carefully distinguishing them and their various qualities and aspects. Now that you draw my attention to it, I understand the idiocy of Australian media describing the loss of World War II naval vessels as involving the deaths of thus many “soldiers” (I thought it was just bad sub-editing, as so much else of theirs is).

                  This is not an apology; I’ll not apologize for unintended difficult in debate due to cultural differences, I’ll only apologize for my ignorance in not knowing there was a cultural difference in the usage of the word “military”. Accept this comment for what it is or reject it, it’s up to you.

                  Where I come from, apology still has the earlier meaning “full and complete explanation” as well, though usually it is also an expression of regret.

              • Well, you are arguing on a forum moderated by an American, against an assertion posited by American traditions / education. I would think you would modify your analysis to consider terminology from an American perspective. If the American assertion says “military” then it means what an American means when he says “military”.

                • Michael West wrote,

                  “Well, you are arguing on a forum moderated by an American, against an assertion posited by American traditions / education. I would think you would modify your analysis to consider terminology from an American perspective. If the American assertion says “military” then it means what an American means when he says “military”.”

                  As most of us know, this is not just an American (United States) blog, it touches around the globe, in someways it’s become international. We must take that into consideration when trying to communicate with others that there are cultural differences in language and sometimes very evident language barriers. I haven’t done this here, but I’ve used Google Translator to help understand those with obvious language barriers.

                  I was very hard on P.M.Lawrence and P.M.Lawrence was very hard on me, but without some form of cultural translator we didn’t know that there was a cultural difference at the core of our disagreement until we communicated enough to realize it and overcome it. In the end I think we both understand each other and I have absolutely no hard feelings towards P.M.Lawrence for him being hard on me, it’s all part of online communication.

                  Sometimes international communications are difficult but what is important is that the cultural barriers are broken down well enough that people can fully understand the points of view.

                  • Nonsense. It’s an American assertion made with American connotations. It’s his problem, when seeking to undermine the assertion, to make sure HE has considered the connotations of the terminology as they exist in the originating culture.

                    If we were bloviating about a line of Shakespeare or some quote by Ned Kelly, then it would be incumbent on US to accommodate OUR analysis to the specific cultural context to ensure we understand the meanings of the words being used.

                    • Michael West wrote, “If we were bloviating about a line of Shakespeare or some quote by Ned Kelly, then it would be incumbent on US to accommodate OUR analysis to the specific cultural context to ensure we understand the meanings of the words being used.”

                      So how is it that you learn what all of those cultural contexts are Michael? You do so by trial and error in communications and sometimes communications can be rough. As long as the end goals are kept in mind when communicating, usually people aren’t insulted.

                      P.M.Lawrence, you and I are not professional international translators that are specifically trained to understand a lot of these kind of cultural nuances?

                      Give P.M.Lawrence a break on the specific cultural difference related to the use of the word “military” that took him and I down our communication path, it’s over, let it go.

                    • If you’d read some of his earlier comments, it’s apparent he understood a different meaning between the cultures. Yet he persisted his line of reasoning. Nope.

                    • MW wrote:-

                      … Yet he persisted his line of reasoning. Nope.

                      The reasoning was and is sound. It’s just that I have to find a different way to convey it. Brief recap of the basis, or at least part of it: Britain’s resources by way of land forces were remarkably limited. That does not cease to be true because a syllogism of the “a rose is a rose is a rose” sort turns it on its head and misreads its strong but not overwhelming sea power as mattering directly.

                    • P.M. Lawrence, “Britain’s resources by way of land forces were remarkably limited.”

                      That’s a terrible way to word it; virtually all land, naval, and air forces are “limited”.

                      I “think” I know what you might me meaning but try again. Limited – how?

                • Well, you are arguing on a forum moderated by an American, against an assertion posited by American traditions / education. I would think you would modify your analysis to consider terminology from an American perspective. If the American assertion says “military” then it means what an American means when he says “military”.

                  That is half right, in that I should take suitable pains to get my message across when those considerations do apply (though this particular difficulty of usage was not a barrier I saw ahead and so could not have treated that way, and we were actually discussing British subject matter), but consider: this is all about correcting certain mistaken American assertions, traditions, education – and even terminology where its looseness and imprecision leads to just such blurring and conflation as to make it hard or impossible to get at meaningful distinctions. How on earth could I have told anybody what I told them without going against American usage? It is precisely American usage that builds in the problem. Doing what you recommend would be taking suitable pains to fail to get my message across! It’s like those diplomats who make conceding their demands a hidden but implied precondition of negotiations.

                  Here’s an example from a less emotive context. It is obvious to English speakers that there is an error in the syllogism “a penny is a coin, a shilling is a coin, therefore a penny is a shilling”. But in some – perhaps most – languages, some category words double up as specifics, e.g. the French use the some word for “silver” as for “money”. Sometimes, “rose” and “flower” are the same, distinguished by context, or “apple” can stand for other specific fruits if qualified (which is how we get our word “pomegranate”, ultimately from Latin). So the apparently obviously true “a rose is a rose is a rose” might actually be a hidden form of that first syllogism.

                  Anyway, the only way I can use “military” and “naval” distinctively and appropriately – for the topic at hand – is by ignoring usages that jam them together. What use is a Swiss Army Knife that is rusted shut?

          • JM, I’m still trying to figure out the underlying flaw in your comprehension (language and terminology? derangement and/or blind spot? invinvible ignorance? what?), so I can figure out how get things across to you properly. Meanwhile, rest assured, the best way to clarify my meaning is to ask me, not to announce your parsing of it. I might as well tell people that your preferred meaning is that none of the real pattern of events ever did happen. But “it still moves”, and that, and I doubt if you ever would argue that directly against that.

  8. “Power” is a such a qualitative thing to argue about. PM uses China and Russia as examples of powerful nations at the time, yet neither projected power to any level of significance. So they aren’t exactly useful counter examples.

    Then since we’re on a nation by nation comparison, it’s a bit disingenuous to then say “But France AND Spain *combined* had a more powerful navy than Britain’s navy”. Ok, geopolitics is all about maneuvering and making friends to balance power, but that still doesn’t mean one nation doesn’t have a clear advantage in power. And in the naval realm, that sat with Britain. In the Atlantic sphere of operations, Britain absolutely was the most powerful nation, and the American theater of was, obviously, was an Atlantic concern. While fair to call Britain the most powerful nation in the world, given the context, it’s certainly fair also to say only the most powerful by a slight edge, and not powerful enough to challenge it’s two closest competitors *combined*. But that’s not the subject of the original assertion.

    The characterization of the valiance of the patriots at Lexington and Concord stand.

    • “Power” is a such a qualitative thing to argue about. PM uses China and Russia as examples of powerful nations at the time, yet neither projected power to any level of significance. So they aren’t exactly useful counter examples.

      Actually, they are useful counter-examples, for my own purpose of clearing up misinformation. Recall that JM put that claim about Britain being the most powerful in as a support to his main idea (“megalo idea”, freely translated). Of course, as I myself pointed out, there is a difference between being powerful and being powerful with an out of area capacity, but his formulation didn’t make that distinction. So, it’s still important to mention those other cases, in case any reader ran off with that misinformation and applied it in yet another area where that distinction does not make a difference. Clearing up misinformation is the only reason it matters at all since, as JM eventually noted, it never did make any difference to whether the fighters that day were brave (but then why put in the gratuitous misinformation in the first place?).

      Then since we’re on a nation by nation comparison, it’s a bit disingenuous to then say “But France AND Spain *combined* had a more powerful navy than Britain’s navy”.

      No, it’s not disingenuous, it was the only way to get back to accuracy and completeness: describe what actually obtained, as a preliminary to showing how it connected. Those things didn’t affect early events directly, but they did matter directly once France and Spain joined in – and they may have mattered indirectly even early on, by materially influencing the rebels’ early planning (we do that the ideas were around, from contemporaries like Paine and Chalmers, but it’s harder to weigh them).

      While fair to call Britain the most powerful nation in the world, given the context…

      No, it bloody well isn’t fair. It was clear to contemporaries that France was more powerful, and that its failures of the previous war, arising from bad leadership, were rapidly being redressed. With the advantage of hindsight, we know about the wars that came just a bit later, that showed that to all the world.

      … it’s certainly fair also to say only the most powerful by a slight edge, and not powerful enough to challenge it’s two closest competitors *combined*. But that’s not the subject of the original assertion.

      I am restraining myself.

      Please, read what I originally wrote.

      Militarily, Britain wasn’t even a contender, as it was kept that way on purpose. Navally is different, but you can’t conflate them meaningfully. For a start, a navy can’t put down an insurgency, at most it can only support other operations that do that.

      (Perhaps I should point out that falling back to secure the British Isles, as JM suggested the Royal Navy could, would even if realistic simply have stalemated the out of area capability needed to support land operations in the Mediterranean and in North America and its vicinity – and so lost the lot, not only Minorca and the fifteen colonies Britain lost in North America but also Gibraltar, the British West Indies and the three to six colonies Britain kept in North America, depending how you count them.)

      If you do conflate everything, on the grounds that “the original assertion” of JM’s did, you just make that meaningless in turn.

      The characterization of the valiance of the patriots at Lexington and Concord stand.

      I do hope you’re not buying into the various misrepresentations of my position that falsely make out that I claimed that. I myself pointed out that that was never at issue, never a point of disagreement, as a preliminary to clear that red herring out of the way so I could – drum roll – clear up the recurring misinformation that should not be perpetuated (because people will only go off and rely on it elsewhere – just see how its influence has made some commenters intemperate).

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