Days of Infamy, Ad Nauseum!

The Washington Times(6/1/01) informs us that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a team of people in the State Department preparing his famous speech before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. Given the growing evidence that FDR knew well in advance of the Japanese plans, and that he often had members of his administration culling information for speeches, often down into the lower echelons of the bureaucracy, we should not be surprised by this revelation.

However, in the great American historian Mercy Otis Warren's History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution (1805, Liberty Press edition reprint, 1989), Vol. I, p. 38, one finds the following, describing the crowd of people gathered on the docks to observe the British troops disembark that grim October 1st day in Boston in 1768:

u201C…[T]he troops arrived from Halifax [Nova Scotia]. This was indeed a painful era. The American war may be dated from this hostile act; a day which marks with infamy the councils of Great Britain [italics mine].u201D

FDR, or one of his speech writers, may even have forgotten where he had read u201Ca day which marks with infamy,u201D but it is a striking phrase, and easily modified into u201Ca day that will live in infamy.u201D In any event, I find it difficult to believe it was not lifted from Mrs. Warren's history.

What matters in retrospect, however, is not only Warren's magnificent phrase, but that she used it to describe what was for her, and contemporary Americans, the real beginning of the American Revolution.

Up to that point the problems in America had been in the nature of a constitutional quarrel. On that day the British changed it to what Americans saw as a violation of their fundamental rights; a standing army on American soil, or as she put it, u201CA standing army thus placed in their capital.u201D And, u201CThe peaceable demeanor of the people was construed , by the party who had brought this evil on the city, as a mark of abject submission.u201D Finally, u201CIn this situation, no remedy appeared to be left short of an appeal to the sword,…u201D

There are those among us today, such as the historian Garry Wills, who contend that the u201Cstanding armyu201D question is no longer a relevant issue, that many Americans didn't own guns, and that militia don't fight well anyway. That is a bunch of rubbish! If Wills and his ilk are correct, how to account for the fact that the British officers, defined the fundamental problem as that they were facing u201Ca people numerous and armed.u201D And, the militia fought well when it was used properly, not in situations of conventional 18th century warfare, but in what was later termed tactics of u201Cpeople's war.u201D Even in the Revolution, as the Americans acquired artillery, it was observed that even the best trained u201CRed Coatsu201D would break and run under such fire. They would have been damned fools not to have.

Never mentioned is the way in which the American women were silently helping to win the war as fully one-third of the 15,000 Hessians went u201Cover the hillu201D to marry, usually Pennsylvania u201CDutch,u201D girls (perhaps the women had something more powerful than guns!), nor the u201Csea goingu201D militia (not memorialized by the Minuteman statue) that took over 1,500 prizes, against which even John Paul Jones heroic, solitary, traditional sea victory must take a rather secondary place. None of these realities ever seem to make it into the orthodox military histories. Yet, certainly the British command was aware of these events.

But the u201CStanding Armyu201D question remains with us still, because it is central to the whole question of Empire, in fact, the u201Csinewsu201D of Empire. Today, the American Empire has Standing Armies all over the planet, and even here at home. No wonder there are protests here and around the world as well, described by those who attempt to put them down by the euphemism u201Cterrorist.u201D In such circumstances, one man's terrorist, becomes another man's patriot.

I wonder what Mercy Otis Warren might write if she were alive today, and could address the arguments of those who have trivialized the whole u201CStanding Armyu201D issue?

June 5, 2001