Monday, March 30, 2009

The Tour Guide Needs a License

The first words I heard this morning were that the Wall Street Journal carried an article of interest to our Friends of 1776. Since Friends are probably interested in Philadelphia at the time of the American Revolution, it’s significant that revolution has not left that city.

Here is the gist of the front page article Philadelphia Tour Guides Say Licensing Quiz Treads on Them: After hearing that tour guides around City Hall were telling the public some really outrageous errors, the City Council decided that tour guides would have to take a quiz, pass 65% of 150 questions, and get a license.

Tour guides have not taken kindly to this decision. The issue is now in federal court. There is an injunction again starting the quizzing. The City Council, it’s argued, had infringed on free speech and therefore the Constitution. This is serious.

I think much of the furor has more to do with having to take a test rather than free speech. Who wants to take a test? Recently, I renewed a professional license and I felt imminent death before it was all over.

I must say passing with a 65% is not an excessive requirement. Most times, the figure is at least 70%.

Question, which tour guides are included? Gray Line? I’ve taken a few of those tours and will only assume that what I was told was accurate. Of course, if the city pays or officially designates the guides, that’s a different matter. One expects accurate information here.

I would enjoy such a tour, also for other revolutionary cities such as Boston.

The need for historical accuracy is always critical.

Truth may hurt, but there’s no substitute. –Renata Breisacher Mulry

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Patriot - Movie Review

As a Netflix subscriber, I recently had the chance to see The Patriot, the intense Mel Gibson treatment of the American Revolutionary War.

I liked watching this movie, in spite of its length and commercial predictability.

Mel Gibson carries the action in most of the scenes. As a prosperous, peaceful farmer in South Carolina, he handles his development into an effective militia officer with great skill. John Williams’ sturdy score, the warm cinematography, and an attractive supporting cast add value to this production.

As a widower, Gibson is left with a flock of children; the eldest son (a rather bland Heath Ledger) at seventeen itches to go to war. The younger children don’t do much. The smallest girl seems to have issues that a psychologist might handle. But it’s the 1770s.

Some of the supporting roles do become rather tedious and don’t add a great deal to the action.

The Patriot is gory, violent. The British commander, Cornwallis, is steady, has a firm grip on South Carolina. The tough farmer-combatants have a very tough enemy. Even the militia commander, an elegant Chris Cooper, has to work hard to focus his forces on the mission they have undertaken.

Save your hisses for Cornwallis’s second-in-command, a despicable British colonel. I don’t quite know why Cornwallis hasn’t transferred this hateful officer long ago.

Gibson loses a great deal in this movie: his home, and, with the death of his son in battle, his resolve to continue the fight. In a rather routine bit of scriptwriting, Chris Cooper urges and convinces Gibson to stay the course.

The militia are a fairly invincible lot, riding hard constantly to endless battle scenes. They’ve heard that the French are supposed to come to their aid, but where they are and when they’ll come nobody really knows. There is not a whole lot of confidence in their phantom ally.

Toward the end of The Patriot things look a lot brighter. Militia now appear with the Stars and Stripes on enormous flags. In feel-good scriptwriting, Gibson is an enthusiastic flag waver.

When he bids adieu to a French fellow-fighter (the exact point of this role was not entirely clear to me) both become quite emotional with “Vive la France” and “Bonne Chance”. I half expected the Marseillaise. But that’s rushing things.

The R rating for this movie (violence) is completely warranted. Not suitable for any young children. For value designation, I’ll give it an average B, aware that B productions have sustained Hollywood for decades. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Saturday, March 21, 2009

John Adams, Top Founding Father

Mini-post with poll

The American Revolution produced a group of men who were so intrinsically tied to it that we call them “Founding Fathers”, critically and fondly. Some of them have reached iconic status.

Were some more important than others? Which man was indispensable? Was it Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, or John Adams?

Who was the greatest Founding Father of them all? To make such a designation might seem unfair to the others. But I don’t think that contributors to any cause are completely equal. Rather, they are all valuable, but in different ways.

I nominate John Adams.

To earn this honor, he demonstrated extraordinary skill and perseverance, and his influence was long-lasting.

Saddled with a rotten personality, he was hardly the most popular man in town. Few contemporaries probably loved this guy.

I describe Adams as a convert to the goal of American independence. Once converted, he was fanatical in his support of it. He had incredible legal skills; he needed these to persuade others to his cause.

But Adams did prevail. July 1776 did produce the Declaration of Independence. A large body of research on Adams continues to this day. A new study Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriageis scheduled to appear in April.

Do you agree with my choice?

A yes or no poll is attached. For your alternative choice, please comment. Thank you. –Renata Breisacher Mulry

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Irish in Colonial America

I consider Ireland and Great Britain as a Middle East in Western Europe. After a fragile peace of a few years, splinter groups have now struck again, with two lethal attacks in Northern Ireland. The issues are always the same: political, economic, religious, all traditional areas of conflict.

During the disastrous potato famines in the mid-19th century, Irish starved, lost everything, and emigrated to the U.S. If one could pay steerage fare, there was a chance to live. Great Britain was perceived as neglectful and non-caring in this tragedy. Problems between the two countries had never been resolved. It is a persistent dark chapter.

But in the 18th century, there already was a significant Irish presence in the colonies, with marked results. Before the American Revolution, Irish were in Boston. Gradually, as the British military and political pressures increased before 1776, the Irish immigrants were a hostile, very anti-British force in the city (see footnote). Sam Adams, the most accomplished agitator of his time, had more opportunity to recruit sympathetic followers.

This mini-post is submitted with the imminent occurrence of St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, the happiest, largest non-official U.S. holiday. I divide holidays into three types – the first, official U.S. holidays, such as July 4th, when everything is closed; second, commemorative holidays such as Columbus Day, when closings vary; and third, social holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, when everything is open, and celebrations predominantly consist of good cheer, good food, and traditional music and dance. Social holidays are a retail bonanza.

I heartily support additional holidays on the calendar. Why not add Constitution Day, September 17? As a commemorative holiday, something to focus on one of our greatest treasures, the National Park system. As for social holidays, possibilities are endless. The choice is yours. --Renata Breisacher Mulry

Footnote: page 38, Smithsonian Q & A: The American Revolution: The Ultimate Question and Answer Book

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Become a Friend of 1776

If you are reading this blog, maybe you are a friend of 1776 already. If not, hopefully you’ll rapidly become one.

I look forward to this.

Who is your blogger, and why?

My name is Renata Breisacher Mulry. Born in Berlin, Germany, educated in Harrow, a suburb of London, and the United States. Have a M. S. in Library Science.

Worked in Washington, D.C., including the Library of Congress and the U.S. Air Force. Later at Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory, as an editor for the aerospace industry.

Why did I become interested in the American Revolutionary War? In England, my exposure to American history was quite limited.

My parents had lived by Lake Champlain for a number of years, so names such as Ticonderoga were familiar to me. The proximity of Canada enabled my parents to easily drive to the Montreal area to buy good French bread!

All during World War II, my twin brother and I were separated from our parents. They lived in the United States; we, in England. Finally, in 1946, we were all reunited.

In 1996, I happily celebrated my 50th anniversary in the United States. I never found a Hallmark card for this occasion. But I did celebrate in Washington, D.C., a very appropriate location.

What could I do to make this milestone really meaningful and lasting? The idea of studying American history in the 1776 period seemed an ideal choice.

My study was slow going; my background was sketchy and I had no family roots in the U.S. What would I study? The Revolutionary War period was complex, quite extraordinary, with many famous people and battles. Fortunately, the published body of information is enormous for this period. Completely overwhelming at times. The interest in the subject matter is continuous.

I can now state that for me, the ten to fifteen years around 1776 are the most spectacular period in our history. Of course, other decades such as the Civil War and World War II caused great impact and change, but even these cannot match the momentous importance and defining character of 1776.

Do you agree?

A few important men got together during the long, hot summer in Philadelphia, called King George a colossal twit, every name in the book, a dangerous tyrant. These few men, with Hancock as convention president and Adams as its prominent proponent, declared the colonies free from English domination, independent to pursue their own destiny.

Forget the reality that England had won the long French and Indian war, leaving the victors with an enormous financial deficit. The colonies had prospered considerably from this war, so why shouldn’t they bear some of the cost?

But the Philadelphians (that’s how I identify them) in July 1776 wanted no part of that. Instead, the colonies took on the greatest power on earth, started a long, often disastrous war with hardly an army, no money, plenty of dissenting loyalists, and not much ammunition.

But America did win this war. They passed the Articles of Confederation, wrote and ratified a constitution, established the foundation of a national treasury, and selected a unique leader to be its first national president.

How pertinent is 1776 today? Enormously.

I hear “America has lost its way” and “we should start over”. Start over to what? We have our start.

The men gathered in July 1776 were extraordinary. What they achieved strips away all the hypocrisy and politics at its worst, which many perceive today in Washington. Those Philadelphians got it right.

1776 gets us back to basics. –Renata Breisacher Mulry

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

About Your Blogger, Friends of 1776

First, a confession. I think you can understand it. When I came to America in 1946, except for my parents and a couple of obscure relatives in California, the rest of my roots were left in the debris of post-World War II Europe.

I strongly envied those whose roots went back considerably in this country. When people would describe great-grandparents, for instance, I wanted to know a lot more about their family history. I hope they were not offended. Most answers were modest and friendly. My interest was genuine and has increased over the years. Every family has an interesting story.

I came here from Germany and England. Therefore I was an immigrant and a foreigner with a strong British accent. The concept of “immigrant” has always been difficult for me. The term “emigrant” is easier, although both are intrinsically linked together.

I was born in Berlin, Germany. My father was a diplomatic and political correspondent in the newspaper industry. Therefore, politics are certainly in my genes.

The Nazis put an end to my father’s career. My twin brother and I were sent to England for safety. With no language fluency, family, or friends, we were put into the care of foster parents who lived a comfortable life in Harrow, a close-in London suburb.

My brother and I did not leave England for more than seven years. We lived through bombs, air raid shelters, rationing, rockets – the effects of World War II. I describe myself as a blitz kid.

To this day, I am indebted to America, particularly its Merchant Marine, for bringing necessary foodstuffs to us. Maybe we thought cod liver oil was disgusting, but orange juice was delicious.

The closing days of World War II produced for me a sense of wonder. Everything felt as if it was going to change. I was very lucky. The schools I attended for years in England were outstanding. Of course, we all became super little patriots. History was inspirational and fascinating. It wasn’t just kings and queens. It described what it meant to be British.

I was enrolled in an American high school in the fall of 1946. That didn’t last long. The different educational systems in the U.S. and England had the result that I never did graduate from high school. Instead, I was sent to college in Washington, D.C. after the war.

Washington was truly the center of the universe, holding all the power and all the cash. We know that’s not really true today.

Later, as an adult, I worked on the Hill at the Library of Congress. I was seeing American history on a daily, casual basis. Mount Vernon and Virginia were pleasant excursions.

When I came to Southern California, the federal government seemed far away.

California provided its own colorful history – its missions, the Gold Rush, the San Francisco earthquake, and the exciting aerospace industry. I’m glad that I was part of that amazing scientific mission to land on the moon.

Today, Bexen Press is our incorporated business and Friends of 1776 is part of it. We have for some years been actively involved in presenting position papers to the public sector: commissions, local government, and federal agencies in several Southern California counties. There have been many very significant developments – transit, habitat, long-range planning for roads and air travel, “quality of life” issues such as air pollution.

When I had been in the U.S. for fifty years, 1996, this happy occasion was celebrated, where else, but in the Washington, D.C. area.

How could I make half a century of American citizenship really meaningful?

What could be better than studying the beginning of America as a nation, the incredible decade of 1776 when we fought and won a bitter war for our freedom, wrote and put into place a lasting constitution, and elected our first president. After all, I did have an M.S. in Library Science, so research was familiar to me. I’ve very glad I made this decision.

How important is 1776 to you? That’s why I’d like to have your comments and opinions. I know they are worthwhile.

Please join me on our exciting American adventure. --Renata Breisacher Mulry