Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sobel Wiki: last in the hearts of his countrymen

I'm back from my enforced hiatus in the land of inner-ear malfunctions with a new featured article at the Sobel Wiki on George Washington.

One of the original reviews of For Want of a Nail when it was first published forty years ago was called "If Washington Hadn't Been The Father of His Country", and alt-Sobel's treatment of the rebel general in the opening chapters helped set the book's tone. He spares no pains in giving the reader a negative portrait of Washington, writing, "A man of little talent and less imagination, though of great pride, Washington saw in the Rebellion a chance to make a career for himself, and so deserted his class for the sake of his ambition. Needless to say, his selection was the greatest mistake the rebels could have made."

This is the real Sobel showing us that alt-Sobel isn't entirely reliable as a narrator of his world's history. In fact, Washington's generalship in the period before Nail's point-of-divergence in October 1777 gained him considerable respect among Europeans who followed the American rebellion. Frederick the Great of Prussia spoke of Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton thus: "The achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of ten days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements." Washington's attack at Germantown, although unsuccessful, prompted the French foreign minister, the Count de Vergennes, to write, "Nothing has struck me so much as Gen. Washington's attacking and giving battle to Gen. Howe's army. To bring troops, raised within the year, to do this, promises everything."

The real Sobel highlighted alt-Sobel's bias by having his Mexican critic, Frank Dana, write, "The most serious problem is his presentation of the North American Rebellion, in which the loyalists could do no wrong, while the rebels are presented as fools, clowns, traitors, and knaves." The portrait alt-Sobel's draws of George Washington is probably Nail's clearest example of this.

The point, of course, is to let Sobel's readers know that this is not the American history they has been trained to expect. This is a loyalist perspective on the American Revolution from a world where the loyalist perspective is the priveleged one. In its way, Sobel's retelling of the American Revolution is a lesson on the unperceived biases that color our view of history.

No comments: