In Concord, Cycles of History
This is the second of my postings, capturing my thoughts and reflections at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, site of the "shot heard round the world". In the first, I introduced the series with a consideration of the import of the memorial to the two fallen British soldiers. In this installment, I will consider how they came to be there and how those events echo our own time.
I go often to pray and ponder at the North Bridge, walk down the processional aisle between the twin rows of pines, stop to pay my respects at the graves of the two British soldiers and to pray not only for them but for all soldiers who fight and die in foreign lands, for our soldiers who are overseas and for our Republic. My next stop, is the obelisk, a few feet behind me.
I came to this spot, between the two monuments, one month short of the 208th anniversary of the Battle of Concord, on March 19, 2003 to contemplate what brought these two British soldiers to this spot.
They were sent, you see, on a mission to seek out and confiscate or destroy Weapons of War in the hands of dangerous fanatics who were a threat to their homeland thousands of miles away, and to capture and arrest two of the most dangerous of the fanatics' leaders. They never found the weapons. They never captured the leaders. But the locals, fearing that their town was being burned down by the invading army, who by the way, were actually trying to save the town, took up arms, joined the militias in huge numbers and using tactics that violated the rules of war drove the invading army back to the capital city, where they remained besieged until they withdrew. The mission, the invasion, the occupation, emboldened the fanatics, allowed them to recruit huge numbers, and assisted by foreign fighters hostile to the invading army drove them from the area. In doing so, they set an example for fanatics, separatists and nationalists around the world and a globe-spanning empire declined and fell.
The next day, March 20, 2003, it was my fears and not my prayers that were answered. This time the Great Power was the United States and not Great Britain. The Weapons of War were chemical and biological weapons, and perhaps a nascent nuclear project rather than cannons and as we have subsequently learned, seem not to have existed—the cannons were only hidden. But the story was nonetheless familiar.
Of course, the analogy is imperfect. Saddam was undoubtedly a despot and had little in common with Adams and Hancock, and we were legitimately a British colony, and so on, but still, there are important lessons in terms of the strategy, the cost of tactical errors, and the like. To someone steeped in the history of the Battle of Concord, the siege of Boston and the American Revolution, some of these lessons are glaring. The soldiers buried here were their nation's first casualties in a series of conflicts that saw their homeland lose its influence in the area and its possessions and prominence throughout the world.
I had originally planned to give a more detailed account of the Battle of Concord and its analogy to our invasion of Iraq, but in keeping with my oft repeated urging that you not believe me, but rather inform yourselves and make your own decisions, let me refer you to the Wikipedia's article on the battle. You will find that the article is tagged as having its accuracy and neutrality challenged. The reason is that a couple of people feel that it is biased in favor of the British, and speculate this is due to foreign editors. As a matter of fact, the main editors are locals, and their understanding is quite like mine. But perhaps more importantly for my purposes here, since I am drawing an analogy between the colonials and modern Iraqis, and the the British and the modern US, that bias if it does exist works against and not in favor of my points.
I'll wait here while you go read the article.
Now that you're back, let me draw your attention to the following paragraph in the "Aftermath" section of the article (emphasis mine):
In terms of accomplishments and casualties this was not a major battle. However, in terms of supporting the political strategy behind the Intolerable Acts and the military strategy behind the Powder Alarms, the battle was a significant British failure because the expedition contributed to the fighting it was intended to prevent and because few weapons were seized.This is the precisely the point I made to the tourists I discussed the Concord/Iraq parallels with back in 2003, on the eve of our invasion. Invading someone else's country, putting them in fear of their lives, and of the loss of their homes is not a way to keep the peace, is not a way to win world opinion. Rather it, in the President's words "emboldens the enemy". And anyone who knows about the birth of our country should have known that.
And the lessons go deeper than that. Governor Gage was on the one hand someone obsessed with secrecy, but clumsy in intelligence. His orders to Col. Smith were sealed, not to be opened until the troops were underway. His orders for reinforcements were sent only as single copies to keep them from falling into enemy hands, and yet the Colonials knew of his plans in advance and the failure to send duplicate orders created unnecessary and costly delays. When the reinforcements did move out, they went with inadequate supplies and when supplies were later sent to them they were waylaid and fell into enemy hands. Intelligence failures, a failure to adequately plan for contingencies, and an obsession with secrecy should all seem familiar to us today.
And yet, if we just study the first Battles of the American Revolution, we can see these lessons. If we study the last days of the Roman Republic as it became the Empire, or the fall of Republics into Empire after them we can find other, just as important, lessons.
I urge you, dear reader, as I have urged so many that I encounter by the Old North Bridge, to study our history, to think about these issues and most importantly, to speak out, to be a Free Voice, to be the Voice of Freedom, to Cry Freedom. Our Republic is a priceless treasure and it is under threat. It is under threat that is predictable and preventable. Those who forget, those who ignore, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.