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The American Future: A History With Simon Schama

Season 1 Episode 2

American War

Aired Friday 9:00 PM Oct 17, 2008 on BBC Two
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Episode Summary

American War
Simon takes on America's war ethos in a trip by train, car and foot through its monuments and memorials. Beginning with the first conflicts between Democrat-Republican Thomas Jefferson and Federalist Alexander Hamilton, Simon traces the evolution of war as an action of last resort to today's use of it to spread democracy. Focusing much time on the Civil War, he shows not only America's loss of innocence, but the emerging counterbalance of debate that's as much a part of American culture as its battles.moreless
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    Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


    • TRIVIA (0)

    • QUOTES (10)

      • Simon: Ever since the founding of the republic this has happened. When the bugle has sounded, so has the voice of shared conscience. The noise of the gun answered by the irrepressible sound of free debate.

      • Simon: What do you think, I mean do you, do you think about the wars that America is in now, and compare it with the war–
        Epifanio 'Epi' Salazar: I think the war in Iraq is not so good. It's a thing, it's a political war. What I think.
        Simon: Yeah.
        Epifanio 'Epi' Salazar: Because, uh, in World War II we took five years to win, I mean completely win. And now they've been there five years, and they haven't done anything.

      • (About Franklin Roosevelt's decision to participate in World War II.)
        Simon: FDR knew that for the democracies it would be a war of last resort, but an inevitable one, for it was truly waged for the survival of liberty.

      • (About Mark Twain's protests of Teddy Roosevelt's Philippine-American war.)
        Simon: But Twain's words were no match for the might of presidential power. More than 4,000 American soldiers, and tens of thousands of Filipinos would die before the war ground to an end. But Twain's example in allowing no war to go uncontested, morally unexamined whatever the cost to reputation, lived on after him and became a great American tradition in itself. From the pen to print, to the blog, to the hustings. What was at stake in the unsparing debate between Twain and Roosevelt – the moral underpinnings of American force – was very much at issue in the election of 2008.

      • Simon: [Teddy] Roosevelt despised Thomas Jefferson as a weakling in matters of war and peace, but he revered Alexander Hamilton for his unapologetic determination to make the United States a player on the world scene. Admired, but feared, for its military prowess.

      • (At the site of the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg.)
        Simon: The butchery was a brutal education for the man who engineered the victory. Before the war began, [General Montgomery] Meigs had predicted that it would be conducted humanely, but this hadn't happened. Instead, the country had been drowned in blood. America had lost its military innocence.

      • (Watching the West Point cadet drills.)
        Simon: The struggle between Jefferson's and [Alexander] Hamilton's vision of how America comes to terms with its wars is waged every day in the hearts and minds of these cadets. A big piece of them wants to say to the world, as Jefferson would have, "Behind our uniforms, we're citizens first, soldiers second. Fighting only as a last resort to protect freedom." But then the Hamilton in them says, "Grow up. there are enemies out there who wish America harm, who want to destroy its liberty. Take the fight to them, before it's too late."

      • (About Thomas Jefferson.)
        Simon: He was the least likely founding father to set his seal on a military college. Jefferson was, in his marrow, a Virginian gentleman farmer and philosopher. He looked at Europe and its history and saw its standing armies and its endless wars as the nursery of tyrants. That was never going to happen in the democratic republic of America. Jefferson knew that America had won its freedom thanks to bloody war, but he consoled himself that this was truly different from the wars of the old world fought by aristocratic officers commanding mercenary scum. Jefferson thought professional soldiers were bad for democracy. Of course, Jefferson could feel that way about the fighting because he'd done so little of it himself. And his distance from the gun smoke meant he could allow himself the luxury of a little fantasy. That it had all been the victory of ordinary citizens – farmers, storekeepers, salt-of-the-earth – men who wouldn't have dreamt of grabbing a musket, unless it was to defend hearth and home against bestial mercenaries in redcoats.

      • (While touring the American Military Academy at West Point.)
        Simon: The cadets here still wear the smoke-gray uniforms and short haircuts. It was the style considered appropriate for the sons of the new republic. No knee-breeches, lace trim or powdered wigs here. It may not look like it, but for two centuries West Point has been a war college that stood against, not for, a military cult. A place sworn from its foundation to uphold civilian control of the army. A place where military dictatorship would be strangled at birth. At any rate, that was what its founder, President Thomas Jefferson, wanted.

      • Simon: The world has got into the habit of thinking of America as the "tough-guy empire", trigger-happy cowboys addicted to the rush of military power. But that's not the way America sees itself.
        Dick Cheney: (via archive footage) America may be a country founded in revolution, but we've never been a warrior culture. We are a democracy, defended by volunteers. We're a peaceful nation. At times in our country…
        Simon: I sat there and thought, "Well, that's rich, coming from him." But the fact is, what the Vice President said is what most Americans believe.

    • NOTES (2)

      • Also Featured:

        > John McCain – 2008 Presidential Candidate (Archive Footage)
        > Barack Obama – 2008 Presidential Candidate (Archive Footage)
        > Hillary Clinton – 2008 Presidential Candidate (Archive Footage)
        > Dick Cheney – 46th U.S. Vice President (Archive Footage)
        > Epifanio 'Epi' Salazar – Veteran Paratrooper, World War II
        > Ricard S. Sanchez – Lt. General, Ret., U.S. Army (Archive Footage)

      • International Transmission Dates:
        US – 19 January 2009 at 8:00 pm

    • ALLUSIONS (0)