|This doesn't help much|
I recently had a pleasant exchange of emails with a very nice fellow from New Mexico, during which he asked me if I could help clear up an argument he had been having with some friends, who were convinced that the unpleasantness between the noble houses of York and Lancaster was, or was somehow part of, the English Civil War.
Anyone calling on my historical expertise is in trouble anyway, but I pointed out that the conflict which later became known as the Wars of the Roses was some two centuries earlier than the ECW, and – though some of the family alignments may still have had an effect all those years later – the scripts were separate and different.
I have noticed a certain element of confusion in this area before – notably in the dark folds of TMP. I have also been accused before of attempting to take a poke at Americans, but nothing could be further from the truth – I have a good number of American friends, and I have a great deal of respect for their country. I do feel, though, that in some respects their collective understanding of the world outside the USA is sometimes patchy, which still surprises me a little, since just about all of them are descended from peoples who came from other parts of the globe.
In 1987 I made the first of a number of visits to California to play with an Edinburgh-based group at the Sacramento Jazz Festival (which, at that time at least, was a very big deal indeed). During the first break of our first set, a bearded gentleman of about 60 came up and said, in a booming voice,
“So you guys are Irish? – so am I – I wonder if we are related?”
We shook his hand and explained that no, in fact we were Scottish.
“Same thing,” boomed the bearded one, “read your history, pal! Don’t they teach history any more? – have the English put a stop to that?”
We protested, gently, that, though the countries had certain tribal connections, they were in fact separated by both culture and geography. We also suggested that confusing the two was not unlike mistaking California and Mexico. This didn’t go down well at all.
“Different thing altogether! – obviously you guys never went to school!” and he stomped off back to the beer tent. Once again we had made our faultless contribution to international friendship. I've met a number of fellows like this since - the history gets a bit smudged; I had a good-going discussion in a bar in Auburn once with a guy who claimed to be an Irish republican, but whose view of the history was diverse enough to include odd incidents such as the Glencoe Massacre if it was too good an excuse for a fight to ignore.
It’s taken me a few years, but I have eventually come to understand that none of the actions at Brandywine, Plattsburgh, Little Big Horn or the Alamo are considered part of the ACW, but then it would be hard for me to escape the truth – American history is all-pervasive, it dominates the Internet – look up English Civil War or Spanish Civil War on Google or on the Amazon site, and see how the ACW swamps the lists produced.
I am aware that the USA is a relatively young nation, and has worked hard on it’s identity – belonging has been important, conforming to a national ideal essential. Americans are encouraged to cherish their immigrant heritage, but also to put it in the background. That is all admirable. When I used to visit, which I did regularly until 1998, I was intrigued by the world as presented by the TV networks. In Sacramento, for example, local news might be a report on the Christian Mothers’ fund-raising musical show in Rio Linda, national news was what was going on in the California state capitol, world news was events in the rest of the USA. Only the occasional glimmer of anything in the outside world sneaked through, and then only if there were Americans involved, or if it had political implications for the USA. I was in Los Angeles when the US Navy accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner, which made it on to the TV news, but otherwise I had to phone home to see what was happening.
Not that the English Civil War is solid ground for forming comparisons - we could get into all sorts of debates about more-politically-correct titles - The Wars of the Three Kingdoms (which seems to discriminate rather against the heavily committed Welsh) and so on. Personally I get bored with this topic pretty quickly, but I have a (sort of) friend who gets almost violent if someone refers to the English Civil War (singular), but there again he is capable of starting a fight in an empty room. Whatever - if I say "ECW", and then duck quickly, you have a good idea what I'm talking about, and the Plantagenets do not figure at all.
Fair enough, but give us a break, guys – Wars of Roses; English Civil War; different. I guess you might just about glue the ECW onto the end of the Thirty Years War, but that would require a lot of explanation and a lot of beer, and life is too short, really. Just carry on – thanks.