A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Friday, 5 September 2014

Hooptedoodle #147 - Not the Same at All

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.


  1. "Gee now, the battle of Waterloo - wasn't that won by your Winston Churchill?"

    Actually we Brits (are you still a Brit Tony - only 2 weeks to go!) are just as bad - I was in the American Museum in Bath a few weeks ago and a nice guide lady was explaining to me that the picture I was looking at (the siege of Vicksburg) showed the Confederate troops just about to win the American Revolution. I resisted the temption to put her right (a fact of which I am proud).

    Like you I have always been fond of the USA and Americans and visited quite a few times in my youth. My Dad however was not so keen as he felt the Yanks were trigger happy in Burma and liked to shoot down RAF planes because their roundalls looked like Japanese markings - but we can forgive him for feeling that way I guess!

    1. I think the lady at the Bath Museum was doing her best - what did you expect? She has to speak to nerds about old-fashioned stuff she couldn't care less about, and they have the nerve to find fault with what she's doing. The museum probably has a signed undertaking with the city council to employ a certain proportion of staff who can't remember anything (what used to be called CRAFT people in adult literacy circles). Anyway - good for her, I say. It's all foreign stuff, and it happened a long time ago - what's your problem?

  2. And you didn't even mention Matilda and Stephen...

    1. I can't remember if they were actually there.

  3. I was in California one St Patrick's Day and got fed up explaining that no this wasn't a huge deal back at home; because the reason that I gave - the fact that England and Ireland are different countries - was apparently incomprehensible to the locals. Perhaps ir was my accent.

    Which reminds me of the occasion when having arrived in Grenada just a few months after the US invasion, one of the American medical students (you may remember their role in the whole affair) asked me if I'd ever met John Lennon. Slightly puzzled by the question I inquired as to why he might think that would be likely. His reply was that our accents sounded so similar that he believed we must have grown up near each other. I'm from Bethnal Green.

    1. I guess all people who speak English without an American accent sound the same, especially to idiots. I am, in fact, from Princes Park, Toxteth, Liverpool, and I've been taken as a German in California - mind you, it could have been the helmet.

      I've also met a number of Californians who were surprised that, as a resident of Scotland, I spoke such good English (something I am rarely accused of over here) - one lady thought that Scots spoke Icelandic or something, which was interesting. I also met one woman who thought I spoke like that Monty Python on the TV. No - not that Monty Python, the other one.

  4. Considering the cosmopolitan origins and evolution of the United States, I can't get over how insular many Americans are in outlook - even among those who have travelled abroad. I do think that insularity is most unfortunate. I mean, we are all of us inclined in some degree to ethno-centricity, but with Americans, one gets the uneasy feeling that they consider we non-Americans aren't quite ... human ... somehow. As such, our laws, customs, way of life, our very sovereignty is therefore of little or no account. Now we are to be afflicted with American 'exceptionalism' - as if it were a 'force of good' in the world. But what has it wrought?

    1. I wouldn't disagree about American insularity, though I think they regard the rest of us as irrelevant rather than contemptible! The increased visibility of the world through easier travel and electronic communications has not necessarily found an audience prepared for it - there was always an element of culture collision watching US tourists (born in cities which were built after the invention of the telephone and the motor car) trying to understand Italian towns (which were built to keep medieval men on horses out), for example, but they were no more bewildered than I was myself when I visited the USA, I guess.

      For many years, America has been prosperous and powerful, and those of us who live in countries which spend their lives sucking up gossip about Hollywood celebrities can hardly be surprised if the Americans themselves sometimes don't take us completely seriously.

      Maybe things are changing in the world - hopefully peacefully - but having one nation which has been so dominant for so long has had results which have been mixed, certainly. There is a whiff of complacency about the USA which can be a bit irritating, but they are probably no worse than us Brits in this respect, and at least the Americans have had some more recent justification.

      Nah - I think America has a lot to answer for, but in some ways they are an easy target, aren't they? I think I agree with you, but we are being a little harsh.

    2. must agree about Americans' insular view of the rest of the world, recently heard an American tourist say loudly " Wales is a wonderful part of England" and this said in a predominately Welsh speaking area, he was lucky not to get lynched!!!

      and then there's the old joke from WW2, when the RAF flew over the Germans ducked, when Luftwaffe flew over the British ducked but when the Americans flew over, Everbody ducked !!!

    3. Hi John - it's kind of quaint that we perpetuate these old racial stereotype jokes from a war 70+ years ago - all we need is a few gags about the number of reverse gears on Italian tanks and we've got the full set. Nothing insular or small minded about us, though, eh?

      People getting confused about whether Wales is in England is not good, but it gets us back to the War of the Three Kingdoms conundrum, I guess. I received a parcel once from Avalon Hill which was addressed to "Scotland, England". People just don't know any better - it's OK - I guess only a nutter would get offended about it? Hmmm.

      Cheers - Tony