Tag Archives: American history

Planes – A Review

New Disney Planes Movie...we're all excited! (Plus, a $100 ...

It has been some time since this blogger sat down and watched Disneytoon’s Planes. Panned by the critics, I found the film not only entertaining but quite interesting. And despite the poor reviews the movie made enough money to justify a sequel – Planes: Fire and Rescue. So the creators clearly did something right. The question, of course, is what?

Planes takes place in a world similar to that seen in Cars. It may even be the same world. But since this story has a different focus this is neither confirmed nor denied. There are enough likenesses, however, to make it plausible.

The story follows Dusty Crophopper, a cropdusting plane who dreams of racing around the world rather than fertilizing corn fields all day. As he himself says, “I’ve flown thousands of miles… And I’ve gone no where.” He wants to see the world beyond his hometown, an aspiration almost everyone can sympathize with, even if they have found that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Dusty has three main problems with following through on his wish. First, he is a cropduster, not a race plane. Second, he is an older model plane (not significantly older, but twenty years for a plane is not the same as twenty years for a human being). That means parts can and will be an issue. If he breaks down and loses an important piece, replacing it may not be possible.

Third, Dusty is afraid of heights. While that sounds laughable and crazy at first, it actually makes a lot of sense. As a cropduster, he has naturally has to fly low in order to do his job. For that reason trying to reach heights greater than, say, the average skyscraper literally sends him into a tailspin. He cannot look down without losing control and dropping like a rock.

Despite the scoffing of some closest to him, Dusty trains with his friends so he can qualify to enter the Wings Across the Globe race. Before trying out, Dusty approaches an old F4U Corsair named Skipper Riley and asks him to become his coach. Skipper refuses and, when Dusty fails to meet the requirements for the race, it’s a severe blow to the little plane’s morale.

Planes - Disney Wiki

However, when the plane who beat Dusty is eventually prohibited from entering the race due illegal fuel intake usage (he was essentially using steroids), everything changes. Now an official competitor in the race, he has to get into shape to make first place in the competition. Impressed by Dusty’s willingness to keep working, Skipper surprises him by offering tips and becoming his informal mentor. The old war plane isn’t happy when he learns about Dusty’s fear of heights, and he is quite put out when the farm plane absolutely refuses to fly higher than his upper limit. But he stays and continues to train him for the race.

Once he’s achieved the proper speeds, Dusty heads to New York for the start of the competition. There he makes several friends before running afoul of the race’s three-time winner, a plane named Ripslinger or “Rip” for short. (Not inconsequentially, his voice actor is Roger Craig Smith, the man who played Captain America in Avengers Assemble.) Although he dismisses Dusty at first, Rip rethinks his opinion when it becomes clear the farm plane has the talent and skill to beat him. He then resorts to every dirty trick he can think of to put this up-and-coming star out of the race.

From this overview it is clear that Planes is a pretty standard American film. It stars the country underdog who impresses everyone with his sportsmanship and gumption. The film also carries a patriotic subtheme, showing the United States Navy in a very good light, and not just with Skipper. All in all, it’s not a bad story.

Planes | Teaser Trailer

So why did the critics pan it?

Personally, I think they trashed the film precisely because it is so American. A throwback to the days when it wasn’t taboo to bless American and love her, Planes presents everything good about our home country. There is not an ounce of America-bashing angst in the entire film.

But that’s not the only area in which Planes shines as an inherently American tale. The trope of the underdog who wins the respect of the world and topples the previous record-holder is one that is uniquely American in character. The reason for this is because America herself has traditionally been the “little guy” on the world stage. We were the country bumpkins who whipped the British Empire – which ruled more territory than anyone since Ancient Rome – in two wars that were rarely close to a fair fight. We then proceeded, by dint of sheer determination and grit, to make ourselves a world power.

In keeping with this theme, as mentioned above, the film also presents the navy as an inherently good organization. Skipper and his history in World War II, while fantastic, remind viewers of the fact that we practically saved the world in the 1940s. The scenes which refer to the modern military demonstrate that the spirit which led us to step up seventy-five years ago remains very much alive and well today. Skipper’s navy has received many technological upgrades, true, but none of those have changed her heart in the least.

Another area where the film affronts the sensibilities of many modern critics is its main motif, which is that everyone “can be more than what [they] were built for.” Dusty follows through on his dream of being a race plane, proving that the audience can, with perseverance and fortitude, achieve their desires as well. Many people today feel they cannot attain what they hope for, and while Planes is not the only movie/tv show/story to use this theme in the present era, it is one of the few that does so in a forthright, American manner.

This point deserves to be expounded upon a bit. Americans are so well-acquainted with the “pursue your dreams” motif that they have largely forgotten the rest of the world actively pushes the opposite message. For the most part, even in the 21st century, all other nations on the planet force people to remain in whatever state of life they were born into.

It is extremely hard for people elsewhere on the planet, for example, to change jobs. In some countries, if a man is born into a certain caste or chooses a particular profession, when he reaches adulthood that becomes his occupation for life. A few places may let him train and/or trade jobs, but the transition will be neither cost-effective nor relatively timely.

Nor will a man who moves into another profession be respected for doing so, whether or not he works as hard as the other people in his occupation. He has reached above or below his station and therefore must be held in some measure of contempt by the rest of society. If he is not, then others might think to challenge the status quo, which would upset the standards of class practiced over the course of centuries and, eventually, lead to a culture that is no longer static.

Planes for Rent, & Other New Releases on DVD at Redbox

For Americans, the reverse has traditionally been true. We have had actors becomes soldiers and soldiers become actors, and no one has batted an eye over it. We have had plane manufacturers become farmers and farmers become plane manufacturers without the slightest bit of trouble or nationwide resentment….

And so on and so forth; almost everyone in the history of the United States has, at one time, traded his or her jobs like a set of hats. In doing so they have never had to worry about societal backlash or difficulties because it has been traditionally understood that in America class has no place. A farmer is as good as a billionaire, a CEO, or a high paid lawyer because all men are created equal. They are not kept equal, as they are in other countries, but they are born with an equal amount of potential to be more than what they were “born for.”

Planes takes these American tropes and runs with them in wholehearted, happy abandon. It does not apologize for being an American movie to its core. Instead, it flaunts its old-fashioned U.S. values with cheerful pride. In so doing the film reminds American viewers of what they can really do if they work hard and don’t quit. Nothing – except maybe a religious film – upsets critics so much as a purely American story. Thus it is not hard to see why critics hated the film and movie-goers loved it.

John Lasseter, the erstwhile head of Pixar, penned and directed this movie. While Planes may not be among the crown jewels of his achievements, it certainly deserves more respect than it has received so far. I would personally rate Planes near the head his list of accomplishments because, as usual, the critics were wrong. This is a movie that is well worth the purchase price and the time spent watching it.

If you are looking for a light, fluffy film that is shameless in its embrace of the American spirit, I highly recommend this movie. Hollywood has largely lost the ability to tell stories like this, so when such a gem is discovered, it deserves all the love and appreciation it can get.

Until next time, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Fear in the Forest by Cateau De Leeuw

Leeuw | Etsy

Okay, readers, I have good news! This is the last book I will review before delivering on my promised descriptions for Mr. Bookstooge and the girls over at The Elven Padawan. It’s been a long time coming, but better late than never, as they say.

Next week there will be a review of a Dean Koontz novel, followed by at least one, maybe two Star Wars analyses, with attendant warnings for younger readers. I’m thinking of making that a standby for some posts; there might be people who drop by here looking for books their children will like, after all. Most of the novels I review here are kid-friendly – and if they aren’t, there’s generally some kind of statement mentioning that up front. Still, for some stories, it might be better to have a more detailed parental/astute young reader alert.

This change is still under consideration, so it may or may not happen across the board. It will, however, be a definite part of my Star Wars reviews going forward. If you are looking for information on original Expanded Universe fare from the old SW timeline, my future articles describing those books will now come with this bold flag: Warnings for Younger Readers. If anyone has a question about possible objectionable content in the Star Wars novels previously reviewed here at Thoughts, just drop me a line in the comments. I’ll fill you in on the details (or lack thereof) that you should look out for when perusing those stories.

As you may have guessed, though, the book we are looking at today does not need a Warning tag because it is designed specifically for children. Fear in the Forest, by Cateau De Leeuw, takes place in the U.S. sometime after the War for Independence, as far as I can tell. It’s not explicitly stated in the narrative, but this blogger is sure that the story takes place after America won her independence.

Daniel, the hero of the piece, is an orphan who has spent the last three years on the Worder farm. His father was killed a couple of years prior by Indians, who scalped him and burned the farm. Since that time Daniel has been earning his keep with the Worders, who took him in after this disaster.

However, this does not mean that our hero is a desired member of the family. The Worders took him in out of a sense of duty; there were no other families close enough to Daniel and his father’s home who could care for him. They already have seven children and are expecting an eighth, so things are getting a little crowded at the Worder residence. They haven’t made Daniel feel welcome and tend to treat him more harshly than their own children, although they don’t abuse him.

Fear in the Forest - Kindle edition by Cateau de Leeuw ...

Part of the reason for their animosity toward Daniel may be due to the fact that, ever since his father’s death, he has been terrified of Indians. He’s afraid to go out into the woods alone and rushes back to the farm not long after he’s been told to go into the forest for some reason. One of the Worder boys – Abel – loves rubbing Daniel’s nose in his own fear, which doesn’t help the boy’s confidence at all.

Things are about to change, though. While working the land with the rest of the family at the beginning of the book, Daniel sees a man riding toward the house. Recognizing him as a white visitor from the north, a general shout goes up around the farm. The family converges on the visitor, eager to learn the latest news about the world outside. Except for Daniel, that is; he gets sent out to find and shoot some meat for the dinner meal, despite the fact that the family knows full well how much the forest scares him.

Still, Daniel knows better than to disobey an order. He takes the family gun, heads out into the trees cautiously, and manages to shoot a turkey for dinner. Once that’s done, though, he wastes no time getting back to the farm. There, he learns that the visitor is named Mr. Reese and that the man came to the Ohio country looking for land. Finding none that suited him, he’s headed back East.

The conversation then turns to Major General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who is building roads through the Ohio country in order to move his troops through the forests so he can fight the Indians more effectively. Building the roads also makes it easier for those interested in moving into the Ohio country to do so, encouraging more settlements in the future.

For some reason, in the middle of this conversation, Mr. Reese asks Daniel if he’s ever heard of the packhorse brigades that take supplies from Fort Washington to Fort Greeneville. After the boy stammers that he has, Reese suggests that Daniel might like to join one of these supply trains. Flabbergasted, Daniel is thrilled and terrified. Thrilled because it’s an offer of adventure, but terrified because Indians continue to threaten the supply brigades as much as they do the settlers.

Mr. Reese doesn’t demand Daniel agree to go at once. He suggests the boy sleep on the matter so he can give him an answer the following morning. Daniel, however, is too confused and scared to sleep. Finally determining that the decision is too much for him, he gets up to tell Mr. Reese this –

Only to hear Mr. Worder tell the visitor that he and the family wouldn’t mind a bit if Daniel left, since the couple has enough trouble taking care of their own children and the farm. Naturally upset, Daniel goes back to bed, but not to sleep. Deciding that it’s best he doesn’t stay where he isn’t wanted, he chooses to leave with Mr. Reese the next morning….

And that’s all I have to tell you, readers! No more spoilers here! I will say, though, that Fear in the Forest was a surprisingly good book. It’s not the first historical novel this blogger has read, but it was more entertaining than it appeared to be, based on the description inside the cover. While the novel follows the general pattern of a boy going out into the world and overcoming his fears as he becomes a man, Cateau De Leeuw tells the story in an intriguing way. That makes Fear stand out from its contemporaries and many modern historical books.

But don’t take my word for it. Pick up Fear in the Forest at your earliest convenience, readers, and learn how good a book it is yourselves. It is worth its purchase price. ‘Til next time!

Fear in the Forest: Cateau De Leeuw, Leonard Vosburgh ...

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

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“Every one of our greatest national treasures, our liberty, enterprise, vitality, wealth, military power, global authority, flow from a surprising source: our ability to give thanks.” – Tony Snow (1955 – 2008) White House press secretary and journalist.

Role Models and Heroines – Madeleine de Vercheres

Much is made today of the need for strong female role models for young girls. The academics and critics have succeeded in convincing the public at large that there are not enough heroic women to inspire the next generation of girls. They naturally ignore the mothers of these girls, insisting that there must be other, greater paradigms of feminine glory at every turn which they can aspire to become. When these people turn to history for models for modern girls, they tend to mythologize the heroines of the past. They claim these women “broke with the customs” of their times in order to blaze their own trail in a “man’s world.”

In this way they are the victims of their own desire to eradicate knowledge of true history. They have forgotten that it was not strange in the American West for women to own, use, and know guns as well as men did. Women served in the American War for Independence as well, such as the famous “Molly Pitcher” – Mary Hays McCauley – and Deborah Sampson. One frontier heroine of the Americas, however, was perhaps more daring than even these bold women, in part for the fact that she performed her heroics at a much younger age.

Born on March 3, 1678, Marie Madeleine Jarret de Verchéres grew up in a military seigneury along the St. Lawrence River. A military seigneury was a plot of land granted to officers in the army, as it was known at the time, the army of New France. The French soldiers were persuaded to settle on the land as habitants while the officers, called “seignurs,” remained in command of the fort or stockade.

The stockade Madeleine called home was the property of her father, the Sieur François Jarret de Verchéres. Within the Verchéres fort were the manor house, where Madeleine’s family lived, the blacksmith’s shop, the blockhouse, and the cabins of the habitants. The habitants, men and women, worked in the fields, both for their own food and on behalf of the Verchéres family.

Madeleine was the second oldest child in the family, followed by twelve year old Louis and ten year old Alexandre. The youngest of the six children were a boy, Jean, and two girls, Angélique and Cathèrine. François, the oldest of the Verchéres children, had died at the battle of La Prairie in 1691 as part of a campaign against the belligerent Iroquois Nation. He was greatly missed by the whole family, though they admired his courageous example.

The Iroquois were a confederation of northeastern Native American tribes. The head tribe was that of the Mohawks, from which we get both the name and the distinctive hairstyle. Unlike the Hurons and the Algonquin, the Iroquois were not on good terms with the French. Allied with the British, the Iroquois had adopted their biases and hatreds for the Catholic French settlers. On top of this, the Iroquois were enemies of the Hurons and the Algonquin, Indian tribes which had united with the French. Any friends of those tribes were enemies of the Iroquois.

This animosity led to many battles between the French and the Iroquois. But by 1692, matters seemed to be improving. Governor de Frontenac had returned to New France. To protect his people from Iroquois attacks, he had patrols sent out and fought battles against the hostile Indians. Having dealt with near-famine the year before due to increased Iroquois activity, the French settlers in the St. Lawrence area were pleased with the coming harvest. Reports said that the Iroquois were far away and would not trouble their region.

In October of 1692, Madame de Verchéres had to attend to business in Montreal. With the Sieur de Verchéres away already, in her absence one of the children would have to command the fort as it belonged to the Verchéres family and they must maintain their authority over it. Because she was the oldest of the remaining children, Madeleine was the only choice for this position. This would be unremarkable in the annals of history except for one small detail: Madeleine was fourteen years of age.

While Louis and Alexandre were to be left with Madeleine, the three youngest children would accompany Madame de Verchéres on her journey. The older children saw their mother and younger siblings off before they returned to manage the seignury. For the next two days, all was quiet. But on the morning of October 22, 1692, while overlooking the seignury from the St. Lawrence River, Madeleine and the family’s old manservant spied a number of Iroquois creeping up on the fort. The two ran back and gained the safety of the stockade in time, closing the gates behind them immediately afterward.

Most of the male settlers were not so fortunate. The habitants working in the fields had been left woefully unprotected by the sergeant in command of the fort’s militia. Feeling secure in the lack of Indian activity over the past months, the sergeant had taken six of his men out on a hunting trip. As a result only two soldiers remained in the fields to guard the habitants, while two more were left to guard the stockade. This meant that the men in the fields were easy targets, and many were killed or captured by the Iroquois that morning.

Inside the fort, Madeleine sent Alexandre to one of the bastions – a watchtower on the stockade wall – to monitor the situation and allow any habitants who ran back entry into the fort. Then she, Louis, and the elderly manservant filled a gap that had developed in the palisades. All the while they wondered why the small cannon, kept in the stockade to be used to warn the neighboring seigneuries of an attack, had not yet been fired.

Madeleine learned the reason for the cannon’s silence when she went to the blockhouse to load the muskets she and the others would need for the defense of the fort. The two militiamen on guard in the stockade had retreated to the blockhouse when the attack began. Madeleine found one of the two with a lit match. In his terror, he planned to blow the fort up rather than face torture and death at the hands of the Iroquois, a plan his compatriot agreed was best.

Flabbergasted at their weakness, Madeleine rebuked the soldiers swiftly and fiercely. Sending them to the bastions, she set about her own work. When her brothers and the manservant joined her, Madeleine told them to order the habitant women and children to retreat to the blockhouse, where they would be safest. Meanwhile she, her brothers, the manservant, and the two militiamen would guard the fort.

It was not long after this that, looking out through one of the loopholes in the fort’s walls, Madeleine saw an Indian dragging a boy across the ground. She fired her musket, but was promptly knocked backward by the weapon’s recoil. Experienced with a pistol, she had never used the much larger gun before.

This is one of many details in Madeleine’s story which puts the lie to the academics’ and critics’ claims that women were not expected to fight. Indeed, fighting was considered a man’s profession, and rightly so. But on the frontier, with the threat of attack ever a possibility, the men knew that their women must be able to protect themselves if anything should happen to remove them from the scene. Madeleine’s familiarity with loading muskets and her ability to shoot demonstrates that her family’s status, wealth, and position in New France’s society did not prevent them from teaching her the critical art of self-defense.

Because of the swiftness of the attack, Madeleine did not have time to change out of her simple dress and moccasins. The only thing she had time to do was snatch an old military hat from a peg in the blockhouse after loading the muskets and jam it on top of her neatly tied-up hair.

Many modern filmmakers would be shocked by this. They would be so tied down to the contemporary belief that women were held back by the customs of the times, and therefore expected to be simpering damsels who stayed at their sewing or baking rather than learning how to use a gun or withstand a siege. Were certain directors and scriptwriters to make a film about Madeleine, they would probably show her chafing under her younger brothers, who would be put in command of the fort in her place despite their younger ages simply because they were boys and she a girl.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. All three children had withstood an Indian attack some two years earlier. During that attack, their father had also been absent. Their mother, however, had commanded the militia and the people in the fort until the siege was lifted. Madeleine had experienced the terror of an Iroquois siege before, and had had a perfect role model for how to withstand one in the future. She was no simpering damsel, nor was she a firebrand who learned to use a pistol in secret while smiling forcedly over her sewing. She was a lady born and bred on the frontier, trained to defend herself and those under her care by her parents.

A battle-tested frontier girl, Madeleine knew that survival in New France depended as much on wits as it did on weapons. She therefore understood that, if the Iroquois decided to directly attack the fort they would easily overwhelm her small band of defenders. So she ordered her group to make it sound and appear as though they had a full garrison of grown men protecting them. Wary of the noise as the guards called “All is well!” and the shots fired intermittently from the loopholes, the Iroquois held off on a direct attack, falling for the ruse.

If this were the extent of her courage, it would be enough, but Madeleine did more. The same day that the siege began, she and the guards watched from the bastions as neighbors of the Verchéres rowed down the St. Lawrence River and into sight of their fort. These were the Sieur Pierre Fontaine, his wife, and three of their children. They had heard the cannon shot Madeleine had ordered, but were unable to row to a better defended fort because of the distance. Pierre Fontaine brought his wife and three children to the Verchéres seignury because it was closer.

At the risk of her own life, Madeleine walked down to the riverfront to collect the family, her only defense a pistol. Boldly she escorted Fontaine and his family back to her fort, despite the threat of Indian attack. The militiamen had been too afraid to do the deed, balking at her order to rescue the Fontaines. And so Madeleine walked out to rescue the family herself.

Madeleine did not sleep during the first two days of the siege. Since the militiamen had proved to be such cowards, she kept them in the blockhouse with Fontaine as their commander at night, unwilling to trust them as sentries in the dark. Thus it was that she stood guard on the bastions with her brothers and an elderly manservant through the nights, rotating shifts with Fontaine and the militiamen during the days. On the sixth night of the siege, a habitant youth managed to escape from the Iroquois camp and return to the fort. He told Madeleine that the Iroquois, tired of waiting for the French to show themselves, planned a large scale attack on the seignury the next morning. With nothing left to do but prepare to fight for their lives, Madeleine and her small garrison prayed and committed themselves to God, knowing they could never withstand such an attack without help.

The attack never came. Another prisoner who had escaped from the Indians managed to secure help from Montreal. The next day, after a week-long siege, Madeleine and her command were overjoyed to receive French reinforcements. When they learned a French force was coming down the river to aid the fort, the Iroquois had quietly and quickly left the seignury. Neither Madeleine nor the others had heard them go.

Madeleine de Verchéres fades from history after this almost superhuman event. It seems that the Verchéres seignury was never seriously threatened by the Iroquois again. For her heroism in directing the defense of the fort, Madeleine was awarded a life pension by the French crown when she became an adult. At the request of a later governor of New France, she related the story of how she had withstood the Iroquois. She married, but the union apparently remained childless. The only following incident we know of in her life before her death is the story that she saved her husband, Pierre Thomas Tarieu de la Pérade, when he was assaulted by an Indian in 1722.

There are no great memorials dedicated to her memory, no films paying tribute to her bravery. Only in a small park in Verchères, Quebec, is there any physical reminder of Madeleine de Verchéres. It is a bronze statue of a young girl wearing a dress, a set of boots, and an officer’s hat. She is holding a musket, which is pointed at the ground.

Madeleine de Verchéres is not held aloft by the academics or critics as the ideal of a courageous woman, but she should be. Much can be learned from this daring young heroine of the New World frontier. It is a sad shame that, when role models for girls are demanded so vociferously, one magnificent heroine remains lost to the general public. It remains to be seen if anyone will ever champion her memory in the future. Let us hope that someone does succeed in raising her back to the public consciousness. She is a heroine who should not be forgotten.

Columbus by Joaquin Miller

Image result for columbus by joaquin miller

Columbus

by Joaquin Miller

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
 Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores,
 Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now we must pray,
 For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
 “Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ “

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
 My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
 Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
“What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
 If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day,
 ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ “

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
 Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
 Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way,
 For God from these dead seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say” —
 He said, “Sail on! sail on! and on!”

They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
 “This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
 With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
 What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
 “Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

Then pale and worn, he kept his deck,
 And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck —
 A light! a light! at last a light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
 It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
 Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”

 

The Patriot – A Review

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A few days ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, I happened to catch The Patriot playing on television. If I had ever seen The Patriot before, it was when I was very small and I forgot most of it. Curious, I turned on the movie – which had run half its course – and watched the second half of the story.

This left me somewhat confused about how the film began and who the major players in it were. So I caught a second showing of the film on July 2nd, determined to see what I had missed. Once I reached the place where I had entered the story a few days prior, I almost changed the channel, but was persuaded not to do so in the end. Good stories tend to draw me in the same way that black holes pull in space debris. After a few minutes, I was hooked on the film and not going anywhere.

The Patriot stars Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin, a widower with seven children caught up in the Revolutionary War. Much like Jimmy Stewart’s Charles Anderson in Shenandoah, Martin wants to stay out of the War, despite being a Patriot – the name at the time for those who advocated American independence from Britain.

Heath Ledger stars as Martin’s oldest son, Gabriel, an ardent supporter of the Revolution who eventually joins the Continental Army without his father’s permission. Firefly fans will also be able to quickly identify Adam Baldwin. He plays a Loyalist or “Tory” who joins the British army encamped in South Carolina under General Cornwallis. Baldwin performed in this film a year before being cast in his signature role as Jayne Cobb in Joss Whedon’s short-lived television series. Meanwhile, Jason Isaacs plays William Tavington, the captain of the British cavalry who not only doesn’t mind using brutal tactics against Americans – civilians and soldiers alike – but seems to lust for the chance to kill some Colonials.

That, however, is describing the middle of the story. The movie begins with messages summoning Benjamin Martin to South Carolina’s congressional session, where the debate about whether or not the colony should rebel against England rages heatedly throughout the day. Though Martin wants independence from Britain, he knows that if the colonies start a war with the mother country they will be ravaged and pillaged by the Brits. Having fought in the French and Indian War before his marriage, Martin is well aware of how savage fighting among civilians can be. And since the battlefields will be on the property of land owners and farmers like him, he also knows their families will be caught in the crossfire. So he abstains from voting to leave Britain, refusing at the same time to vote to remain loyal to King George III.

That very evening, the delegates’ votes are counted. In a forty to twelve decision, South Carolina joins the War for Independence. Gabriel joins the line waiting to sign up to join the Continental Army and, under his father’s disappointed gaze, writes his name on the role of newly minted Continental soldiers.

Two to four years pass. Gabriel writes letters to his family, telling them how the War is going in the north. The second of Benjamin’s children, Matthew, reads the letters out loud to his younger siblings excitedly. Fifteen and keen to join his older brother, Matthew is continually disappointed by his father’s refusal to let him enter the army until he is seventeen. Too enthusiastic to wait that long, Matthew starts melting down his lead chess set to make musket balls.

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One night, while the younger children are eating dinner and Matthew is upstairs, Benjamin surprises a house intruder who turns out to be a wounded Gabriel. Benjamin takes care of the wound, only to hear gun and cannon fire outside his house. He looks out to find his worst fear coming true: Redcoats and Continental soldiers are killing each other on his front lawn and in his fields. The War has come to the Martin household whether they like it or not.

The next morning, Gabriel wakes to find his family and their hired black servants tending to the wounded from the two armies. He walks out onto the front porch not long before Tavington rides up. The British captain orders the Martin house burned, since they have aided not only wounded British soldiers but injured and dying Continentals.   He also orders the free blacks, whom he at first mistakes for slaves that Martin owns, be impressed into the British army. When one of the men protests that they are free and therefore do not need to serve the British crown to earn their liberty, Tavington tells them they are going to be Redcoats whether they like it or not.

That is when one of Tavington’s men shows him Continental dispatches found in the house. Gabriel was carrying them when he was injured, and his father left them somewhere in the house during the confusion in the night. To protect his family and fellow soldiers, Gabriel admits to being the bearer of the dispatches. Tavington decides that he will be hung as a spy, despite Benjamin’s reminding him that Gabriel is a courier and was not caught in disguise. Therefore, according to the rules of war, he cannot be hung as a spy.

But Tavington does not care about the rules of war. He wages war the same way the British actually did at the time; by throwing fear and heartbreak into the lives of innocent civilians. He threatens to kill Benjamin’s other children if he doesn’t shut up about Gabriel’s actual status as a courier and not a spy. Then, when Matthew tries to free his brother, Tavington shoots him, calling the youth a “stupid boy.”

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As the British Redcoats kill the wounded Colonial soldiers and set fire to the house and the hired hands, along with the family’s hired black maid, Abigail, are driven away like so many cattle, Benjamin holds his son while Matthew dies. Benjamin is devastated. He is also infuriated. He retrieves muskets, pistols, powder, and shot from the burning house, along with his Cherokee style hatchet. Then he takes his two remaining older boys to rescue Gabriel.

The Patriot is a REALLY good film. Though its story and heroes are in part fictionalized, a number of the events in the film did occur in fact and spirit, so the story does an excellent job of conveying the general atmosphere in South Carolina during the War for Independence.

Of course, since the film is pro-American and puts the British in a bad light, it has been criticized a fair bit. While it is true that one particular scene showing Tavington ordering the burning of a church full of Colonial civilians did not occur, the other acts of cruelty we see him perpetrate in the film are actually based in history. Not long after watching The Patriot, I happened to catch AHC’s miniseries “Patriots Rising: The American Revolution.” Several of the facts I mention from here on are from this series.

Despite Cornwallis’ statement that the Americans were “fellow Englishman” the Crown wanted to bring back into the fold, the British had no qualms about killing injured Continental soldiers or burning down the houses of even suspected Patriot supporters. So the burning of the Martin house, the destruction of Martin’s sister-in-law’s plantation, and the killing of American soldiers and civilians did happen during the War for Independence. This is something the British did in India and their other colonies. When rebellion among the native populace broke out the British would burn the houses of sympathizers, kill the injured, and find barbaric ways to terrify the civilians to make sure that they would stop supporting the rebellion.

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One actual example of British viciousness from the War for Independence came on April 19, 1775 during their retreat from the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Driven from Concord and Lexington by American Minutemen, the Redcoats were ambushed by an eighty year old man named Samuel Whittemore on their way to Boston. A veteran of Britain’s campaigns against the French and the Indians in the New World, Whittemore was no spring chicken, even by our standards. But he went out with other Patriots to face the British. He shot three Redcoats with his musket and dueling pistols before drawing his confiscated French saber and going to work on the Lobsterbacks with the blade.

Whittemore did not get far before he was shot. You would think this would pacify the British. No sir. How dare this old man attack them, the best army the world had seen in centuries! While he was on the ground, the British soldiers bayoneted Whittemore a dozen times at least, maybe more. They left him for dead, but Whittemore survived his wounds. He died when he was in his nineties.

My point in bringing this up, readers, is not to incite anger and hatred toward the British. It is to point out that they were not, as they would have us now believe, pure and clean as the wind driven snow during the conflict which lasted from 1775-1783. Though the church scene in The Patriot did not take place in reality, the British were in truth quite vicious to the Continental soldiers and Patriots during the War for Independence. Their claim that every last one of their men was a chivalrous gentleman is stuff and nonsense, and they should NOT be allowed to get away with playing the victims here. They would not – and have not – cut us any slack when it comes to our historical blunders, and turnabout is fair play in this regard.

Another criticism aimed at The Patriot is that it “glosses over” the issue of slavery in America at the time. In particular, some people took issue with the fact that the blacks on Martin’s farm at the beginning of the film are free. By rights, critics argue, these blacks should have been slaves, something Mel Gibson agreed with.

However, by this criticism the critics show their ignorance. In point of fact, there were many free blacks before, during, and after the War for Independence. There were free blacks up to the time of the Civil War, and some of them fought for the Confederacy of their own volition.

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One of the free blacks who fought in the Revolutionary War was a man named Salem Poor. Buying his freedom in 1769 for twenty-seven pounds, Mr. Poor was married and had an infant son by the time he joined 100 other blacks fighting alongside the other Patriots at Bunker Hill. Congress commended him for his actions in that battle later and, lest you think there were only a hundred free blacks on the American side of the argument, the one hundred at Bunker Hill were only a fraction of those who fought with the Americans for independence. There were at least five thousand free blacks fighting for the Revolutionary forces during the War.

There were also slaves who worked as spies for the Continental Army. One such was James Armistead, who ostensibly worked for Cornwallis. He was actually a Patriot spy who fed Cornwallis false information that led to the general remaining in Yorktown. This was where Washington, the Continental armies, and the French fleet bottled Cornwallis up in 1781, forcing him to surrender.

The British assumed that all blacks in America were on their side, since they had promised that any black who fought for the British Army would be granted his freedom after the war (yeah, right). The Patriot nods to this in the final battle in the film; one of the Redcoats in the front line of the British ranks is black. You have to look at the line real quick to catch him, but he is there.

Armistead’s spying was the undoing of the British at Yorktown and probably in other places. Occam, the slave who eventually earns his freedom under Martin’s command, is representative of slaves like Armistead who fought for the Continental Army. According to blackpast.org, Lafayette wrote a testimonial on Armistead’s behalf in 1784, dismayed to find he was still a slave after his service for the Revolution. Two years later, the Virginia General Assembly emancipated Armistead, who married, raised a large family, and received forty dollars a year (big money at the time) for his services during the War. I think it likely that the slaves that fought in the Continental Army or militias, as Occam does in The Patriot, were freed by the end of the War as well.

For the historical record, it is also worth noting that the American Army had other “minorities” in its ranks. This is “whitewashed” out of history courses these days, but both the British and the Americans relied on Indian aid during the War. Most of the Indians sided with the British, since they considered the American settlers direct enemies, despite the fact that the British generally deemed the Indian tribes of North America to be enemies that they tried to eliminate by the expediant of biological warfare.

The chiefs of the Oneida tribe might have known this, because they sided with the Americans during the War for Independence. The Oneida were part of the Iroquois Confederacy, a confederation of five or six North Atlantic Indian tribes that had caused the French nothing but trouble. But when the rest of the Confederacy remained firmly on the side of the British, the Oneidas and Tuscaroras sided with the Americans. At the Battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777, according to oneidaindiannation.com, Han Yerry and his wife, Tyonajanegen, joined at least 60 Oneida in a fight against the British. Yerry was wounded in the wrist and his wife had to reload his pistols for him. According to the website, she had her own guns as well. Later, during the winter at Valley Forge, when Washington’s supplies ran low and his men were dying of disease and the cold, Yerry and his tribe brought them corn to keep them going. Without Han Yerry, Washington might not have had an army after that bivouac in Valley Forge in 1776-1777.

There were also plenty of women who worked for the Continental Army. A former indentured servant, Deborah Sampson, left her family’s farm not long after the War began, telling them that she had found a job elsewhere. Once she was well enough away from home, she changed into the Continental uniform she had made for herself and signed on as a “man” who served in the Army until she had to be discharged due to disease, later receiving a pension for her service. To the best of my knowledge, she was never injured in any battle in which she took part.

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Another woman who worked for the nascent American government was Nancy Hart. A southern woman with eight children, Nancy’s husband fought with the Americans during the war. Nancy was a big woman – about six feet tall – and in the right clothes, she could easily pass as a man. Once her farm duties were taken care of, she would go out at night, dressed as a man, and walk around British encampments in South Carolina. In this way she picked up information she could send to her husband to help in the war effort. When Tories invaded her farm looking for an escaped Continental soldier, she got them drunk and held them at gunpoint until her husband and the militia arrived. Her husband wanted the men shot, but Nancy said that was too good for them and said they ought to be hanged instead. The men followed her advice.

Elizabeth Burgin was a humanitarian worker who tried to help American prisoners kept in the hulks out in New York Harbor. Like the hulks mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, these stripped down and worn out British warships in New York Harbor were used to hold American POWs. Describing them as unsanitary would be an understatement; ten to twelve men would die each day aboard these prison ships, to be turned over to the British guards so they could be buried on the shore.

Elizabeth decided she could not stand back and let these men die. With the assistance of a Patriot spy, she helped two hundred men escape the ships. No one knows exactly how she did it, though they have most of the details of her plan. When the British caught on, they put a price on her head – two hundred pounds, equal to twenty years’ worth of wages for a Redcoat. Elizabeth had to abandon her rescue operations and was eventually awarded a pension for her service. Her only regret was that she could not save more men from the prison ships than she had.

In light of these facts, The Patriot can be seen as a historically accurate film. It may take some liberties with real history, namely with the church burning event, but the rest of the story is right on the money. The British really were brutal in the manner they waged their wars. For them to pretend that the black events of their past did not happen and to claim slander over The Patriot is downright hypocritical.

The British criticism of The Patriot is largely unfounded and it should not weigh on your mind when you watch the film, readers. Be forewarned, it can be gory. It originally had an R-rating in 2000. On the television in 2017, it was listed under the TV-14 rating. Wow. We have changed a lot in seventeen years, haven’t we, readers?

Go enjoy The Patriot at your earliest opportunity, people! God bless America!!!

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American Soldier

This is a song by Toby Keith.  It is one which I think I may have known of for some time, though I did not learn the title for it until relatively recently.

The video that goes with the song tends to bring tears to my eyes when I watch it.  I love the United States military to pieces, especially the Navy and the Marines.  What can I say? Jarheads and Squids are AMAZING!!!  The SEALs are, too, of course.  I can’t forget them.  😉

But the scene in this video that I especially enjoy is the shot of the Doughboy as he takes the crucifix he is wearing around his neck, kisses it, then puts it down his shirt front before charging over the trench wall.  It makes my eyes water every time.

I hope you enjoy the video and the song, readers.  God bless America, God bless our troops, and God bless you!

The Mithril Guardian