Star Wars and the Death of American Cinema

Counterpunch

‘Star Wars’ is a simple story, simply told, of good versus evil, light versus darkness, and freedom versus tyranny. In other words it is the story of America’s struggle to preserve democracy and civilization in a world beset by evil and ‘evildoers’.

Movies and political propaganda have long walked hand in hand. Indeed if ever a medium was suited to propaganda it is the medium of cinema. And if ever an industry could be credited with creating an alternate reality so pervasive it has managed to convince generations of Americans and others around the world that up is down, black is white, and left is right, that industry is Hollywood.

George Lucas, the creator of a Star Wars franchise which, including this latest installment, has churned out seven movies since the original appeared in 1977, is along with Steven Spielberg a child of the reaction to the American counter-culture of the sixties and early seventies.

Though both products of the sixties – a decade in which culture and the arts, particularly cinema, was at the forefront of resistance to the US military industrial complex – Lucas and Spielberg came to prominence in the mid 1970s with movies which rather than attack or question the establishment, instead embraced its role as both protector and arbiter of the nation’s morals. The curtain began to come down on the most culturally vital and exciting and cerebral period of American cinema – responsible for producing such classics as ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, ‘MASH’, ‘The Last Detail’, ‘The French Connection’, ‘The Wild Bunch’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Apocalypse Now’ – with Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ in 1975, followed in 1977 by Lucas’s ‘Star Wars’. The former frightened America, while the latter made it feel good about itself again.

Both movies together spawned the high concept blockbuster, wherein audiences were invited to feel rather than to think, allowing them to suspend disbelief and escape reality instead of sharing the experience of confronting it via stories in which alienated characters expressed the angst, frustration, anger, and disaffection which they themselves were experiencing in their own lives, thus inducing a sense of solidarity.

It was the era of the anti-hero, main characters for whom the system and conformity was the enemy, and who ploughed their own furrow regardless of the consequences. The questioning of authority and its received truths reflected a country whose young and not so young were hungry for radical change. The war in Vietnam, Watergate, the black civil rights and nationalist movements had shaken up American society and, with it, its culture and cultural references.

But by the mid seventies, with the end of the Vietnam War, and with the counter culture running out of steam, the time had arrived to box up all that alienation, anger and rebelliousness and allow the mythology of the American dream and democracy to reassert its dominance.

In his peerless history of this vital period of American cinema – ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’ – author and cultural critic Peter Biskind writes: “Beyond its impact on movie marketing and merchandising, Star Wars had a profound effect on the culture. It benefited from the retrenchment of the Carter years, the march to the center that followed the end of the Vietnam War.”

This march to the center became a march to the right under Reagan, which manifested in Hollywood as artistic and cultural stagnation, wherein directors such as Spielberg and Lucas became less concerned with story and character and more focused on spectacle. Bigger, louder and richer was the mantra as two dimensional characters and plotlines that your average ten year old with a set of crayons and an imagination could come up with predominated.

Biskind writes: “Lucas knew that genres and cinematic conventions depend on consensus, the web of shared assumptions that had been sundered in the ‘60s. He was recreating and reaffirming these values, and Star Wars, with its Manichean moral fundamentalism, its white hats and black hats, restored the luster to threadbare values like heroism and individualism.”

In this latest Star Wars movie, directed by J J Abrams, Lucas makes do with a writing credit after selling the franchise to Disney in 2012 for $4.05 billion. Yes you read that right; he sold it for $4.05 billion. That kind of money will buy you a lot of light sabres.

Disney and Abrams have reached back in time in order to refresh the franchise, returning it to its roots with the return of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and the old iconic favourites Chewbacca and R2D2. For Star Wars buffs there’s even the return of Han Solo’s iconic spaceship the Millennium Falcon. The movie’s antagonist, its Darth Vader, is named Kylo Ren, played by Vladimir Putin…sorry Adam Driver. With this character lies the one interesting twist in the plot. Mind, having said that, we’re talking ‘interesting’ relative to the rest of the plot. We’re not talking Roman Polanski and ‘Chinatown’ here.

There are also major roles in the movie for two relative unknowns, both British: Rey, through whose eyes the narrative unfolds, is played by Daisy Ridley, while Finn is played by John Boyega.

For all the hype surrounding its release, and the rave reviews it has garnered, the latest instalment of the long running and inordinately successful Star Wars franchise – ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ – is so embarrassingly and toe-curlingly clichéd it’s impossible to walk out afterwards without limping.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the movie is not the battle of good versus evil it portrays but the fact that Harrison Ford was reportedly paid 76 times more than newcomer Daisy Ridley to star in it. The 73 year old’s financial package comprised an upfront fee in the region of $20 million plus 0.5 percent of the movie’s gross earnings, which are projected to reach a whopping $1.9 billion.

It is proof that the story of America is not good versus evil or light versus darkness at all. It is instead the story of the super rich versus everybody else.

39 comments on “Star Wars and the Death of American Cinema

  1. Colin Piper on said:

    I think your review is too one-dimensional and, if I may say, a bit of a cliche. “Left film reviewer criticises hugely successful film for being too mainstream – yawn”!

    Art has always had an ambivalent relationship with anti-establishment politics, not least because the majority of artists, and more importantly their patrons, have been part of the establishment themselves.

    The year that brought us Apocalypse Now also produced: Rocky II, ’10’ and ‘1941’. The year of The French Connection gave us: Dirty Harry, Diamonds are Forever and Carry On at your Convenience! Even in the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ and Senator McCarthy there were writers and directors who got their message past the censors. Raymond Chandler had very few likeable characters who were rich and powerful, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca had been a gun-runner for the republicans in the Spanish civil war and we never did find out why he’d been thrown out of the United States. It is too simplistic to suggest therefore that cinema was once part of a counter-culture and has now marched to the right.

    In the pantheon of films about good versus evil, underdogs versus the poweful, I’d say Star Wars belongs more with High Noon than The Alamo, almost certainly without the intended political allegory of either.

    Star Wars isn’t a political film and it doesn’t profess to have anything important to say about the human condition but, as the story unfolded during episodes 1-3, we became aware that The Emperor was running both armies in the civil war. As I’ve mentioned to a number of movie fans over recent weeks, doesn’t this have a relevance with the current situation in Syria?

    Isn’t it the job of left-wing reviewers to draw out interesting resonances like these rather than make points any bright 10 year-old with a Facebook account might say. Of course Harrison Ford will make a lot of money, so did Charlie Chaplin but does that make The Great Dictator or Modern Times bad films?

    I enjoyed Star Wars Episode VII as a nostalgic and not very serious romp but also because its central character and the commander of the ‘goodies’ were both women. Would that have happened in your ‘counter-culture of the 60’s’?

  2. Colin Piper: In the pantheon of films about good versus evil, underdogs versus the poweful, I’d say Star Wars belongs more with High Noon than The Alamo, almost certainly without the intended political allegory of either.

    I was rather enjoying your riposte to the article until I came across this part. High Noon is a paen to the rugged individualism which is a cornerstone of America’s national mythology. It is the very antithesis of anything progressive and collectivist. As for the Alamo, well, a mythological account of a bunch of white slavers, turned into heroes, fits with my analysis of Star Wars and where it belongs within US culture.

    Yes, I agree, regardless of the times movies and art can and do find a way to buck the trend. But nonetheless there is a trend, which is where I was coming from with the piece, drawing on the work of Peter Biskind, the best by far writer on Hollywood I have read.

  3. Andy Newman on said:

    Colin Piper,

    What is possibly true is that Hollywood, since its golden age, has retreated into more juvenile territory, with far fewer films addressing ‘grown up” issues.

    One symptom of which is the eclipse of that most political of genres, the Western. Though I did think that Spielberg’s Lincoln was excellent

  4. Colin Piper on said:

    John,

    My understanding is that Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon was an allegorical tale against the McCarthy with-hunt but, more specifically, against those who stood by and did nothing. John Wayne’s The Alamo on the other hand, as I have always understood it, is a right-wing allegory about freedom and democracy versus totalitarianism. It is of course, amongst its many other faults, based on a complete re-writing of history. The Mexicans were actually the defenders of freedom and the Texans the aggressors.
    In any event, I possibly mistakingly thought the above was an accepted part of cinema folk-law; which was the basis of my original comment.

  5. Colin Piper: My understanding is that Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon was an allegorical tale against the McCarthy with-hunt but, more specifically, against those who stood by and did nothing.

    That’s an interesting analysis of the movie, which I’ve never heard before. I’ll look into it.

    Colin Piper: The Mexicans were actually the defenders of freedom and the Texans the aggressors.

    Yes, indeed, I agree. We all grew up with the romanticism of The Alamo, as presented to us by John Wayne, who in real life was a foaming at the mouth reactionary. Interestingly, there was a backlash to The Alamo in Hollywood when it came to the Oscars. Wayne, who produced the movie and I believe funded most of it out of his own money, went all out with a right wing propaganda campaign in the Hollywood press, associating the movie with patriotism. I think the slogan he used when it came to the Academy was, ‘A vote for The Alamo is a vote for America.’

    Anyway, it only one one Academy award in the end for sound. Wayhe’s politics in the early sixties were out of sync with those of the bulk of the creative community in the wake of the HUAC years. In fact, John Wayne was a big supporter of HUAC, a virulent anti communist.

  6. I thought High Noon was seen in right wing circles as an attack on “decent Americans”, and the response from Hawks and Wayne was Rio Bravo.

  7. Vanya,

    Indeed. The screenwriter was Carl Foreman, whi had been a CP member in the 1940s, and who was forced to move to London after refusing to “name names” to HUAC.

    It is traditionally viewed as an allegory about McCArthyism.

  8. Vanya,

    Indeed it’s interesting that Rio Bravo was a “collectivist” film, while “High Noon” was the quintessential film about the lone wolf, something that has a lot of resonance in America. So perhaps Communism was twentieth century Americanism after all. Ideological distinctions aside, Rio Bravo is utter trash when compared to High Noon.

    On a related note, I’d recommend “Johnny Guitar” to anyone who liked High Noon.

  9. Andy Newman: Indeed. The screenwriter was Carl Foreman, whi had been a CP member in the 1940s, and who was forced to move to London after refusing to “name names” to HUAC.

    It is traditionally viewed as an allegory about McCArthyism.

    Peter Biskind writes of High Noon: “We know High Noon is a left wing film because it was made by leftists like Kramer and scripwriter Carl Foreman, who later said it was. Once the Millers were equated with HUAC or McCarthy, the craven townies became friendly witnesses, as those who co-operated with the witch-hunt were called. But aside from its disdain for business values, it would be difficult to tell High Noon apart from a right wing film. Once stripped of its historical context, it becomes indistinguishable from, say, Dirty Harry (1971), which also ends with a lawman throwing down his badge in disgust.”

    Peter Biskind, ‘Seeing Is Believing’, (Bloomsbury, 2001), p. 48.

  10. John,

    Well it is an interrsting argument. Paradoxically, if we accept this then High Noon relying as it does on the individual lawman who is unsupported by the community is more right wing than the standard B movie Western cliche of the outsider who arrives in town, doesnt want to be involved, but then gets pulled in – usually by the love of a woman – and then becomes pivotal in defending the community from outside threat and gains acceptance, ( and the girl).

    It should also be observed that right wing politics can still br associated with great art

  11. Andy Newman: if we accept this then High Noon relying as it does on the individual lawman who is unsupported by the community is more right wing

    There’s no need to accept that, because conformity is not a left-wing value. Quite the opposite. That’s precisely why “High Noon” and “Johnny Guitar” can be considered left-wing films, unlike Rio Bravo and the rest. In the case of the former two, the non-conformists don’t make their peace with the community thereby showing they were in conformity with the community all along. There are tons of more conventional Westerns that show the “lone wolves” winning popular acclaim in the end. That sort of resolution really blunted any edge those films might have otherwise had.

    I think you forgot to complete your thought “Paradoxically, if …. (the “then” is missing)”.

  12. Andy Newman: It should also be observed that right wing politics can still br associated with great art

    For sure. I love the Dirty Harry movies. I also think Westerns such as True Grit (the John Wayne original), The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns are classics.

  13. John: Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns are classics.

    Probably the worst scripted films of all time. They’re infantile and boring as hell.

    How do you expect a guy named Sergio Leone together with a ragtag team of random Italian scriptwriters to make an decent English language Western?

  14. Maxim: Probably the worst scripted films of all time. They’re infantile and boring as hell.

    How do you expect a guy named Sergio Leone together with a ragtag team of random Italian scriptwriters to make an decent English language Western?

    i dont care what you think Louis

  15. Perhaps ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ are not very useful terms for describing movies? All the more so when you think of how those two terms shake out with different emphases in different countries. In the US, the hatred of central government from some southerners is ‘right wing’ while to some European ears what they say can sound more like anti-statist anarchism. This is not far from the issue in Hollywood films. As people have said, more often or not – even in the hands of ex-communist writers and directors – the showdown in movies is between individuals. As viewers we are invited to side with an individual who, no matter how flawed, is in his last act of the film, to do right for a ‘good’ beyond himself. In one sense this is ‘left’ – because it will involve fairness, justice, sorting things out for the better etc, showing us (perhaps?) that these good things can happen and are worthwhile objectives to ‘fight for’. On the other hand, they also show a solution that seems only resolvable in the context of the film on an individual basis, more often than not with violence. The result is neither left or right. Even some of the great ‘leftwing’ films come down to this individualised confrontation. Don’t most movies express a yearning for a hero figure – even the most leftwing ones which ‘expose’ the wrongs of militarism, capitalism, greed, corruption or whatever. Again, left or right? Or both?

    Let’s look at ourselves: I’m a supporter of Corbyn, but look how easily we are constantly channelled and funnelled into talking about HIM and what he’s doing and saying – whether we are left or right. Even the fact that I’ve said ‘I support Corbyn’ is ‘leftwing’ politics but a ‘rightwing’ way of talking about the ideas and progress I support.

  16. Michael Rosen: Don’t most movies express a yearning for a hero figure – even the most leftwing ones which ‘expose’ the wrongs of militarism, capitalism, greed, corruption or whatever. Again, left or right? Or both?

    True Michael. The yearning for a hero is, as Bertolt Brecht said, a symptom of an unhappy land. Given that the ‘hero’ is a feature of every society there has ever been, including societies which I – though perhaps not yourself – consider to have been socialist, maybe we are confronted in Brecht’s aphorism with the difference between idealism and reality.

    There is nothing wrong per se with the individual hero figure, we all enjoy movies in which they play a major role, but it is by definition the antithesis of the collective. But there is a marked difference I think between lone heroes and heroic leaders or leadership.

    Consider the different politics of two Hollywood epics, Ben Hur and Spartacus. The key scene in Ben Hur is when the main character (Charlton Heston) is regaled by the Roman general whose life he saves at sea (Jack Hawkins) after a naval battle. Ben Hur was a galley slave on one of the ships, who during the battle manages to free himself and survive, whereupon he saves the Hawkins character from drowning until both are rescued by another ship. Hawkins rewards him by adopting him as his son.

    On board the rescue ship Ben Hur happens to look down an open hatch at the galley slaves rowing underneath him and Hawkins leads him away, as if to say that this is no longer your fate. You are free now. It’s the ease with which Ben Hur walks away from men who just a few hours before were his fellow slaves which strikes me about the scene.

    The difference with Sparacus comes in the scene where he receives the news that the ships promised by the Silesian pirates to rescue him and his army of slaves will not be arriving as arranged. The man who delivers the bad news then offers Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) and his close lieutenants the opportunity to escape and effect their own personal survival. Spartacus’ response is to tell the messenger to go away. He has no hesitation in staying with his fellow slaves in order to fight to the end.

    For me there is a strong political message being delivered in both movies in the aformentioned scenes. One is personal salvation as the pinnacle of human achievement, while the other is solidarity. I’m not sure who wrote the script for Ben Hur, though Gore Vidal did I know work on an early draft, but we all know that Dalton Trumbo wrote Spartacus, after he was brought in from the blacklist by Kirk Douglas, who also produced the movie.

  17. John,

    Apparently – according to Vidal himself – he amused himself by including a number of homosexual codes in Charlton Heston’s dialogue, I assume a sort of American version of Polyani, some of which survived into the film

  18. Michael Rosen,

    It is true that referring to left and right can obscure more than it reveals. I am always struck by this when I read Nick Cohen, saying that he believes that the foundations of left politics are secularism, the universality of human rights and Freedom of speech.

    Nothing in there for Cohen about countering economic inequality, building communities of solidarity, and collectivism.

    I don’t recognise Louis Proyect (Maxim)’s observation above that non-conformity is a particularly “left wing” attribute, and for me the politics of the stereotypical Western where the individual outsider becomes accepted by the community is the triumph of society and the spreading of law. As I think Tawney observed the opposite of socialism is individualism.

    But also, whatever the subjective political intentions of the creator, interpretation is the prerogative of the audience. What makes that a bit more complex with cinema is the collective nature of the viewing experience, and the social impact that the film’s simultaneous showing around the whole nation.

  19. Some examples of how the audience’s perception can shape a work.

    cliff used to have a touching story about how the Hollywood film “a tree grows in Brooklyn”, a melodrama about immigrant life starring Lloyd Nolan, had considerable impact in Palestine where audiences were struck that even the poorest immigrants in NY had shoes.

    It has also stuck in my mind that SU’s own John Wight once observed that he thought Elvis had recorded Dixie. As a listener you could mistake American Trilogy which melds Dixie, a slave lament and Battle Hymn of the Republic into one song for just Dixie, whereas to me Trilogy is a complex work that results in the cathartic triumph of Battle Hymn of the Republic. But John is right that it includes Dixie, and many listeners may find that uncomfortable and offensive, especially sung by a white Southerer.

    Dixie itself is a very fine song, that works well at slow tempo as a melancoly lament, or up tempo as a gay and jaunty celebration, but it is impossible for the listener to not bring to it their own knowledge and understanding of slavery. (Which of course could be none, and they could only associatr Dixie with the Dukes of Hazard)

  20. Colin Piper,

    The year that brought us Apocalypse Now also produced: Rocky II

    Give me Rocky every day of the week over Apocalypse ‘Yawn’ Now. How dare you criticise Rocky Balboa.

  21. Marxist Lennonist on said:

    Colin Piper,

    “Star Wars isn’t a political film and it doesn’t profess to have anything important to say about the human condition but, as the story unfolded during episodes 1-3, we became aware that The Emperor was running both armies in the civil war. As I’ve mentioned to a number of movie fans over recent weeks, doesn’t this have a relevance with the current situation in Syria?”

    Good point and I never actually thought of that. This latest film did however make me think of Syria, and how it could be used as two directly opposite allegories depending on one’s point of view of the conflict. I take it John’s criticism of the villain being “played by Vladimir Putin” comes from the excessive talk of order, attacks on a “regime complicit in chaos” etc, not so much by the Vader wannabee if I remember right as his military sidekick (one of the weaker roles I thought). And the central story of “the Republic” secretly aiding “the Resistance” could be viewed as an apologia for the West backing the “democratic opposition” in Syria. If I thought that was the intention I’d have hated it too, and wonder if this is the reason the film has attracted such ire from John?

    On the other hand the First Order is literally a death cult, and the Resistance is being backed by the legitimate Republic government behind enemy lines – just as a range of groups from Kurds to Assad supporters have resisted ISIS and the other takfiri death squads in the areas they have seized. I don’t believe thats what Disney was intentionally getting at either btw, but its an analogy we can use if the conversation comes up.

    Lucas did go on record though to say he based the Empire on World War II fascism, and the Emperor on Nixon. And JJ Abrams seems to me a reasonably conscious writer, his program Person Of Interest has had some very gritty flashbacks to the occupation of Iraq and portrays the CIA as unambiguous villains. Though the fact its main character is called John Reese is probably a coincidence!

  22. Marxist Lennonist on said:

    If you’re wanting a real “villain played by Vladimir Putin” btw look no further than the last series of House of Cards which I thought was a Russophobic disgrace. Frank Underwood who’s whole unique selling point is supposed to be that he’s evil, portrayed as a bamboozled ingenue on the international stage who the audience is effectively invited to root for against “Petrov” who *is* Putin. Except for one detail presumably added to increase his scary villainy – that he served in Afghanistan in the 80s. Fighting the American backed al-Qaeda and Taliban. What a bastard, obviously…

  23. Marxist Lennonist: JJ Abrams seems to me a reasonably conscious writer

    I have personal experience of J J Abrams. In a past life I was a regular extra on his first TV series, Alias, which starred Jennifer Garner. My most prominent ‘role’ was as one of the CIA guards escorting an ex-Irish republican terrorist, played by Ricky Gervais, into the operations room to be interrogated about a bomb he’s planted on a passenger aircraft. Here’s the link to the scene, though alas with the sound and picture distorted https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WEP-T2QhJQ Fast forward to 24.45. I’m the guard on the right 🙂

  24. jock mctrousers on said:

    The final film in the prequel trilogy of Star Wars seemed to hint surprisingly at USA’s real role in the world. Senator Palpatine, the Sith Lord Darth Sidious (as in inisidious) strongly evokes Dick Cheney for me.

  25. btw, whatever it is playing out in Oregon does to a certain extent remind us of the problem of left/right designations. The guy holed up in the state building has a central demand that he thinks he has the right to graze his cattle on state-held land. This is a right-wing demand in the US. As urban development spreads on to common land and some locally held or state held land in the UK, the demand to graze on that land may re-emerge here. In which case it would be a ‘left’ position. (sorry, I know this is off-piste as far as this conversation about Star Wars goes). PS. In Arthur Miller’s autobiog he tells story of how, during McCarthyism, he is helped to hide by a southern confederate-type.

  26. Michael Rosen: btw, whatever it is playing out in Oregon does to a certain extent remind us of the problem of left/right designations. The guy holed up in the state building has a central demand that he thinks he has the right to graze his cattle on state-held land. This is a right-wing demand in the US. As urban development spreads on to common land and some locally held or state held land in the UK, the demand to graze on that land may re-emerge here.

    In the US issues of Second Amendment rights play most passionately in predominately white rural communities, where the frontier mindset and myth of rugged individualism as being tantamount to liberty and freedom are fiercely held. Add to the mix a conspiratorial suspicion of federal and central government, seasoned with Christian fundamentalism, and you have a toxic cocktail that has been key in the deepening polarisation of American society.

    Rural issues re state land and grazing rights, while undoubtedly a factor, I think perhaps are a symptom rather than a cause. I think what’s clear is the inherent weakness of American democracy and the problems with a written constitution, treated as if it’s been carved in stone by Moses. Indeed the Founding Fathers have come to assume an almost divine status within US history.

    The lack of a strong central government is the problem as far as I can see, one whose writ runs where it needs to in order to govern effectively and in defiance of special interest groups such as the gun, tobacco, and medical insurance lobbies, etc.

  27. Andy Newman on said:

    John: In the US issues of Second Amendment rights play most passionately in predominately white rural communities, where the frontier mindset and myth of rugged individualism as being tantamount to liberty and freedom are fiercely held.

    One of the paradoxes that I struggle to understand is how militant atheists and intolerant secularists like James Bloodworth seem to feel that the USA is an ally of theirs, when the US is so religious.

    You could argue that right at the outset of the US, the scene was set for disputes to be resolved by the gun, rather than by seeking compromise and middle ground. This was largely the position of Benedict Arnold, who sought not only to change sides but to end the war be surrendering his command to the British. Because he has become such a caricature baddy his motives are rarely examined, but he did so because he despaired that at the point where the Crown had actually offered full self government to the colonies, the Philadelphia congress still insisted in prolonging a war, when an honourable peace could be achieved.

    Private enterprise military expeditions to expand the USA started almost with its foundation with Aaron Burr’s plans to invade mexico, and there were continual attempts to invade Cuba or central American mainland to create new slave states.

    In both the rolling back of the post-bellum gains of the reconstruction era in the South, and the perpetual breaking of treaties with the Indians, the Federal government was powerless against terrorism in the South and unlawful expansion into Indian lands by settlers who then demanded US army protection, which politically the government could not refuse.

    Even in the relatively modern era, the gunning down of both Dr King and Bobby Kennedy closed off a progressive direction for US politics.

    A possible unlikely hero in standing against this trend was old George Washington himself, who at the conclusion of peace talked the officers of the Continental Army out of marching on Philadelphia to take over the government. And in 1794 he commanded Federal troops to repress the Whiskey rebellion – putting him very much on the opposite side to today’s “patriot” militias.

  28. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: One of the paradoxes

    Andy Newman: old George Washington himself,

    George Washington like most of the American leaders kept black slaves. Their radicalism didn’t extend to emancipation. It is often said that as he got older Washington increasingly had his doubts but in his lifetime never freed all his slaves. Apparently he didn’t want to raise what was already becoming a devisive issue even as the American Revolutionary War was taking place. Some of Washington’s slaves did escape. One such was Henry/Harry Washington. He was brought to America in the 1760s and worked for his master in Virginia until he managed to get to New York in the 1770s. Harry Washington later joined the British armed forces as an artillery man fighting against the Americans in Virginia. They were known as Black Loyalists or the Governor of Virginia’s Ethiopian Troops. At the conclusion of the war Mr. Washington was resettled in Nova Scotia. He lived in Birchwood which apparently at the time was the largest North America free Afro-Caribbean city. Some years later he went with many others to settle in Sierra Leone which was then controlled by the British. He seems to have kept his rebellious instincts as he was part of the temporary uprising by black Africans against the British taxation regime.

  29. Andy Newman on said:

    John Grimshaw: They were known as Black Loyalists or the Governor of Virginia’s Ethiopian Troops.

    However, some 10% of the Continental Army were black, which was a fact much remarked upon at the time, not only by Americans, but by the British, French and Hessian troops involved in the war.

    Given that the Continental Army was recruited on a volunteer basis, and were only sporadically paid, and there were problems in even feeding and supplying them, there must have been some degree of support for the political objectives from these black troops.

  30. John Grimshaw on said:

    “I do hereby further declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining His Majesty’s Troops.”

    This I understand is the quote from Lord Dunmore of Virginia. However the level of hypocrisy on both sides in the American Indepdence War is staggering. The Brits wanted to set free Blacks if they belonged to rebels and the American colonists particularly in the south were deeply concerned about slave rebellions. I am sure you are right about the ten percent but most seem to have come from the north. “promises” were made by both sides and then conveniently forgotten about later on.

  31. Reactionary as may be the context of it being made, I’m just watching Rio Bravo (ITV4 if anyone’s interested) for the upteenth time and enjoying it just as much as I always do.

    I’d love to hate it for the reasons outlined above, but I can’t bring myself to 🙂