Tuesday, January 18, 2011

“The fair nymphs of this isle are in wonderful tribulation”: A British Officer Celebrates Gang Rape on Staten Island in 1776

by Michael Kaplan

A Perspective View of an Encampment for a British Regiment, ca. 1777.  Note the presence of women in the camp.

During the American Revolution, as in all wars past and present, women found themselves at risk of rape and gang rape by the occupying armies. Francis, Lord Rawdon (1754-1826) was a twenty-two-year-old captain in the 5th Foot (infantry) Regiment under the command of General Hugh, Earl Percy. A few weeks before the Battle of Long Island, he wrote a letter to his uncle, the Earl of Huntingdon, where he treated the gang rape of American women by British soldiers on Staten Island as a joke. Rawdon made it seem that his life in the British army’s Staten Island encampment had many of the same pleasures and amenities as his uncle’s life back home.

Francis, Lord Rawdon, who would later become Earl of Moira (in 1793) and Marquess of Hastings (in 1816), was the scion of an old Anglo-Irish family that traced its roots back to the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century. He was born “with the proverbial sliver spoon in his mouth” at Moira in County Down, growing up there and in Dublin. Rawdon enjoyed a youth of wealth and privilege, immersed in the hedonistic culture of the eighteenth-century British aristocracy; a culture of drinking, gambling, ostentatious display, and sexual escapades that American revolutionaries would come to see as the epitome of corruption. Georgian England was notorious for its sexual underworld, and Rawdon was far from the most dissolute member of his class. That honor probably belonged to Sir Francis Dashwood, a notorious libertine who founded the infamous Hellfire Club at Medmenham Abbey. Medmenham was the Playboy Mansion of the eighteenth century, where Dashwood hosted parties devoted to binge drinking and sexual orgies; wine was served to the aristocratic worthies by a staff of nude girls. Even Benjamin Franklin paid the occasional visit to Medmenham. From 1762 to 1763, Dashwood served as Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer (imagine Hugh Hefner as secretary of the treasury), just as the conflict over colonial taxation was getting started. While Rawdon may not have gone to Medmenham, he did internalize this aristocratic ethic which looked upon non-aristocratic women, including colonial American women, as legitimate targets for sexual exploitation and conquest.

Francis, Lord Rawdon, as an officer during the American Revolution.

Rawdon, following a traditional path for young noblemen, decided to make a career in the military. After an education at Harrow and Oxford, where he became friends with Banastre Tarleton, the future scourge of the Carolina backcountry, and going on The Grand Tour of Europe with his uncle, Rawdon bought a commission for ₤200 as an ensign in the 15th Foot Regiment. In 1773 he was promoted to lieutenant in the 5th Foot Regiment and in 1774 he was posted to the British occupying force in Boston. Rawdon got his first taste of action at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, where his bravery in taking command of his company after his captain was killed, earned him the praise of his superiors and a promotion to captain. General John Burgoyne commented that “Lord Rawdon has this day stamped his fame for life.” Rawdon was then taken under the wing of General Sir Henry Clinton, who made the young officer an aide-de-camp. Rawdon appreciated Clinton’s mentoring, writing to his uncle that “Clinton gives me lessons on the art of war, and I am truly happy at receiving instructions from one whom I regard as a thorough master of his profession.”

Other officers also marked Rawdon as a young man to watch. Captain William Glanville Evelyn of the 4th Foot (“The King’s Own”) Regiment, a thirty-four-year-old veteran of the Seven Years’ War who had fought at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, thought that cultivating Rawdon could help his own career. Writing to his father in Ireland, Evelyn said that “Lord Rawdon . . . is very much distinguished here as a most promising young man in the military line, and I am flattered to think I hold some place in his good opinion.” Evelyn urged his father, a clergyman, to use his acquaintance with Rawdon’s parents, Lord and Lady Moira, to put in a good word for him with their son. This was how the system of patronage operated in aristocratic eighteenth-century Britain; the system that Americans were now fighting to cast off.

Captain William Glanville Evelyn, friend of Rawdon.

Captain Evelyn was a model British career soldier—an officer and a gentleman with a strong sense of honor and duty. Yet after the devastating losses the British army suffered at Bunker Hill, Evelyn concluded that the Americans “are the most dangerous enemies we have to encounter,” and could not be trifled with. If the British government and people “mean to continue as masters of this country, they will lay aside that false humanity toward these wretches which has hitherto been so destructive to us.” In words that his friend Rawdon would later echo, Evelyn asserted that public opinion in Britain “must lay aside the notion that hurting America is ruining Great Britain, and they must permit us to restore to them the dominion of the country by laying it waste, and almost extirpating the present rebellious race, and upon no other terms will they ever possess it in peace.” To win the war, Britain had to be utterly ruthless with her rebellious colonists, much as she had been with Irish rebels in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

President Obama Rises to the Occasion in Tucson

by Michael Kaplan

President Obama addresses the Together We Thrive Memorial Service in Tucson, Wednesday January 12, 2011.

“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, ‘When I looked for light, then came darkness.’  Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.”

Kudos to President Obama for delivering the speech the nation needed to hear at the Together We Thrive Memorial Service for the victims of Jared Loughner in Tucson this past Wednesday. The speech, which Ross Douthat rightly calls the best of his presidency, was praised by liberals and conservatives alike (aside from Rush Limbaugh). With this speech, the president fulfilled his most important ceremonial function as the embodiment and voice of the nation. Here is the video and the transcript of the speech.

In Tucson, the president spoke as the leader of all the people of the United States, not just of the Democratic Party or his liberal progressive base. In parliamentary democracies, such as Great Britain, the mythic ceremonial position of head of state and the pragmatic political position of head of government are separated: the prime minister serves as the partisan head of government, pushing to implement his party’s policies, while the queen performs the ceremonial role of head of state, the symbol and voice for the entire nation. The President of the United States, in contrast, combines both these roles in his office. He is both leader of his party and the high priest and symbolic focal point of the nation’s civil religion of American exceptionalism. The president has to find the balance between championing the liberal or conservative agenda and giving voice to the highest hopes and aspirations of the nation. Few presidents have been able to really pull this off. In the modern era, FDR and Ronald Reagan were by far the most successful. Both men were great communicators who knew how to touch the souls of their countrymen, always evoking in plain language and vivid imagery, why America is an exceptional nation, while governing as fierce champions of their respective partisan agendas.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mama Grizzly Strikes Back

by Michael Kaplan

“Our exceptional nation, so vibrant with ideas and the passionate exchange and debate of ideas, is a light to the rest of the world. Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents were exercising their right to exchange ideas that day, to celebrate our Republic’s core values and peacefully assemble to petition our government. It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.”

Having kept her silence for several days, Sarah Palin has finally responded to the outrageous charges made by many voices on the left, that she is responsible for the tragedy in Tucson. Presented by Palin as an address to the nation, it was an eloquent assertion of American exceptionalism, the values and wisdom of the American people, and the strength of the democratic process. In contrast to the petty vindictiveness and over the top hysteria of her critics, Palin comes across as a stateswoman, a worthy heir to Andrew Jackson and Ronald Reagan. Here is the video she posted on Facebook, where you can also find the text of her statement.

While most of her statement celebrated America’s enduring values and expressed sorrow and condolences for the victims and their families, Palin reserved her harshest words for those who used the Tucson massacre as a pretext to demonize their political opponents. “After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.” Partisan rhetoric can become quite heated during an election campaign. That’s the way it’s always been in American politics, going all the way back to George Washington’s second administration. One might not like the outcome of an election, “But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”

The liberal pundits who’ve led the charge against Palin, and Jacksonian conservatives in general, are too numerous keep count of. There’s Paul Krugman of course, and Michael Tomasky of Democracy Journal in the UK Guardian. Michael Daly in the New York Daily News declared that “Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ blood is on Sarah Palin’s hands,” because of a Palin-sponsored campaign ad that used a crosshairs image to target Gifford’s district. But I’m particularly disappointed in Andrew Sullivan, whose work I’ve always enjoyed and admired. In the aftermath of 9/11, he wrote a brilliant essay on why the war on terror is really a religious war. Tragically, he has now descended into the wilder realms of Palin Derangement Syndrome. Sullivan was especially outraged at Palin’s use of the term “blood libel.” In overheated language, Sullivan accuses Palin of “equating critics of extreme rhetoric of being the equivalent of Nazis or medieval anti-Semites.” He goes on: “We know this much right now: Palin does not possess the self-awareness, responsibility or composure to respond to crises like this with grace. This messageeven at a time of national crisiswas a base-rousing rallying cry, perpetuating her own victimhood and alleged bloodthirstiness of her opponents.”

This was not what Sarah Palin was doing. She was standing up for the honor of all Jacksonian conservatives, as well as her own, by not letting the outrageous accusations of Sullivan et al., go unanswered. She was standing up for Gabrielle Giffords, Christina Taylor Green, and the other victims of Jared Lee Loughner by not letting them become pawns in an ideological vendetta. She was ensuring that responsibility for this crime would not be diverted from where it belonged: with the deranged psychopath, Jared Lee Loughner, who needed no political incitement to commit his dastardly deeds. She was standing up for the honor of the American people and America’s exceptional culture and institutions of liberty.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Votary to Love: George Washington on the Affairs of the Heart

by Michael Kaplan

Pater Patriae as Paterfamilias. The Washington Family. Edward Savage, ca. 1789-1796.

The Father of the Country a votary to love? Who would have thought it! This is George Washington we’re talking about, the man who defined gravitas. More a monument than a flesh and blood man, Washington exercised such ironclad discipline and self-control that he never betrayed a hint of emotion in public. To imagine Washington as anything other than formal and correct was just not possible. In 1858 Nathaniel Hawthorne, incredulous at the thought of sculptor Hiram Powers portraying Washington the nude, exclaimed: “What would he do with Washington, the most decorous and respectable personage that ever went ceremoniously through the realities of life? Did anybody ever see Washington nude? It is inconceivable. He had no nakedness, but I imagine he was born with his clothes on, and his hair powdered, and made a stately bow on his first appearance in the world.”

In truth Washington was a volatile and passionate man, especially in his youth. As he matured and worked his way up through the hierarchical society of Virginia’s planter elite, Washington learned to keep his passions in check and his words few and to the point. Yet as his cryptic correspondence with Sally Fairfax reveals, beneath the façade of Cincinnatus the flames of passion burned.

Sarah “Sally” Cary Fairfax (1730-1811) was something like the Kim Kardashian of her day: a grande belle (a rich party girl we would now say) who, with her posse of three younger sisters, stood at the center of high society in colonial Williamsburg. But of course this must be understood in an eighteenth-century context of elegance, sophistication, and restraint, rather than in the context of twenty-first-century vulgarity and hedonism. Actually, this overstates the contrast. Male Virginians, both of the planter elite and the lower sorts, participated in a culture of drinking, gambling, parties, and whoring that could be as licentious as anything in the celebrity culture of the twenty-first century. Washington was exceptional in his rejection of the hedonistic values of his society. Elite women, though, were excluded from the raunchier side of life in colonial Virginia. They took part only in the more elegant and sophisticated of social events. The sexual double standard held firm for the Virginia elite. This is important for understanding why the relationship between Sally Cary Fairfax and George Washington never went beyond unrequited sexual and romantic tension.