Re: The Patriot & portrayal of British soldiers

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Posted by Adele on June 30, 2000 at 17:20:13:

In Reply to: Re: The Patriot & portrayal of British soldiers posted by Brent on June 30, 2000 at 15:41:58:

: I've taken the liberty to post this interesting list of primary quotes regarding the brutal atrocities of the British. It was posted on a fellow reenactors webpage. Now were all British evil monsters? No they weren't. But there were many atrocities commited by British soldiers which "The Patriot" does a fairly good job of portraying. Now this doesn't mean that all "Americans" were completely innocent either.
: -Brent

: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
: Dear Friends and Family,
: The British press, and a few grumpy American journalists, are unhappy with Mel Gibson's new movie, The Patriot. Gibson, whose family moved from New York to Australia when he was twelve, is accused of using the film to indulge nothing more than a crude anti-British prejudice. Among film critics, disregard for history is a fairly stock charge leveled against any Hollywood production, and that sentiment is sprinkled liberally through these reviews--as though the authors were rushing to re-baptize and re-credential themselves as good post-modernists.

: It all stinks of the obligatory, contemporary view that "enlightened" history requires us to see all of the combatants as merely neutral coefficients in the calculus of the past. By this
: standard, any claim to heroism or villainy is suspect. Any appeal to principle is disregarded. Any virtue is made to stand in the shadow of some greater sin. Washington--we are told, with a self-righteous, wagging finger--was, after all, a slave-owner.

: Well, were British soldiers monsters in the American Revolution? Were the Whig "rebels" all honest freedom fighters?

: Let us, first of all, consider British Major John Pitcairn on the eve of the American Revolution, who wrote these words on March 4, 1775 to the Earl of Sandwich:

: " ...Orders are anxiously expected from England to chastise those very bad people... I am satisfied that one active campaign, a smart action, and burning two or three of their towns, will set everything to rights. Nothing now, I am afraid, but this will ever convince those foolish bad people that England is in earnest..."

: British Captain W.G. Evelyn was even more direct, it that is possible. In referring to the New Englanders, he wrote home advocating that the British ministry administer something just short of genocide:

: "...lay aside that false humanity towards these wretches...They must permit us to restore..the dominion of the country by laying it waste, and almost extirpating the present rebellious race..."

: Even the British "nobility" jumped into the act. Consider the words of Lord Rawdon, who, during the battle of Long Island, thought the Earl of Huntington would be amused by the following accounts of rape:

: "The fair nymphs of this isle are in wonderful tribulation, as the fresh meat our men have got here has made them as riotous as satyrs. A girl cannot step into the bushes to pluck a rose without running the most imminent risk of being ravished, and they are so little accustomed to these rigorous methods [referring here to the rape of American girls] that they don't bear them with the proper resignation..."

: An American officer wrote the following accounts of encounters with the British Army, published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, June 28, 1780:

: "On my arrival on the Farms, immediately after they left them, the first object that presented itself to my view was a handsome young country girl... who had the night before been forcibly subjected to the brutal violence of seven or eight different officers of that army. - When we questioned her, she could only answer in broken accents of the most excessive grief - that she was ruined, and wished never again to be spoken to.."

: "We proceeded, and came where they burned Mr. Caldwell house, after shooting his wife through a window as she was sitting on her bed, with a brace of balls; one entered her left breast, and the other her waist. I saw her corpse, and was informed by the neighbors, it was with infinite pains they obtained leave to bring her body from the house, before they set fire to it."

: And yet, Neil Norman of worries that Mel Gibson and The Patriot are committing another "ludicrous travesty of British history." He writes:

: To a man, the dastardly English are depicted as heartless toffs and machiavels, war criminals and child-killers. As Jason Isaacs, who plays the British baddie, Col William Tavington, remarked recently: "I'm Satan in this film. I'm a nasty, evil British officer and Mel comes after me like a warrior possessed."

: Perhaps evil itself is a theoretical commodity to some of these people, something reserved for comic-book villains. A promotion for a History Channel special on The Patriot, asks the rhetorical question, "History or Hollywood?" with a tandem observation that the film might just be an 18th century version of Lethal Weapon.

: So much for the talking tenured heads, let's return to the actual history. The actual PRIMARY history. The following is the first-hand account from a woman who was plundered by British troops in South Carolina:

: "I ventured to speak to the inhuman monster who had my clothes. represented to him the times were such we could no replace what they’d taken from us, and begged him to spare me only a suit or two; but I got nothing but a hearty curse for my pains; nay, so far was his callous heart from relenting that, casting his eyes
: towards my shoes, "I want them buckles," said he, and immediately knelt at my feet to take them out, which, while he was busy about, a brother villain , whose enormous mouth extended from ear to ear, bawled out, "Shares there! I say, shares!"

: Or, perhaps, we should consider the story of a colonist jailed by the British during the siege of Boston. An old Dutchman was discharged from jail on the 25th of July, 1775. According to one observer he had been:

: "..confined for complaining of the soldiers robbing his garden, which was his whole living, and because he had not a dollar to pay his fees, the soldiers on guard were ordered, each, to give him a kick as he went away."

: One reviewer observed, a little too glibly, that Mel is simply out kicking the British in the rear again. Perhaps, that language would be a little less playful if the critic were to consider a survivor's account of the 1778 Cherry Valley massacre, in which Tory Rangers and Indians stormed the frontier west of Albany:

: "..The enemy killed, scalp't, and most barbarously murdered thirty-two women and children...burnt twenty-four houses with all the grain, &c...They committed the most inhuman barbarities on most of the dead: Robert Henderson's head was cut off, his skull bone cut out with his scalp--Mr. Willis's sister was rip't up, a child of Mr. Willis's, two months old, scalp't and arm cut off--the clergyman's wife's leg and arm cut off, and many others as cruelly treated..."

: And, yet, Mel Gibson is sensationalizing history?

: C'mon. History is sensationalizing history. Enjoy the movie. The good guys win in the end.

: Your Humble Servant,
: James Riley


Hi Brent

Thanks for your post. I think that the point about our history is that it doesn't need to be sensationalised to be exciting or interesting. It stands on its own two feet.

The fact of the matter is that we cannot judge history (except the recent, of course) by our own current standards. Life was harsher, more cruel than we can possibly imagine today. And atrocities were committed by all manner of people from all countries and beliefs. By highlighting the atrocities of the English, it only continues to suggest that there was only one party involved. And it also does not acknowledge that the age for almost all "civilised" countries was one of plunder, rape and murder. It was about claiming land and wealth.

It is always nice to believe that there is one good guy and one bad guy - but that is the stuff that the old westerns are made of. It is not our history. In Braveheart, there was no mention of the fact that the Scots were known to skin their victims, among other things. They were portrayed as a merry band of freedom fighters like something out of a Robin Hood film. It just isn't that clear cut. There is no question that William Wallace was an extremely brave warrior with immense tactical skill - but he was also a human being of his time. Not an angel. (Personally speaking, I loved the film - as a wonderful story BASED on fact).

In war, no matter what the era, terrible things are done by both sides - it is a fact of war - and there are always the tragic victims. And whilst sometimes you can point the finger more easily than others (WW2 being an obvious example), I am sure that in every war, on every side, there are heroes and villains, and there are victims.

I haven't seen The Patriot, but the fact that the English are the bad guys doesn't bother me in the slightest. Probably because I understand the difference between reality and a Hollywood movie. After all, most races (including Americans, Native Americans, Europeans, Asians, Middle Easterns etc) have been portrayed as the bad guys at some point or another.

I think where Hollywood is concerned, it is not so much what they INCLUDE in an historical film - people are not denying that what the English did in The Patriot ever happened - it is more about the facts that they leave out.


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