Review

A Few Bloody Noses: The Realities and Mythologies of the American Revolution

by Robert Harvey



For the past century America and Great Britain have remained strong
and ardent allies. Yet always lurking in the common bond between
the nations is the knowledge that America achieved her status as a
nation through a war of independence from her British forefathers.
The Revolutionary War remains a subject for historical study and
debate. Often, the perspective and position of scholars is affected
by whether they are located east or west of the Atlantic Ocean.
Americans view the war as a battle for liberty and freedom fought
by a ragtag but heroic militia against an oppressive and superior
military power. The British view is substantially different. A FEW
BLOODY NOSES, by British journalist Robert Harvey, offers a
reexamination of the American Revolution from that diverse British
viewpoint. He draws his title from the words of George III, "We
meant well to the Americans, just to punish them with a few bloody
noses, and then to make laws for the happiness of both
countries."

Harvey maintains that the heroic view of the Revolution and the War
of Independence owes its continuing viability to several factors.
The American nation that resulted from the Revolution is the
mightiest nation the world has known. That such a nation could be
the result of anything less than an epic birth would not comport
with America's preeminent position in the world. Equally
significant in Harvey's view is the importance of the American
Constitution. Although not a direct product of the War of
Independence, the US Constitution is a document that maintains its
vibrancy and meaning well over 200 years after its inception. No
other country in the world can claim a document as momentous as the
American Constitution. Finally, Harvey believes that the silence of
British historians allows the myth of the Revolution to continue.
It seems perhaps that the British are still too hurt and humiliated
by their loss to attempt any discussion of the events that turned
the world upside down.

One myth that Harvey attacks with great intensity is the notion
that the Revolution was a battle of liberty against British
military oppression. While this element cannot be ignored, it must
occupy its proper place along with several other important motives.
Equally as important as the battle for freedom, Harvey contends,
was the economic self-interest of the colonies and the
extraordinarily rapid transformation of the American society in
which newcomers from Europe challenged the existing order of the
staid gentry. Those in authority met the challenge by making the
issue into a crusade against the British. By this action the seeds
of the American Revolution were sown.

In addition to the causes of the War, Harvey analyzes the
Revolution from a military perspective. In both strategy and
tactics he takes issue with the generally accepted belief that
British incompetence led to America's victory. While accepting the
fact that some military leaders were less than superb, Harvey
presents an argument eerily reminiscent of the argument presented
by some modern historians concerning the Vietnam War. It was not
the inadequacy of the military operations that led to defeat ---
instead, it was the lack of will of the leaders of the British
government. By being less than resolute, the leaders allowed the
military battle to continue for too long. As the battle continued,
the British public became weary of the war and ultimately lost the
will to continue the battle. British exhaustion led to colonial
victory.

The study of history is the examination of the past in light of the
present. No matter what era, historians toil and investigate in
light of their contemporary experience. Thus, the American
Revolution faces scrutiny and reevaluation in the light of wars of
liberation, from the French Revolution to the war in Vietnam. Under
that type of analysis, reappraisal should be neither unexpected nor
criticized. But the effort is noteworthy for the disparate
responses that readers will have to this book. Americans currently
experiencing a patriotic rebirth will find the Harvey thesis
unappealing and less than acceptable. A more understanding audience
will be found on the British side of the Atlantic.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 21, 2011

A Few Bloody Noses: The Realities and Mythologies of the American Revolution
by Robert Harvey

  • Publication Date: May 22, 2002
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1585672734
  • ISBN-13: 9781585672738