Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The World According to Jethro

From Jethro:

Hi all.

When Mark G. informed me of his invitation to Laura to post occasionally on this blog, I requested the same privilege. He resisted, but I punctuated my request with squeaking noises. When this failed to move him, I began making frequent (and needless) requests to go outside. Though he suspected my real agenda, what else could he do but let me out? This proved more effective. It took time, but eventually he agreed to let me compose an entry if I'd quit sticking my nose to the back door every five minutes.

Of course, he reserved the right not to post the entry unless I could relate it directly to military history, the core concern of War Historian.

Fine, I said. I'll post about my campaign of squeaking and gratuitous clamors to be let out.

What, he replied, does that have to do with military history?

"See that email you just got from a student regarding tomorrow's midterm in History 151?" I said.

He nodded.

"Read it aloud," I said.

Does the fact that the American had alot more riding on the war than the British help explain the victory? I mean, the Americans had their freedom, families, and home to fight for. All the British were fighting was the loss of property. Even though we havent gotten to this point in lecture,may I slide that in to my essay on American Character, should that question appear on the exam? Please let me know.
"I'd like to answer that email," I said. "That will be my post." Mark G. agreed.

So here we go:

First, it's a great question, though for the essay on the formation of the American character I would concentrate on such issues as the relative isolation from Europe and the physical environment (especially the central feature that in Europe land was scarce and labor plentiful, while in the North American colonies it was just the reverse). Also the abundance of resources compared to Europe.

As to the answer, as with so many of these questions, the answer--or at least, an answer--is in the main textbook. On page 165. And if I could find this, without benefit of opposable thumbs, so should you. No offense.

And it's a good answer:

How were the weak and disunited American states able to defeat Great Britain, the most powerful nation in the Atlantic world? Certainly, Dutch loans and French supplies and military forces were crucially important. More decisive, though was the American people's determination not to submit. Often the Americans were disorganized and uncooperative. Repeatedly it seemed that the war effort was about to collapse as continental troops drifted away, state militias refused to march, and supplies failed to materialize. Yet as the war progressed, the people's estrangement from England deepened and their commitment to the "glorious cause" increased. To subdue the colonies, England would have had to occupy the entire eastern third of the continent, and this it could not do.

I suggest you read the rest of the section, which nicely illustrates this introductory paragraph. In fact, if you think of the first sentence as an essay question and the rest of the section as an essay response, you have an excellent example of a how a good--indeed, a very good--midterm essay would look. It answers the question as asked, it makes an argument that is clearly expressed, and it uses historical facts appropriately to support that argument, all in about a thousand words. (This post already contains 600 words). And this is a college textbook, which means it's far more elaborate and polished than can be expected of an exam essay written under pressure of time. Five or six hundred words should be plenty--if they're the right words. To put it another way, if you know what you're talking about.

Why do I think the textbook answer makes sense? Look at how I came to write this post. Mark G. is bigger than me and stronger than me and nominally he controls the blog. But I wanted to post, and I wanted it more than he wanted to prevent me.

That's my secret. It's why dogs three times my size run away from me. It's why I shove Gypsy (Mark G's other dog) aside without a second thought. Whatever it is, whoever wants it, I want it more.

Is victory in war a function of who has more at stake? It can be, but who has more at stake isn't really the central factor. The real question is, Who wants it more?

War is basically a contest of wills. The winner tends to be the one that wants it more, because the one that wants it more will do anything--anything--to get it.

I'll stop for now, as I have urgent business with a sock that badly needs chewing. But I may post again. Mark G. may not want that, but guess who'll want it more?


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jethro... It helps to think that should our theory be correct, I will receive an A in 151, for I want it more than Dr. Grimsley wants to prevent me from getting it. Lucky for us students, Im sure he wants all of his pupils to understand and grasp the material fully.

Mark G. said...

Go for it! --Jethro, using The Man's username. Outta here!

Anonymous said...

After seeing that one post, it makes this class all worthwhile...that is one of the most funny things I have ever read on a blog. Since it's 6:00am and I'm still studying a bit, I think I'm going to go chew on a sock and go to bed!