Sunday, January 30, 2011


A review of Fred Anderson's Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in North America (2000)

(Rating 5 of 5)

As I explained in my last few posts, a short while ago, I decided to do a straight reading up on the history of my country. Not by a series of biographies or of any particular event; but a simple march through the ages exploring all the eras of the United States of America. The biggest challenge is to find books that try their best to explore from multiple perspectives in order to avoid just one narrow view, without at the same time surrendering a general narrative that is both readable and enjoyable. After finishing Jill Lepore’s book on King Phillip’s War, I decided to move on to Fred Anderson’s book covering what we in America call the French and Indian War. The book looks at the major actors in the British and French Empires, and the Iroquois Confederacy and how this conflict changed them from top to bottom.

Like many wars, especially European Wars in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the conflict covered in this work is known by two names. Anglo-American colonials tended to name their wars after their kings and queens. The colonists had named the War of Austrian Succession,'King George's War', and created a problem because King George II was still on the throne. They needed a new name for the conflict that Europe would call the Seven-Years' War. The name the Anglo-American colonists came up with was: 'the French and Indian War'.

(Royal Rivals: The King of Great Britain vs. the King of France)

Fred Anderson’s reason for producing this book is that the place we historians assign the French and Indian War in the historical narrative, he argues, is as the simple prologue of the American Revolutionary War. With this book, Anderson brings the America's most forgotten and—arguably—most important war, to the forefront to be study on its own terms and not as the inevitable beginning of a different conflict. Prior to this war, the two great colonial powers in North America were the British and French Empires. These empires were populated by colonists who were strongly identified with their imperial connections and a powerful Native American Nation in the Iroquois Confederacy that was able to provide a buffer and power broker between the two powers. After this conflict the French would be vanquished and the British would be left with an empire that was most ungovernable and the Iroquois would be set on the beginning of their fall from power.

(North America before the war)

When I was in college, I, who had always been a history buff, felt I had strong understanding of World War II. Then in my Western Civilization II class with Parker Albee, we spent some time going over World War I. I remember thinking—as if a light had gone off in my head—'I understand why World War II happened better now.' Prior, all I had known of World War I had been some of its aftermath that helped lead to World War II, but nothing in real strong detail. I now view World War I and World War II almost as the different chapters in the same historic event. Having read this book I feel the same way about my understanding of the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War, as I did with my earlier reevaluations on World War I and World War II. I realize that this may sound the opposite of Anderson’s intentions; however, I want to stress that reading this book you understand the French and Indian War as its own event but it still increases your understanding of the American Revolution.

One of the biggest things that stood out in my mind while reading this book was how some of the politics that led to the American Revolution against Britain during the late 1760s and 1770s were foreshadowed by the early events of the French and Indian War. The Earl of Loudoun, who was the commander in chief of the British armies in America, made several attempts to command the colonial governors and legislatures as if they were his colonels. His actions and the massive attempts to resist them by the colonial Anglo-Americans strongly resembled what was to come a decade later. Fortunately for the British cause in this war, William Pitt, who was a strong believer in the colonial subjects British rights, relived Loudoun of his command and set the colonial relations to rights.

(The Earl of Loudoun, a commander who left a lot to be desired.)

(William Pitt, the Great Commoner)

“By mid-December 1757, Pitt knew that if the American assemblies were to be transformed from centers of resistance into sources of men and money, he would have to reverse entirely the course of colonial policy. Instead of treating the colonies like subordinate jurisdictions and requiring them to finance the war effort by forced contributions to a common fund, Pitt resolved to treat them like allies, offering subsidies to encourage their assemblies to aid in the conquest of New France. Rather than continuing to demand that civil authority, in the persons of colonial governors and legislatures, submit to military power in the person of His Majesty's commander in chief, Pitt resolved to withhold from Loudoun's successor direct authority over the provinces. In the future, as always in the past, the governors would receive their instructions directly from the secretary of state for the Southern Department. By this new grant (or more properly, restoration) of autonomy to the provinces, by offering inducements to cooperation rather than by seeking to compel union among them, Pitt hoped to create a patriotic enthusiasm that had not been much in evidence since 1756.”p.214

In this book Anderson masterfully moves his readers from one military theater on the frontiers North America to another on continental Europe, he also cross-cuts from one political scene to another. While reading this book, the reader will go from the court of King George II to the assemblies of the American colonies, to military headquarters of Fredrick the Great, to the Massachusetts colonial militia. Yet it never becomes confusing making the reader feel out of place, Anderson's narrative flows smoothly from one event and theater to another without missing a beat.

I highly recommend this work to anyone it is really exceptional book. Fred Anderson takes a highly difficult and at times confusing subject and lays it out rather neatly making it easy for his readers to understand this war that had so much impact on the modern world.

{Video from the PBS documentary The War that Made America.}

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment on any article at anytime, regardless how long ago I posted it. I will most likely respond.