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The pitfalls of remembering war: One thing more dangerous than not learning the lesson is learning the wrong lesson

Overall, though, I found the book unpersuasive in its argument that the role of militias in the Revolution has been overestimated.

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I came across an interesting example of that in A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789, which one of youse recommended to me back in June.

The British came away from the French & Indian War with the belief that the Americans couldn’t fight. They blamed the colonials for early setbacks in that war. This bit them on the butt two decades later. “The old stereotype about the lack of American martial prowess, so firmly planted during the French and Indian War, was there” in official British treatment of the early rebels during the Revolution. 

Overall, though, I found the book unpersuasive in its argument that the role of militias in the Revolution has been overestimated. Yes, militias were poor at set-piece battles. And they were not effective when far from home. But when used properly, to harass British supply lines near their own colonial homes, they were persistent and effective. Oddly, the book mentions this but never really assesses it. Instead, it accepts the estimate of regular officers that the militia was just no good.

Ironically, while the militias were militarily effective, the role of Washington’s Continental Army was not to be military effective but to avoid battle and remain in existence.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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