Friday, July 01, 2005

Brian Williams: "Several U.S. presidents were. . . probably considered terrorists of their time by the Crown in England"

Brian Williams is the latest to engage in a shallow historical analogy and expose himself to criticism. Prior to last night's NBC News telecast, Williams wrote:
Many Americans woke up to a curious story this morning: several of the former Iran Hostages have decided there is a strong resemblance between Iran's new president and one of their captors more than 25 years ago. The White House and most official branches of government are ducking any substantive comment on this story, and photo analysis is going on at this and other news organizations. It is a story that will be at or near the top of our broadcast and certainly made for a robust debate in our afternoon editorial meeting, when several of us raised the point (I'll leave it to others to decide germaneness) that several U.S. presidents were at minimum revolutionaries, and probably were considered terrorists of their time by the Crown in England.
He followed this up in his nightly newscast when, referring to the report on the story by Andrea Mitchell, Williams asked,
"What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today the first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries and might have been called 'terrorists' by the British crown, after all."[source]
GOP Vixen has one of many responses:
I'd like to add to the pile of facts being assembled by reminding Williams that John Adams, no doubt one of the "terrorists" Williams was talking about, successfully defended, in the face of fierce public opinion, British soldiers accused of firing into a crowd in what came to be known as The Boston Massacre.
Another remarked that
During the Revolutionary War, the British burned homes of settlers, executed ‘traitors’ and ransacked the nation. We gave the British soldiers quarter for the most part and eventually shipped a large number of Red Coats back to England . . . alive. Never did American soldiers storm into buildings and take everyone inside hostage.
While these and others are properly critical of Williams' facile analogy, he also should be critized for anachronistically applying the terminology of "terrorism" to actions in the Revolutionary Era. As such, I would add that the Loyalists in the American Colonies weren't treated well by their Revolutionary neighbors, however to call their actions "terrorism" is simply not correct. (Also, I'd advise that no one calls on the church-burning scene in The Patriot as proof for British atrocities!) Finally, I realize this incident is being seized upon by some of the usual suspects, but that shouldn't stop historians of all political stripes from being critical of Williams.

UPDATE: Callimachus at Done With Mirrors has posted his own worthwhile thoughts, including a bit on what the British thought of the American Revolutionaries and a link to the etymological origins of "terrorism."


Callimachus said...

Bravo, for calling B.S. on this one. Though picking on TV newsmen's historical literacy has that fish + barrel + shotgun quality.

I fired from two angles, just to be sure: how the founders fought the war (the comment referred to presidents, not to local militias harassing the Loyalists, which certainly happened), and what the British thought of them which was a bit more difficult for me to trace, since my library isn't thick in that department. Maybe someone else has more. That, after all, was the gist of the comment.

Kudos, too, for noting the "terrorist" anachronism. The history of that word is here.

Citing myself three times in one post; what am I becoming?

Marc said...

Thanks for the add'l info. That's what I'm looking for, too, so your self-referentialism served a greater purpose than mere "plugging." "Not that there's anything wrong with that..."