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The Shots Heard Round the World were not a government operation

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As the harsh storms of winter subside we approach the 231st anniversary of an event in American history that can provide insight and direction badly needed today. On April 19, 1775 The Shot Heard 'Round the World marked a clash of arms over a small bridge standing astride the stream at Concord, Massachusetts. We have all seen the statues and some of us have heard the poetic paeans to the event that took place there.

To this day no one knows who fired the shot but the unfolding clashes shocked the British Crown and set the stage for the first nation on Earth who proclaimed the principle of universal freedom in July of the next year.

This was not a government operation.

Perhaps the best lesson to be drawn from those events, which we have allowed to be obscured through the misted lens of time, is that this marked a moment when the people did it themselves and in so doing confounded the greatest power then existing on Earth; a power comparable to our government today.

The colonists standing at Lexington and Concord were routed; they had been standing in battle formation, as soldiers did back then. After that initial few rounds of fire they rejected the conventional approach to war and took to the woods, spontaneously conducting a guerrilla action as the Red Coats marched back to Boston. This example of spontaneous order shows a strong bent for innovation and rejection of strategies that fail. Software wonks would understand completely. Now that is a learning curve to applaud but it is not the best part.

The alarm that had gone out through the night time activities of Paul Revere and Dawes had been delivered.

At that point in time the British Empire had 8,000 men under arms across the globe. A far smaller number were serving the Crown in New England. That, the Crown felt, was entirely sufficient.

At the end of the day 10,000 Americans were marching towards Lexington and Concord, muskets, knives, and hammers in hand, prepared to kick some Red Coat Butt. Women who saw off husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, prepared to keep the home fires burning and everyone fed.

Total mobilization included everyone.

When the people decide to do something it gets done. No government could have organized these events, they came straight form the minds and hearts of the people.

The year before the colonists had nearly been caught with their pants down when another expedition of the Crown had narrowly been thwarted in its plan to confiscate the munitions being gathered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. War was coming. The Crown had cut off their supply of munitions. After the Capture of the Fort William And Mary at Portsmouth, the colonists were determined to be prepared.

The months leading up to April 19th and the Bridge had been filled with preparations that included not only ensuring that an early warning system was in place (Revere and Dawes among others) but that the crusty colonists understood the issues. Committees of Correspondence comprised of people from every town had been discussing the causes for the conflict and what we would think of today as the Mission Statement for what would be America. They had built agreement through persuasion and discourse. No one voted for war.

When the broadsides came out from Philadelphia bearing the words of the Declaration of Independence that next year this population knew what they meant.

This was an amateur operation from the beginning. They had few resources, limited munitions, and no central organizing structure. That is doubtless why it worked. They had to be inventive and be prepared to acquire expertise they lacked.

The year after the Declaration was signed, July 4, 1776, they had cobbled together an army of the same people but their lack of experienced generals made those first months of action a disaster. George Washington looked like a general but he had no training in the strategies and practicalities of war. Fortunately, he also knew how to innovate and was modest enough to see the need.

That long nasty winter at Valley Forge was not what you think it was. Men were not dying of disease and creeping away; they were having an intense round of training exercises that included training Washington to lead the troops. The trainer was Baron von Steuben, an officer with Prussian General Staff training. Soldiers who went through those winter months at Valley Forge tended to end up officers themselves.

I went in to the DAR on Benjamin Pillsbury, who went through training at Camp Valley Forge and was commissioned a lieutenant.

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Melinda Pillsbury-Foster is the author of GREED: The NeoConning of America and A Tour of Old Yosemite. The former is a novel about the lives of the NeoCons with a strong autobiographical component. The latter is a non-fiction book about her father (more...)
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