Over breakfast, my husband told me he'd just heard a surprising statistic on public radio: 40% of 18-29 year olds in this country don't know who the American colonists were fighting in the Revolutionary War.
At first, I didn't believe it. Close to half of young adults can't identify the "other side" in the U.S. War for Independence? Come on, this is basic stuff: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Red Coats, the Boston Tea Party. It's not like asking someone to name the first five presidents.
So I started doing some research. Although I couldn't find that exact statistic, I found something close, which seems to be all over the Internet today: a survey of Americans aged 18-65 revealed that a full 26% are unable to identify the British as the people we fought for U.S. independence.
It gets better. According to this recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, half of all Americans surveyed believe that the Revolutionary War came AFTER the War of 1812, the Civil War, or the Emancipation Proclamation.
Evidently, details surrounding the American Revolution have become hazy, or maybe irrelevant, to a growing number of Americans. That is certainly troubling.
But then how do we make sense of this assertion from Ancestry.com, the big subscription genealogy site: 60% of Americans have ancestors who were living during the Revolutionary War. At least that's what they claim, in the holiday promotional e-mail I received a few days ago. The Ancestry people were highlighting a group of new records from the 1700's that are now available, for a price, on their site.
So I now have another statistic to question. More than half of us have roots that go back to the colonial era? That seems hard to believe. So many Americans (or their ancestors) arrived in the United States far more recently than 1776.
I think of my own case, with family who emigrated from Europe during the Ellis Island era. I certainly don't have any direct ancestors on the roster of Revolutionary War solders! At best, I might be able to locate a distant great-great.....great grandparent back in Scotland, with offspring who ended up in Colonies. (Of course, I could just as easily have a very distant cousin who arrived with British troops, to put down the rebellion.)
But family history isn't really the point. Even if my ancestors didn't fight a war for independence, as Americans we all share that history. "We" did fight the British for our independence. "We" also drove Native Americans off their land, profited (directly or indirectly) from slavery, and fought a bloody Civil War, for the right and the wrong reasons. It's our history as Americans, and we need to acknowledge all of it, even when there are parts of it that are hard to embrace.
We certainly need to have a minimal understanding of the facts.
Happy July 4th. I'm off to watch the fireworks.
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders