Author and filmmaker, Derek Beck, joins us for our exclusive author interview for this week! He is the author of Igniting the American Revolution: 1773-1775 – our CBC’s Editor’s Pick of the Week. Beck discusses the American Revolution, why it’s important to keep teaching our children about it, and what we can learn from the Revolutionary War about our current armed conflicts around the world.
Congratulations Mr. Beck on your Igniting the American Revolution book series! Can you give us an overview of them, and what was your inspiration in writing them?
Thank you so very much for the interview. I have always loved military history in general, and after moving to Boston for a graduate degree at MIT, I discovered my love of revolutionary history in particular.
Meanwhile, I had spent an assignment in the Air Force at Los Angeles AFB, where I discovered an interest in filmmaking and took some courses and shot some short fil began this Igniting… endeavor as a film script actually. But as I worked on that script, I discovered there was a lot that was still unsaid about the Revolution. I felt history was often times not portrayed in an exciting way as other books frequently failed to capture the drama.
So my film script became these two books, Igniting the American Revolution, and The War Before Independence. The first gives the foundation of the war and tells the story from the Boston Tea Party to the first shots at Lexington and Concord outside Boston. The second continues that story by plunging the reader into the Battle of Bunker Hill, gives the drama of George Washington molding the militias into the Continental Army while another American force attacks British forces in Canada, and ultimately climaxes with two showdowns – one at the Battle of Quebec City and the Battle for Boston.
The visuals of that original movie script are still there and the books, though pure nonfiction, read like action novels. There’s too much material for a movie now, but I still hope to one day develop them as a miniseries.
What three takeaways would you like readers to leave with after reading them?
History is exciting. Second, the shades of gray of the story of the Revolution make it very compelling—it was more complex than just the Yankee “good guys” and the British “bad guys”. And third, an appreciation for my favorite early American personality: Dr. Joseph Warren.
What got you interested in the American Revolution?
I think it was really just the richness of Revolutionary War history in Boston. Living in and around Boston, that history is everywhere. In other important battle sites of the Revolution, such as in New York City, this richness has mostly been swept away or destroyed by modern construction. But Boston has a revolutionary feel everywhere. It’s hard to live in that area and not find some inspiration from it.
What can we learn from American Revolution that may be helpful in our current armed conflicts in the Middle East?
Probably the most important lesson, one history has told many times, is that to fight and win a war from across the sea many thousands of miles away, the population must feel a real, existential threat in order to grow popular support. The people’s support is vital, as with it comes funding and the necessary overwhelming troop numbers to prosecute the war. Without it, the war becomes often times untenable.
We saw this with Britain fighting in America in the Revolution, we saw it with the U.S. in Vietnam, and we saw it again before the surge with the U.S. in Iraq. And perhaps we are seeing it again with Syria. These examples are unlike the WWII and even Afghanistan conflicts because both of those involved strikes against the homeland and thus easily gained popular support. But without that direct and immediate threat to the homeland, Britain’s fight in America was just as unpopular at home as was America’s fight in Iraq.
If you could meet any three revolutionary figures, who would they be and why?
First, I’d meet Dr. Joseph Warren. He’s the “George Washington” of the early part of the Revolution, the man who sent Paul Revere on his famous ride, and once even more famous than George. Yet there is much we do not know of him today, in part because many of his letters are lost.
Second, I’d like to meet Benedict Arnold because he’s fascinating. He’s remembered now as a traitor, but he’s not the first traitor of the war. He’s really remembered because he fell so far, being once a hero and top general in the Continental Army. A man that goes from conquering hero to joining his enemy—there’s a lot of complexity there, and he’s a man worthy of meeting, to understand him, and his fall from grace. So much of Arnold remains unknown.
Finally, George Washington because, well, he’s George Washington! Yet, maybe that is a waste of my three wishes since George Washington kept many letters and diaries, and so I feel like I know him well. But meeting the top general of the war is rather irresistible!
If I could have a fourth, it’d be British Lt. Gen. William Howe, the general in charge for much of the war. It would be fascinating to see the British perspective from the very top.
Thank you so very much for the interview.
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