Thursday, November 10, 2011

ABF: The Story of Us

This week in honor of Veteran's Day I have been watching "America: The Story of Us" on Netflix's watch it now service.  It is narrated by Liev Schreiber, an actor I love, though his voice is hard to recognize in this work... I think they did something to the pitch and timbre of his voice electronically.  It doesn't have the richness in the deep notes like his voice does in, say, "Kate and Leopold" or "Xmen Origins: Wolverine".

This twelve-episode mini-series is a look at America from its first days.  I have so far gotten halfway through, from the landing of the first settlers, to American cities like New York in the early 1900's.  It tends to skim or gloss over some areas, such as the witch trials in Salem, but some condensing of the information is to be expected... otherwise this would be a never-ending saga.  Other areas, I was pleasantly surprised to learn new things, such as the story of Prussian general von Steuben.  Had never heard of him.  Looked up from my knitting and went "Huh?  Who's that guy?" when he was mentioned.

Friedrich von Steuben was a former Prussian military man who was brought to General Washington's attention by Benjamin Franklin.  He trained the men at Valley Forge during the day, drilling them in maneuvers, and at night he wrote military training manuals, some parts of which are still in use in the American military today.  His changes in uniform cleanliness saved the lives of our soldiers who were dying of diseases running rampant through the camp.  His improvements to marching and discipline made our men more imposing and effective on the battlefield.  He pretty much saved our forces at Valley Forge.  Why had I never read about him in my high school text books?  Oh... rumors of him being gay forced him to resign from the Prussian army.  So my Puritan high school text books wrote him out completely?  Crap.  (If any of my fellow C-I HS survivors remembers reading about him, let me know... I'd be interested.)

Most of the things that have surprised me so far have been the inventions and circumstances that had a huge impact on the character of the people that make up America.  Like the fact that the only reason the Statue of Liberty is in New York instead of some other city is due to thousands of New Yorkers donating money in pennies and nickels to build the structure she stands on.  That a fire in a New York sewing factory is responsible for the work safety measures still in use today.  That Sears and Roebuck got its start from a railroad telegraph operator who needed a watch to coordinate with other stations on his railroad line.  That barbed wire was invented by a farmer who wanted the Texas cowboys moving their cattle north to keep the trampling mass out of their crops.

It's a fascinating look at what makes us Americans what we are.  I look forward to the second half as we move into the early 20th century and get into the world wars, the nuclear bomb scare, and the turn of the millenium.

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