1776: When Britain and America Went to War by David McCullough - review by Nigel Jones

Nigel Jones

An Uncivil War

1776: When Britain and America Went to War


Allen Lane The Penguin Press 368pp £20

Civil wars are notoriously the worst of all armed conflicts. To the miseries of danger, death, wounds, heat, cold, disease, fatigue and separation from homes and loved ones is added an extra twist – the division of families, friends and neighbours, which often produces extreme abysses of savagery absent from 'normal' wars between nations. Recently, historians of the American War of Independence have revised the traditional view that this was a clean and clear-cut colonial conflict, the noble birth of a new nation. Instead, they have reconfigured the story of the struggle as a complex civil war between Americans over two diametrically different visions of their country's future.

While the traditional heroic, black-and-white view of bad, mad King George's evil redcoated Brits (and hired Hessian mercenaries) pitching themselves in futile cruelty against wise, good George Washington's homespun farmers has the virtue of simplicity (a great and graspable myth to teach to the children of America), it is as

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