Every day, I walk our nine year old daughter to school here in London. It’s a 15 minute walk, which gives us a nice amount of time to talk. I take advantage of the opportunity to teach her about an important aspect of the world – a different topic every day. Not just facts, but perspective.
I call it Dadsplaining.
*This post really is a true and accurate representation of our conversations, captured the next day, and lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Daughter: Daddy, I’d like to know about July the 4th.
Daddy: First off, no one calls it that. Do you mean the 4th of July? What do you know about it already?
Daughter: Isn’t that when the America beat Britain in the war for their independence?
Daddy: Not exactly. It’s when America declared its independence, but the war hadn’t happened yet.
Daughter: But can you tell me what the British were like to the Americans? Why did they need to have a war?
Daddy: At the time there wasn’t an America, there weren’t even states. There were 13 separate colonies, each of them loyal to the crown, to Britain.
Daughter: 13, is that why there are 13 stripes on the American flag?
Daddy: Yes, that’s right – how did you know that? Anyway, these 13 colonies were far away from Britain, but they still had to pay taxes and they had to listen to what Britain told them to do. Keep in mind that most of the people who lived in the colonies were people who chose to leave Britain, either for a better life, or for more freedom of religion. And these were tough people, as America was a rough land, filled with wolves and bears and Indians. You had to work really hard and be tough to survive, and you mostly had to do it on your own. Now imagine you are a farmer in New Hampshire and you build your own house and run your own farm and you have to pay taxes to someone thousands of miles away.
Daughter: There’s a new Hampshire?
Daddy: Yes, it was one of the colonies, and then it became a state.
Daughter: Isn’t it funny that the places in America, like new York are more popular than the places here in England like York?
Daddy: More popular? Do you mean bigger? I’m not sure that…
Daughter: No, I mean like more tourists want to go there.
Daddy: I’m not sure there are so many tourists in New Hampshire, but anyway, imagine you’re a farmer in New Hampshire and you’re paying taxes and you feel that the King isn’t giving you enough in return and not listening to you when you complain about it. And keep in mind this farmer is tough and self-reliant, and he’s got a load of guns for shooting wolves and bears and Indians. Basically, he’s as tough as any soldier. Eventually colonists like this farmer decided they had enough and on the 4th of July, 1776 they declared their independence from Britain. They said “we don’t need you and we’re prepared to fight to be able to decide things for ourselves.” But there was still a war to fight. This was just the declaration.
Daughter: They wanted to be free.
Daddy: I think that’s right, but I want you to remember that we’re talking about white male landowners. If you were a woman, you weren’t going to get to vote in America as a country or a colony. And there were slaves too. So we’re talking about the white males in the colony wanting more freedom than they had. People like George Washington, who they made into America’s main general to fight the war.
Daughter: [Looking a little sad] Tell me about the war. How did America win?
Daddy: At first, it didn’t look like they could win. Britain had a large, disciplined army and America was pulling together troops from all over the colonies and although they were tough from all the killing of wolves, bears and Indians, they hadn’t fought together and they weren’t really trained. And also, there wasn’t a lot of money for them. Even if you were fighting for your freedom, you still had to get paid, because remember that only men could really work and make money and own land. So they needed to have money to send back to their families so they wouldn’t starve. So if you were America, and you had fewer troops, not as good equipment, and you were fighting a larger, more organised British army, would you line up to fight them in one big battle?
Daughter: No, because you would probably lose.
Daddy: Yes, so the Americans decided, for the most part to attack British soldiers using guerilla tactics. Have you heard that phrase before – a guerilla war? It comes from the Spanish word for war – guerra, it means “little war,” or the kind of war where you fight little battles rather than big ones, and you do it when you face an opponent who is more powerful than you.
Daughter: Did they get little gorillas to fight for them?
Daddy: No. They did not get little gorillas to fight for them. I just explained it’s spelled G-U-E-R-I-L-L-A, it’s not the same word as “gorilla.”
Daughter: Look – there’s a gorilla war! [She points to an ad on the side of a bus for the film “War for the Planet of The Apes”]
Daddy: Nice one! But can I get back to the story? So the Americans try to avoid a big battle because they figure the longer they hold out for, the more difficult the war gets to be for the British, after all, they have to send troops and supplies thousands of miles across the ocean to get to America. The British have some early victories, for example they take over New York City and hold onto it for the rest of the war. But the Americans fight them in little battles everywhere and make it difficult for them. The big turning point is when France enters the war to help America.
Daughter: France? Like from Paris?
Daddy: America’s oldest friend in the world is France. French soldiers were already in Canada, and as they were already enemies of Britain, they helped America, armed the American soldiers and then eventually fought with them. Have you ever heard the phrase: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?”
Daughter: Ooh, that’s like Olivia at the YMCA. You know how she is my nemesis? Well if I met someone else at the YMCA who hated her too, then I would be friends with them!
Daddy: Okay… I guess that is what it’s like. So France helped America to fight Olivia, I mean to fight the British, and eventually at the battle of Yorktown, the British surrendered and the war was over and America was finally a free, independent country. And this news was like a bombshell back in London, because the British army was not at all used to losing wars. I think they may have been thinking: “we’ve lost for now, but we can always try to go back and fight again.” But then after the war, Britain discovered that, thanks to all the slaves in the USA, there was a lot of money to be made in purchasing cotton from the American south. So it wasn’t long before Britain and America became more or less friendly again, working together to make loads of money off the back of slave labour and the slave trade. But that’s a story for another morning.
Daughter: So that’s what you celebrate on July the 4th?
Daddy: Er, not the slave bit. The rest of it. Just the rest of it.