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Bateman: American History 101 — The legacy of greatness

By Oliver Bateman

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In addition to serving as a frequent topic for undergraduate history essays, the Civil War is… In addition to serving as a frequent topic for undergraduate history essays, the Civil War is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. To commemorate that old chestnut, as well as any equally-aged chestnuts you might have to write about, we’ve decided to compose a handful of can’t-miss summaries that are guaranteed to reduce the amount of time that you have to spend skimming articles on Wikipedia to figure out what the heck actually happened those many centuries ago.

Columbus and the Columbian Discovery (1-1000 A.D.). Christopher Columbus (note: Don’t confuse him with the guy who directed the first two “Harry Potter” films, because many professors hate that) discovered America when he was searching for a better route to the land of herbs and spices. In the course of his search, he stumbled upon our future homeland, then a wilderness most ignorant Europeans thought was inhabited by monsters such as the Santa Claus and the Holy Ghost. This “New World” would later lend its name to America Ferrera, winsome breakout star of the hit ABC dramedy “Ugly Betty.” Princess Pocahontas fits in here somewhere, too.

Pilgrims (1700-plus A.D.). Facing discrimination in their homeland of Old England, the Pilgrims sailed to New England and founded the most egalitarian society in the history of mankind. Best known for their tricorner hats, peace pipes and fondness of turkey dinners with all the fixings, they have inspired our love of the true religion (Protestant Christianity) and are clearly among the most important people around. Aside: Those Looney Tunes cartoons where Elmer Fudd is dressed up like a Pilgrim and hunting Bugs Bunny are pretty much all you need to study to get a 5 on the AP U.S. History test.

The Revolution (1776 A.D.). Unlike in Old England, where the peasants just sat around and swallowed whatever lukewarm gruel their mean kings and queens were dishing out, our American Founding Fathers stood up for themselves. The Fathers had an easy time against the Redcoats, who were distinguished in the field by their bright red coats, and hurled their sissified tea leaves and hated income taxes into the Boston Harbor. Afterward, there was a short period during which nothing happened, and then the Founders met inside the Liberty Bell (it was crowded in there, hence the cracking) to invent our human rights. Fun fact: Today’s Tea Party members are direct descendants of the brave men (and no women) who participated in this legendary movement.

Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration and the Constitution (Eternal). Thomas Jefferson, one of the demigods whose faces adorn the coins we once used to wash our laundry, was determined that no king, queen, duke, viscount or marquis was ever going to place an income tax on his right to own slaves. To this end, he wrote a Declaration and Constitution to the effect that all rich white males were created equal, income taxes were forbidden, powdered wigs were awesome and slaves were only two-fifths away from being real people.

Civil War (150 years ago). This was a war that turned brother against brother and led to several interesting movies where thousands of extras in fancy uniforms charge at each other across a big field. Abe Lincoln delivered a famous speech that granted the slaves their extra two-fifths of humanity, Robert E. Lee proved himself to be a true gentleman and good triumphed over evil, as it always does. This war is still being fought in the form of reenactments — which are not nearly as entertaining as that stage where you shoot hundreds of innocent civilians in “Call of Duty 6” — and endorsed on the flags of various Southern states.

Prohibition (Roaring ’20s A.D.). According to the shows we’ve watched, America was ruled by warring gangsters during this lively and exciting period. Alcohol flowed more freely than it ever had before, and life was just one huge party occasionally interrupted by colorful shootouts with the police. Women dressed as flappers, the Charleston was danced nonstop and mythological creatures such as Babe Ruth and Red Grange walked the earth.

Great Depression (After the Roaring ’20s A.D.). When the Roaring ’20s stopped roaring, the nation fell into a Great Depression. This was understandable, given how fun the previous period had been, and there was something romantic about throwing a bindle stick over your shoulder and leading the stress-free life of a hobo. At some point, one of the two Roosevelts passed a New Deal, and then the World War started.

The World War (1941 A.D.). The World War was the most heroic of all the wars, pitting the forces of Heaven (the United States along with the French, Russian and English empires) against the forces of Satan (Nazis), the forces of honorable badness (Japan) and the one country that’s bound to trip you up on the test (Italy). All sorts of memorable battles occurred, such as the one where Ben Affleck ate an animal cracker off Liv Tyler’s stomach and the one where Private Ryan was saved, and eventually the United States emerged as the unquestioned ruler of the entire universe. There was a Cold War after that, which contributed to the emergence of the ’60s.

The ’60s (The ’60s). The ’60s were a time of protest and excellent music, most of it inspired by the Cold War. Bands like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Jefferson Airplanes, the Deep Purples and The Band banded together to demand the extra human rights that Thomas Jefferson was too busy powdering his wigs and managing his slave plantations to bother inventing. The videos of the major protests look pretty cool, and it’s clear that most people were smoking weed. Overall, a really sweet time, and one worth remembering at those theme parties where you’re required to dress like a hippie.

Today (2010 A.D.-now). There’s so much technology here in the future, which is why people call this an “Information Age.” But get this: Our forefathers didn’t have any technology at all! Columbus located America without the use of Google Maps and managed to woo Princess Pocahontas with love poetry instead of a witty personal ad on Match.com or a “casual encounters” posting on Craigslist.org. The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution and then couldn’t even upload it to their blogs or link their Facebook friends to it. The more you think about, the more you realize that it’s the differences that have made today not the same as it once was.

Oliver Bateman is the curator of the Moustache History Club of America. Learn the straight dope about the past, such as the identity of the big-name director who filmed the moon landing, by visiting moustacheclubofamerica.com.

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Bateman: American History 101 — The legacy of greatness