Thursday, December 8, 2016

Larrie D. Ferreiro's "Brothers at Arms"

Larrie D. Ferreiro received his PhD in the History of Science and Technology from Imperial College London. He teaches history and engineering at George Mason University in Virginia and the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. He has served for over thirty-five years in the US Navy, US Coast Guard and Department of Defense, and was an exchange engineer in the French Navy. He is the author of Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World and Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800.

Ferreiro applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It, and reported the following:
In Brothers at Arms, I treat France and Spain as the inseparable alliance they truly were, and describe from their points of view the full extent and depth of their involvement in the American Cause. France and Spain, together, supported the War of American Independence before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, even before the Americans themselves knew that their revolution would lead to war. By the time that war had ended and America had secured its independence, France and Spain together had supplied over 90% of the guns used by the Americans, over $30 billion equivalent in aid and over 200,000 soldiers and sailors. In actual fact, the United States could never have won the war without France, and France could never have succeeded without Spain.

But the most important thing to remember is that France and Spain, although they helped the Americans in their war against Britain, were always acting in their own national interests. That’s true of any nation at any time, but Americans often lose sight of this when considering the Revolution. Page 99 clearly demonstrates this when describing the events shortly after France and the United States signed the Treaty of Alliance in February 1778, which brought France directly into the war with Britain:
A few weeks [after the signing of the treaty between France and America], GĂ©rard invited the American commissioners to be presented before the king, in a short ceremony that nevertheless had enormous significance — when the Swiss Guards opened the doors at noon of March 20, they announced them as “the ambassadors of the Thirteen United Provinces,” the first official reference by a foreign power to America as a sovereign nation. Louis XVI assured them of his friendship with their government, while Vergennes praised their “wisest, most reserved conduct.”

Franklin and his delegation were justifiably proud of what they had achieved to date— first, an agreement to provide their new nation with arms and munitions, and second, a treaty allying their nation with France— but in actual fact they had had little influence over the course of those events. Vergennes’s initial decision to secretly arm the American insurgents was not due to Deane’s entreaties or Beaumarchais’s silver tongue, but instead to prevent Portugal from expanding its war with Spain onto the European continent. The French- American alliance was agreed to not so much because Saratoga was a great American victory, but rather because Vergennes had decided that their more numerous defeats, such as those at Long Island and Brandywine, demonstrated that despite their growing abilities, the insurgents were still likely to lose the war without direct intervention, and a reunited Britain was simply too dangerous to contemplate.
France’s foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, had been the driving force behind every major initiative taken by France during the war, but like any state leader worthy of the title, he would not commit his country to a war in support of a foreign power except when it furthered France’s own interests. France’s aims, first and foremost, were to use the war of American Independence as the means to weaken Britain politically and militarily, in order for France to regain its prominence in the European balance of power. By the same token, Spain would soon enter the war because it wanted to regain the territories, like Florida and Gibraltar, which it had lost to Britain in previous wars. Brothers at Arms shows that, from 1775 to 1783, the interests of France, Spain and America had converged against Britain, which allowed the United States to emerge victorious, not simply by its own deeds but rather as the centerpiece of an international coalition united against a common adversary.
Learn more about Brothers at Arms at the Knopf website.

My Book, The Movie: Brothers at Arms.

--Marshal Zeringue