Lambertville NJ July 17 2013
On the first day of our ride with the Lafayette Riders we crossed the Delaware. We had to: every American student learns at school that it was an important date in the history of the nation and knows the painting displayed at the MET in NYC representing a proud General Washington leading his men across the icy river. The crossing of the Delaware river by Washington on December 26 , 1776 was mainly a public relation operation, to be compared with the famous French “Bonaparte au Pont d’Arcole ” 20 years later . In both case a relatively unimportant military operation is blown up by commentators and gets a resounding effect thanks to its exploitation by those we would call today “PR specialists”. The event is extolled as a feat of great importance and used to cheer up the morale of the troops and of the civil populations.
Not that it was easy to cross the Delaware by night in a bitterly cold night with 2400 soldiers in rags, then attack by surprise the Hessian mercenaries who were soundly drunk in their barracks. But the victory was more symbolic than real, in a time where Washington and his band of rebels in tatters were crushed by the powerful British army.
250 years later it still is part of the legend that helps building a national identity, the American identity.
French identity also is based on the PR exploitation of relatively small event transformed into identity cement. The stories around the American revolutionary war can be compared with the legend of Napoleon.In both cases generation after generation minor events become epic legends. In other words history is in many ways a marketing business!