Thursday, September 14, 2023

"Gideon's Revolution"

Brian Carso, a lawyer and historian, has studied the American Revolution and the life of Benedict Arnold for more than two decades.

Carso applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Gideon's Revolution, and reported the following:
Gideon’s Revolution is a story filled with action: ships at sea, clandestine meetings, soldiers in battle. To the contrary, however, page 69 depicts a quiet conversation between the two main characters while one of them lies flat on his back. Still, the Page 69 Test works, because their brief discussion sheds light on one of the mysteries of the novel—indeed, one of the mysteries of American history.

Page 69 finds General Benedict Arnold, the hero of Saratoga, lying on his back in a hospital bed with his shattered leg encased in a fracture box. Gideon Wheatley, a captain in the Continental Army and the narrator of the novel, has just told Arnold that British General Johnny Burgoyne has surrendered to General Gates. It is a great victory for the Americans, but Arnold is bitter. He describes the surrender ceremony that will occur, and the traditional banquet the officers of both armies will attend. He explains to Wheatley the purpose of the banquet:
“To celebrate valor and courage,” he said, flat on his back, looking upward at the ceiling. “There would be glasses set out, and liquor, probably rum. Burgoyne would offer a toast, maybe to Gates, maybe to General Washington. Gates would return the honor: I imagine he would toast the king’s health. All the officers would commingle: the British and the Germans, talking with the Americans, observing all possible niceties, complimenting the demeanor of their respective armies, outdoing each other in displaying the virtues of gentlemen—gentlemen who go to war, gentlemen who face each other on the battlefield, gentlemen who kill one another—but gentlemen who know that the battlefield is the seedbed of valor, where a man’s soul and his character are on display for the world to witness.”

He turned his head to face me. “You know this, Captain, as well as any: the battlefield is the theater of courage. As much as we fight to vanquish the enemy, we fight to establish our honor.”

Arnold turned his gaze back toward the ceiling. “Mind you, the broth suits me fine. I do not need the fancy meats, nor the pompous conversation.”

His eyes shot around the room, looked at me, then rested back on the ceiling.

“But they should know who led the fight. They should know who beat them.”

A gust of wind blew against the window.

“You did, sir,” I said. But I was only one voice.
Arnold’s quest for honor is central to understanding both his virtuous behavior and the defect of his character. Consider this: While a teenager, Arnold’s once-prosperous family suffered the death of two beloved children, followed by his father’s descent into severe alcoholism, and subsequent financial ruin. Researching this novel, I examined records of the church where Arnold’s mother and father were parishioners. Initially, the Arnold family sat in a box pew at the front of the church, obtained by their generous tithe. Over the course of several years, they forfeited this high-status seat for the regular long pews in the back of the church, which came at a much lower cost, and soon thereafter were relegated to standing in the very back of the church with the poorest families.

When we ask ourselves, why did Arnold—America’s best battlefield general—betray his cause and comrades, we have to consider how Arnold’s passionate quest to redeem his family’s good name and honor motivated his valor and courage. When these virtues went unrecognized, or were flustered by competing political interests, Arnold chose to go elsewhere for the validation he so desperately longed for. Where he went, sadly, was to the British Army.
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My Book, The Movie: Gideon's Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue