Thursday, March 24, 2011

The First No-Fly Zone Was In 1776

This is a comparison of the Libyan No-Fly zone to a similar policy in the American War of Independence.

Back in 1776, the navy was like the air force today. There was no such thing as an air force back then. The equivalent force would have been the navy. A navy was able to move freely, and relatively speedily across water, was able to bombard cities and carry troops and supplies.

Think of how the Libyan struggle is like the American War of Independence. The obvious parallels (though unflattering I suppose), the British forces in 1776 as the equivalent of Gadhafi's forces, and the American forces as the equivalent of the Libyan rebels. The Americans would have been less professional, and would not have had a navy for support, while the British had a professional army, and naval support. The Libyan rebels are less professional, and have little or no air power, though I suppose they have popular support.

Another similarity would be that some Americans, possibly one third of the population, supported the British, like some Libyans (I don't know how many) support Gadhafi. The fact that many Americans supported the British is not well known to Americans today, however it is very well known to Canadians. One of the founding groups in Canada was the Americans who were forced to flee after the defeat of the British in the American War of Independence.

So now we come to the philosophy of the no-fly zone. There was no United Nations in 1776 to declare a "No Sail" zone. So the French decided to send in their navy to neutralize the British navy off the coast of the colonies. In a sea battle called "The Battle of the Chesapeake", the French navy drove off the British navy, and allowed Washington's army to force the surrender of the British army at Yorktown. Shortly after, King George signed a deal to allow the American colonies to go free.

If this history is anything to go by, Gadhafi will eventually step down. But the rebels will show very little gratitude to the people who stepped in to help them, just as the Americans largely turned their backs on the French, once independence was achieved.

Picture: Battle of the Chesapeake from Wikipedia, with my own red circle superimposed in Photoshop.


  1. Well, I suspect it may be stretching a point to draw parallels between the current Libyan 'no-fly zone' and French involvement in the American Revolutionary War.

    The French and British had, of course, been at odds for a considerable period prior to the American revolution, but most recently in the Seven Years' War a decade earlier (which had cost France her Canadian colonies).

    Still nursing animosity against the British, the French secretly supplied the Americans with matériel at the start of the revolution in 1776, and then openly entered the war in 1778, culminating in the French victory in the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781.

    So, in the 1776-1778 period, vessels of the French Navy were operating as blockade runners (against the British blockade) and, starting in 1778, as direct combatants.

    However, it is interesting that this essential support from the French receives so little mention in mainstream American history (and that the Americans would be so quick to turn on the French).

  2. Speaking of "mainstream" American history, there is a cartoon version of the War of Independence, called "Liberty's Kids". I have seen it often on TV, and it has about 40 half hour episodes.

    Yorktown Episode

    In episode 36, the Battle of Yorktown, you can easily see why Americans may dismiss the help of the French. Several ideas are subtly or not subtly communicated by this cartoon. I'm guessing that the historical part of this cartoon is how the battle is taught in American high schools, and likely in university too.

    - The British were guilty of criminal mistreatment of their black soldiers. And when Washington handed the surrendered black soldiers back into slavery, it was because "That's the law and we'll deal with one thing at at time."

    - Rochambeau (the French General) did not contribute any ideas to the campaign in this version of history, but according to Wikipedia it was his idea to attack Yorktown instead of New York (Washington's plan), and his idea to make the British surrender to the Americans instead of the French at Yorktown.

    - No French soldiers were portrayed in this version of the actual attack on Yorktown. (Although to be fair, it was clearly enough stated in the cartoon that they were present)

    - In this version, The Battle of Chesapeake was won by the French only because the British admiral was incompetent. (which is possibly true, obviously mean spirited in not giving the French their due, when over 200 French sailors gave their lives for American independence in that battle.)

    - The impact of this battle was apparently only to cut off retreat for the British in Yorktown, and it is left for the viewer to assume the Americans would have won anyway. But looking at the earlier conquest of Quebec, if the British had won this naval battle, quite likely they would have won the land battle too.

    Many people argue that the opposition by the French to the invasion of Iraq in 2002 was a betrayal, even though some Americans now admit the attack was a mistake. (Including one of the representatives who introduced the "Freedom Fries" bill.)

    It was also the French who opposed George Washington attacking New York. In hindsight, again, the French were right: the win at Yorktown effectively ended the war of independence.

    Imagine if George Washington had been childish enough to ignore the French advice, and unsuccessfully attacked New York, and then renamed French Fries "Freedom Fries" in retaliation.

  3. George Washington's initial experience at New York (in 1776) was an almost unqualified disaster, redeemed only by the relatively insignificant Battle of Trenton.

    However, Trenton did serve as a morale booster and fodder for considerable subsequent propaganda, including the famous (1851) Emanuel Leutze painting of Washington Crossing the Delware.

    However, all the then current and subsequent propaganda and cant notwithstanding, historians such as Howard Zinn suggest that the American revolution simply replaced one form of tyranny with another.

  4. I didn't know that Howard Zinn's book was online, so thanks for that link.