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New York World Telegram & Sun
Monday, Oct. 9, 1950, p.22
Sterling North Reviews the Books
The Proud and the Free
This is the story of a mutiny likely to incite future mutinies. It is a shameless appeal to prejudice if not to treason, and one of the most scandalous perversions of American history ever caught skulking behind the jacket of a novel.
It glamorizes the mutiny of the Pennsylvania line at Morristown, N.J., in January, 1781, an occasion so nearly fatal to the American cause that Sir Henry Clinton believed for a time that it meant the collapse of the Revolution.
* * *
To list the glaring historical errors in this novel would take a book of equal length. As I write this review within sound and sight of the soldiers' huts south of Morristown, where the mutiny occurred, I cannot believe that the author has more than the vaguest knowledge of the terrain, the personalities or the issues involved. And what facts he has used have been twisted beyond recognition.
There is no doubt that the Pennsylvania line had real grievances. Their pay was in arrears. Many who thought they had enlisted for three years found that they had enlisted for the duration. The food was inadequate. And what particularly incensed the men was the fact that they hadn't been getting their run ration. An accurate and objective picture of this fairly orderly uprising can be found in Carl Van Doren's Mutiny in January. Needless to say, it has little in common with Howard Fast's violent and prejudiced piece of propaganda.
No letter, memoir or scrap of written evidence has come down to us from any of the mutineers themselves. And yet Fast does not hesitate to give the impression that most of this material is from such sources.
* * *
To give you some idea of the Fast approach to "history," there is not a single instance in this book of a decent officer, nor of a less-than-noble soldier of the Pennsylvania line. Next to the "officer gentry" the author saves his most scurrilous epithets for the "Yankees," who, it seems, ran away at every encounter while the "Foreign Brigades" stood firm.
The Pennsylvania regiments were only in part foreign born. They were almost as American as the New England regiments, despite the German-speaking, Scotch-Irish and other recruits. But to paint the Pennsylvania line as principally made up of Jews, Catholics, Negroes, Poles and other minorities is sheer perversion of the truth as anyone who has examined the muster rolls can testify.
No doubt there were brave men of all these minorities who stood and died valiantly, as they certainly did in all of America's later wars. They should be remembered with pride. But to say "(the Yankees) ran away but we stood and died" is not only a prevarication, but the rankest kind of Anglo-Saxon baiting. Nor did the later mutinous Pennsylvania line outfight their New England brothers at "New York, White Plains, Trenton, Monmouth and Stony Point" as Fast implies.
* * *
Fast misses no possible opportunity in this book to fan violent racial, religious and class prejudice: Catholic against Protestant, Jew against Gentile, Negro against white, region against region, class against class and above all soldier against officer.
He makes it appear that the officers were living in riotous luxury in the "fine and genteel houses" around the camp. With the exception of the Peter Kemble house, there were few "fine and genteel houses" in the immediate area, and except for Anthony Wayne himself, the officers were for the most part living in huts almost identical with those of the soldiers as Fast could have discovered by examining the authentic reproductions now on the site.
Hates All "Gentry."
Of the "patroons" of New Jersey (Fast seems a little confused out here beyond the Hudson) the two most prominent gentlemen were Major Gen. Stirling, a very loyal American officer, and William Livingston, the Revolutionary Governor of New Jersey. With the exception of Peter Kemble himself, the "Tory gentry" around Morristown were exceedingly unimportant.
Perhaps the major injustice in the book is the slanderous portrait of Gen. (Mad Anthony) Wayne, pictured as barbarously cruel, foolhardy (rather than brave), arrogant, dictatorial and stupid. Fast found it necessary in this case to splash his mud on one of America's outstanding heroes.
* * *
Gen. Wayne had to try to maintain discipline. But the picture of the General personally ordering the chief protagonist of this book to bayonet his best friend is calumny. Wayne's correspondence is simply loaded with pleas for redress of his men's grievances. Probably no officer of the Revolution was more concerned with the welfare of his men or acted with more bravery and good sense when they mutinied.
The truth seems to be that Fast has written about a "Marxian" revolution decades before Marx was born. He has made a simple demand for redress of grievances into a socialist uprising. Moscow should be happy to make this book required reading in all Soviet schools.