The image above is of the 18th-century home of friends in Colonia, Uruguay. Today, sitting on their back patio on the Rio de la Plata, I looked out at a small yellow buoy in the harbour that marks the final resting place of the Lord Clive, a large, 60-gun British warship from the 18th century.
In 1763, we British, already at war with Spain, decided to expand the venture to the New World. The Lord Clive arrived in Colonia, Uruguay, and began firing into the tiny town. With her heavy contingent of cannon, her captain was confident that he could do enough damage to make the Spanish inhabitants surrender. After extensive bombardment, the Spanish had still not raised the white flag; however, the crew of the Lord Clive had managed to set fire to their own ship. The crew abandoned ship.
Local accounts of the event have it that, swimming ashore, the English crew apologized for bombarding the town and asked for mercy. Not surprisingly, the Spanish killed them.
Of course, this is not the outcome that’s described in English history books. Although the defeat of the British on that day is acknowledged, the folly is not. Although historians will generally acknowledge a defeat, they’re often reluctant to mention any idiocy on the part of their own military. And so any English-language version of the story tells a different tale from the account above.
This is a great pity, as much can be learned from historical idiocy. Since it’s rarely taught, military leaders often make the same idiotic mistakes that their predecessors made.
As an example, we can look at the adventures of the US today and observe their serial invasions over the last fifteen years in the Middle East and elsewhere. These adventures are being pursued ostensibly “to make the world safe for democracy.”
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