Scars Of Independence: America’s Violent Birth By Holger Hoock

Acclaimed historian Holger Hoock’s SCARS OF INDEPENDENCE: America’s Violent Birth is an elegantly written and meticulously researched account of America’s founding. In a vital new reckoning, Hoock paints a complex and unvarnished portrait of the American Revolution. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including previously untapped archival documents, Hoock challenges readers to reimagine the Revolution and the war we thought we knew.

An Oxford- and Cambridge-educated scholar and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Hoock currently serves as the J. Carroll Amundson Professor of British History at the University of Pittsburgh and editor in chief of the Journal of British Studies. Multifaceted and evenhanded in its approach, SCARS OF INDEPENDENCE is the first book to confront America’s violent birth head-on.

When we think of the American Revolution, we think of brave patriots coming together to resist a tyrannical ruler in defense of noble ideals. It’s a moving narrative, and one the founders did their best to encourage after the war. But as Hoock argues, the Revolution was not only a high-minded battle over principles but also a profoundly violent civil war—one that shaped the nation in ways we have only begun to understand. As he reminds us, more than ten times as many Americans died, per capita, in the Revolutionary War than in World War I, and nearly five times as many as in World War II. It featured the highest death rate among prisoners in any American war, and it left uncounted civilians violated in their persons and property.

In vivid detail, Hoock relates scenes of American Patriots torturing and occasionally even killing Loyalists, of British troops massacring enemy soldiers and raping colonial women, of prisoners starving on disease-ridden ships and in subterranean cells, of the disproportionate suffering of African-Americans fighting for or against independence, and of Washington’s army waging a genocidal campaign against the Iroquois.

In SCARS OF INDEPENDENCE, Hoock examines the moral dilemmas posed by this all-encompassing violence, as the British found themselves torn between unlimited war and restraint toward fellow subjects, while the Patriots ingeniously documented British war crimes in an effort to unify the fledgling nation, ultimately erasing the trauma of the Loyalists in their midst. In telling this more honest story, he enables us to empathize with the harrowing experiences of men, women, and families, of whites, Native Americans, and African-Americans. By examining the Revolutionary era through multiple lenses, Hoock exposes the pervasive myths, exaggerations, and blind spots in our history.

For centuries we have whitewashed this history of the Revolution, selectively forgetting traumatic incidents. SCARS OF INDEPENDENCE forces a more honest appraisal, presenting a new origins story that will spark debate for years to come. It is history that is both relevant and necessary—an important reminder that forging a nation is rarely a bloodless act. And while the narrative brings to life harrowing stories of massacre and desperation, there are also moments of redemption, magnanimity, and charity.

Although violence against the Revolution’s losers flared up once more in the immediate postwar era, the relatively quick reintegration of our new nation after a decade of brutal civil war only deepens readers’ appreciation for the founders’ accomplishments. Hoock’s unvarnished account offers a vital acknowledgment of the inherent tensions between moral purpose and violent tendencies in our country’s past—and a necessary vantage from which to assess the American future.