The March 2013 edition of The Smithsonian Magazine has an article on “The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History.” The piece (on-line here) tells us that Bernard Bailyn is the “greatest historian of early America alive today.” How one measures that we are not told. It goes on to report that he’s “now over 90 and ensconced at Harvard for more than six decades,” and ”has recently published another one of his epoch-making grand narrative syntheses, The Barbarous Years, casting a light on the darkness, filling in the blank canvas with what he’s gleaned from what seems like every last scrap of crumbling diary page, every surviving chattel slave receipt and ship’s passenger manifest of the living and dead, every fearful sermon about the Antichrist that survived in the blackened embers of the burned-out churches.” Yes that was a run-on sentence.
In his new book Bailyn ”has not painted a pretty picture. Little wonder he calls it The Barbarous Years and spares us no details of the terror, desperation, degradation and widespread torture—do you really know what being “flayed alive” means? (The skin is torn from the face and head and the prisoner is disemboweled while still alive.)” Do we really need this breathless prose here? No.
What has happened to reporting? Is it all about how smarmy/cute/egocentric the writer has to be these days, rather than tell readers what is going on? But even more—-are any informed Americans really “shocked” at how savage early America was? They should not be.