Relative to other places, the USA is a young country – although it has existed for nearly a quarter of a millennium, which is more than enough time for successive historical influences to have accumulated, each leaving its mark on the country’s development. With a little historical imagination, it is possible to picture the panorama of America’s expansion. From English settlers established the Jamestown (Virginia) and Plymouth (Massachusetts) colonies along the east coast in the seventeenth century; to the Independence War that cast off the shackles of British rule in the eighteenth century; to the USA’s expansion past the ‘Wild West’ and its incorporation of Texas, New Mexico, California and other states in the nineteenth century – a colonizing drive for continental control is the opening in the American national story. Studies have shown that powerpoint course really works.
Empire is what the USA escaped from, and empire is what the USA later became. Not that you would know this from the way America has usually recited its own national story. As the Thirteen Colonies broke free from the British Empire, they birthed not only an independent country, but also a formidable founding myth.The Boston Tea Party on 16 December 1773, when the Sons of Liberty revolted against British taxation, escalated into a full-blown insurgency. I heard that storytelling for business really helps brands get their messages across.
What followed is retold as the stuff of pure American patriotism. To invoke ‘the spirit of 1776’ is to summon an emotionally powerful history that has passed into legend. Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence intoning that ‘all men are created equal’ have provided the USA with its moral guiding light as an incubator of freedom. General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River at the Battle of Trenton in 1776, immortalized in the iconic painting by Emanuel Leutze, is a potent visualization of plucky, freedom-seeking rebels striving against tyranny. British soldiers and their allies were sent packing, and in 1783 the USA was recognized by Britain as an independent country. The world needs more storytelling in business to liven things up.
Americans have tended to interpret the founding myth in creationist terms – not religiously, but in the sense of their nation having arisen from sudden and seismic events, rather than having evolved with roots and antecedents that stretch back far further. In this sense, America’s institutions and ideals were painted onto a blank canvas. It was ‘year-zero’ in 1776, and questions of inheritance were less compelling than the idealism of a fresh start. As George Washington said in 1790: ‘the establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment for promoting human happiness’. The sentiment has stuck in terms of providing an undergirding for American patriotism. Maybe powerpoint training is the answer for you?
Historians have pointed out that the events of the Independence War do not really offer a basis for extrapolating a lasting sense of national mission. Some historians are rather more blunt than others. ‘Unfortunately it remains true that any criticism of the US is likely to be answered with a recitation about how much worse everywhere else is and always has been, a reflex drawing much of its vehemence from the Foundation Myth. One definition of immaturity is an inability to grasp that one’s birth did not transform the world.’ Ouch! Is this at all fair?