How the Scots invented the Modern World has been backburnered a bit until I finish the new book of the week - Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America by James Webb. The story chronicles the history of our cantankerous little sliver of humanity from squalid tribes huddling on the outside of Hadrian's Wall to the modern day. Let me tell you, the man's got our number.
Here, check it:
"Because that is the story of my people, not for a generation or for ten generations but for forever. There was a time more then two thouand years ago when the Celtic tribes dominated middle Europe. They made beautiful jewelry and carvings. They were poetic and warlike. They followed strong leaders, even to their deaths. They brought their women and children to the battlefield and put them behind their ranks so they would be sure not to retreat. And they did not retreat. But they refused to recognize leadership beyond their local tribes and thus would not become a nation. And they had a permeating discontent that caused the more determined of them to keep pushing, every generation, a little bit farther into the wild unknown.
Until God played his greatest trick on them. Up the English island they moved a generation at a time, ever northward, each generation seeing the more restless and aggressive push farther, breeding a new generation of even more restless and aggressive travelers. To the far north the moved, into what is now called Scotland, and when it ended or become to bleak they found sea bridges into Ireland. And so after hundreds or thousands of years of insistent wandering, the most migratory and curious among them found they were caught in a cruel genetic joke, all their energies bottled up in wild desolate places that only faced each other or the sea. So back and forth they went, across the sea bridges from Ireland to Scotland and then back again, waves of them they now called "clans" taking out the their fury on each other, then uniting once in a while when the Romans or the English sought to conquer them. The wildest, most contentious people on all the earth, trapped in a sea-bound bottleneck, their emotions spattering out into poetry and music and brawls, calling each other Irish and Scottish now, or Catholic and Protestant, anything that might make another reason for a good hard fight.
Until they became the British Empire's greatest voyagers, indeed its greatest export, settling in odd places all around the world. And for that splinter of them that became my people, the Scots-Irish, this meant the Appalachian Mountains, their first stop on their way to creating a way of life that many would come to call, if not American, certainly the defining fabric of the South and the Midwest as well as the core character of the nation's working class."
Yeah, he goes on. And to a chick grown up in those Southern Highlands of the US, the whole thing reads like he's been taking pages out of my family's diary.
Because well... he has. It's his family to.
Having gotten the thumbnail version of the story from my parents, I'd often joked "So we were kicked out of Scotland to Ireland, out of Ireland to America, wandered out of Tennessee to Texas.... now I'm here on the west coast. Another few generations and we'll be back around in Scotland!" The full version is decidedly more interesting.
So... if you're of this little tribe of America, all full up with cantankerous Bitter Clinging and want a better perspective on your family tree - or just want to get a better feel for why that "poor white mountain trash" fill up their homes with plastic pony bead American Indian art, Braveheart statues, and big honkin' knives while telling the feds to do rude things to themselves, well... this is the read for you.
The man knows his family, that's for certain sure.
edit - for the politically inclined amongst you, another review of the work.
edit 2 - fair warning... Webb is now a Virginian Senator, who just voted to enhance the power of those self-same feds with the "lets bankrupt our grandkids" bill. So let's just say although I like the book I'm not too pleased with him. But then again, wasn't he just describing that tendency towards "taking out the their fury on each other, then uniting once in a while..." Man might be distant family, but laying down with the king like that ain't exactly endearing.