The legacy of liberty

Recently, I watched on DVD the three part mini series Sons of Liberty which chronicles the incidents that led to the revolt of the British colonies in America which eventually birthed the United States of America. It is a historical period drama directed by Kari Skogland and is both educative and entertaining with a host of good acting talent.

The story revolves around the events that created acts of resistance in Boston in the 1770s, against taxation by the British crown and shows the development of what creates the ground for the birth of the United States of America and what is called the American Revolutionary War. Historical figures, pivotal to the history of the founding of the United States such as, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock, and George Washington are depicted in this TV drama which shows the seeds of rebellion against British government sown by Samuel Adams at the beginning of the story, and how the event known as, ‘the Boston Tea party’ unfolds.

Consequently, Britain resorts to strict military measures to quell the disobedience and bring the subjects in the colony of Boston to heel. The central figure who drives the brutish British tactics in Boston is General Thomas Gage, an English nobleman who is a seasoned military commander, in his absolute devotion to British monarchical authority demonstrates ruthlessness upon the hapless inhabitants of the colony.

A famous line from Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Part 3 is –“The smallest worm will turn being trodden on.” And this Shakespearean wisdom proves all too true when the events in oppressed Boston take turns that surprise the supercilious British authorities.

The uprising in the British colonies in America was defiance by a populace that sought to establish their human dignity and worth when they were treated with contempt and considered to have no real rights as British citizens. For all the despotism the present US of A is doing to the world in their relentless pursuit of limitless global capitalist interests, that country was actually born out of a noble struggle to overthrow the tyrannical oppression of imperialist Britain.

The events shown in Sons of Liberty will make you feel you cannot help but sympathize with the Bostonians and the rest of the colonies and cheer their cause. What founded the ideals of liberty and modern republicanism as reflected in the conceptualization of the nation called the United States was an admirable spirit of revolution. It was a spirit and vision for liberty that sought to birth a lasting legacy for their future generations. How much of that is now left in that country this present day and age, is truly a matter for debate.

The show ends with George Washington reading a copy of the U.S Declaration of Independence to his troops prepared to fight the British forces gathered in New York harbour and the brave charge they make in the face of cannon fire from the enemy. Thus starts their war for freedom to defend the nation they birthed on their own sovereign will of the people.

I personally felt the final moment of the ending scene could have been done in a way other than being overdramatic through slow-motion movement which seems a very sudden modern technique in a period drama that did not flow on such effects. I personally feel, had the direction shown the camera move up and from a high angle shown the advancing forces led by Washington and then swung down from the back to follow them from the rear showing them as a forward moving force (symbolically leading the viewer on the path to liberty), and end with the camera zooming into freeze on its full frame the fluttering star spangled banner of the U.S, that would have been a visually better and more effective ending.

Sri Lanka too had its armed movements for liberty from the yoke of British colonialism, the great liberation struggle of 1818 and the struggle of 1848 being the most significant among them.

A hundred years after the last such significant organised armed uprising we gained self government which is generally called ‘independence’, in 1948. I do not by any means belittle the significance of what was achieved by the struggle for freedom by the late great statesmen like D.S.Senanayake, D.B. Jayathilake and such, but looking at the lamentable state of how our freedom has led to the oppression of the people by both rulers and also profiteering poachers from other countries who connive with our so called ‘representatives/leaders’ one cannot help but ask –where O’ Sri Lanka is your spirit of revolution for true and meaningful change? As the example of the founding of the U.S shows, the liberty of the people is a prize that must be won and not be expected to be handed on a platter.

When watching Sons of Liberty one cannot but help feel the grandeur of the ideal of a struggle for liberty being impressed on the viewer even through the captivating, inspiring theme music which has been composed by the award winning maestro, Hans Zimmer.

As shown in Sons of Liberty, the imperial British authorities did not see themselves as accountable to the people in the American colonies. Accountability by a government to the governed is a key tenet of democracy. The lack of it resulted in the governor being overthrown by the governed.

That spirit of revolution is the surest warning to the ruler of the need for good governance. How deep the spirit of revolution runs in the collective memory of the present populace of the U.S, I have no idea. The memory of revolution keeps alive the spirit for revolution which is essential for a will for revolution. That is what I believe is the catalyst for a people to think how to effect change for their future by looking back at what the start of their nation’s journey has been about. 

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