BOSTON — As I remember my American history, our revolution began on April 19, 1775, when 700 British regulars, the Redcoats, left here to march west to the small villages of Lexington and Concord to destroy weapons caches they knew were hidden there by American rebels. The British column encountered 80 or so members of the local militia on Lexington Green and routed them, killing eight locals.
The Redcoats reached Concord and found some buried cannon and balls, but most of the rebel weaponry had been hidden again farther away. They marched through the village to the Old North Bridge where they saw perhaps 400 militiamen on a small ridge overlooking the Concord River. The Americans up there began marching down to face the greatest army in the world. I have stood there more than once trying to imagine what those American farmers and merchants, some without guns, were thinking.
Someone fired, probably one of the British ignoring an order to hold fire, and the revolution was on. A battle cry and a poet’s words came out of that battle, which continued all the way back to Boston as Americans hiding behind walls and trees cut the Redcoats to ribbons from behind. "Terrorists" the British called them.
The cry was an order from militia captain John Parker at Lexington: "Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here." And, 62 years later, Ralph Waldo Emerson called the Concord firing, "the shot heard round the world."
In Egypt last week, Egyptians made their own revolution against a dictatorship. I do not know all they were thinking, and I do not know what words will come to symbolize the heroism, but I was certainly impressed by the words of Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old Google executive, who played the same role as Paul Revere and other riders who pounded along the Boston-Lexington-Concord road shouting, "The Redcoats are coming!"
Ghonim, of course, didn’t have to shout. He had Twitter and Facebook to warn and organize his people. His quote was not poetic but astonishingly modern:
"I worked in marketing, and I knew if you built a brand you can get people to trust the brand."
Ghonim filled the site he created not only with reports and video clips of police brutality, but with slogans and quotes to build the brand, most notably using the name of a young Egyptian who was beaten to death by police: "We Are All Khaled Said."
We witnessed history as if we were standing by the North Bridge. We do not know what will happen next in Egypt and the larger Middle East, but then our liberators did not know what would happen in 1775. There will be chaos, there will be retribution in Egypt, there will be doubt and betrayal, pain and suffering. As there was in what would become the United States of America, a democracy.
Our democracy! Theirs will be different—and we won’t like some of it. But we will be hypocrites and fools if we try to demand (or "guide") Egyptians into being like us. In fact, I think we make too much of "democracy" and "elections" in places far away. Their places.
I prefer the words "freedom" or "liberation" and, perhaps most of all, "modernization." I suppose it would be in our interest if Egypt becomes a "trusted brand." A modern brand. The greatest difference between us and the Arabs and some Muslim countries is that we have been living in different centuries. Their revolt was a movement toward modernity: Pharaoh no more!
We betray our own revolution when, as a prosperous and well-fed nation, we prize stability and order above all. Let us hope what we watched last week was part of the Islamic world moving closer to the modern world—finally. This is what we wanted. This was a good thing even if it takes time to sort out.
© 2011 UNIVERSAL UCLICK