Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Adams

The HBO series on John Adams is good educational entertainment. The series was adapted from David McCullough’s book which won a Pulitzer Prize. I had read an earlier work by McCullough about the building of the Panama Canal. The HBO film does justice and show all the details of the early revolutionary struggle. It’s a re-construction with all political nuances of the revolution. John Adams I think is the forgotten man and his monument should be in Mt. Rushmore instead of Theodore Roosevelt or even Thomas Jefferson. I think it would celebrate the ability of the common man to strive for greatness unlike Jefferson who was a rich man who had slaves and had a mistress, for example.

I think John Adams displays the courage, tenacity, honesty and stubbornness of the typical citizen. He lacks the intellectual capacity perhaps of Jefferson but he had the clear sightedness and practicality and genius of the common man. There is no elitism in his character unlike in Jefferson and the other wealthy land owners. The film also shows beautifully the other founding fathers: the calm leadership of Washington, the scheming genius of Alexander Hamilton and, of course, the brilliant Jefferson who seems to be a radical enamored to the French revolution and its radical ideals. Perhaps this was tempered when he realized Napoleon’s ambition that he purchased Louisiana to prevent a French beach head into the American continent.

John Adams seems the person with the level head during the early years of the republic although inflicted with malice and vanity at times. It was not the intellectual genius that distinguished him but more of the practical, clear sightedness and oratory that is a form of genius as well. This quality more than anything else I believe was needed during the early years. To a lesser extent, Apolinario Mabini is like Adams in the Philippine revolution with his clear sightedness and integrity. Both men did not get the recognition they deserved. The spotlight shone towards other men who were more glamorous and attractive. The most interesting thing is that Adams did not succumb to action when it was the easiest thing to do at the time. For instance, going to war with Britain or France or raising a standing army.

Alexander Hamilton is an interesting figure. I thought that he was more a financier establishing the financial foundation of the young republic with the Treasury and the forerunner of the Federal Reserve as well as writing the Federalist Papers - an argument for federalism. But his figure in the film depicts him as the intellectual ancestor of today’s right wing imperialist – one who was proposing for a standing army and the continued conquest of all lands west of the Mississippi River. Of course, this all came to pass as the course of history moved on but the basic imperialist urgings had existed in Hamilton and eventually resulted in today’s military industrial complex - geared toward the spread of American hegemony. Nevertheless, he is an interesting figure who played a critical role in the early republic.

I read somewhere that America is lucky in that it had a group of excellent men in the founding fathers; laying down the foundations for a great nation. Men who were not all rich aristocrats as the leadership of old nations like England or France usually were.  I believe that’s an accurate observation after watching the HBO series.  I guess people like the popular historian David McCullough who had the insight to focus on this character as well as Tom Hanks who was the executive producer deserve recognition, too. A recent Time article portrayed Hanks as an educator who promoted films that educate the public. For instance, his role as actor or producer in great films like Forest Gump or Saving Sgt. Ryan, producing patriotic war films like Band of Brothers and The Pacific and historical films like John Adams. I guess it’s this cycle of virtue that reinforces the impression of greatness.

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