AYCOCK: Recently, you tweeted out a call for people to vote. As a
historian, do you look at voting differently than you otherwise might?
PHILBRICK: I have to say, after writing In the Hurricane’s Eye, which
brings the American Revolution to an end with a real focus on George
Washington, I have an appreciation for just how tentative this experience in creating a republic is. There are so many ways and times it might
not have happened. It makes me realize what a miracle it is to have this.
It wasn’t just winning the Revolution. It was then coming up with a constitution that has some legs. We go through good and bad times, mostly
bad because that’s the nature of a democracy: we’re always arguing over
everything. But it’s an amazing system, and it depends on people voting.
For me, engagement is what’s important. If reading about the past can
interest you in what’s happening now, or vice versa, that’s great! It’s all
part of the same imperative of living in a democracy.
AYCOCK: It’s ironic that our current administration has an America-first
ideology, yet we wouldn’t have become a nation without foreign support.
PHILBRICK: Absolutely! We did not win our independence. America had
turned its back on its own Revolution. We weren’t willing to pay the
taxes to support Washington’s army. Recruitment levels were embarrassingly low. The only way Washington could do it was with the help of
the French. We look to the great victory at Yorktown as how we won our
freedom, but that was a fait accompli—an appropriate term, given that it
was a French naval victory that made it possible. From the beginning, we
depended on foreign alliances. To dismiss that fact is to turn your back
on the genesis of our country.
AYCOCK: How do you think history will view the era we’re in now?
PHILBRICK: We’ve been through really crazy periods in the past. And we
are at sort of a crossroads now. I grew up in the ’60s, and that was scary
in its own way. I was in Pittsburgh, where riots were happening just two
blocks from where I lived. It was a time of turmoil and churning change.
It’s different this time, but it also feels like “Where are we going? What
are we about?” I’m a pessimist by nature, but I do have faith in our institutions. They have gotten us through a lot.