So, History Channel does this very interesting series of programs called the History of the US. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. Originally I had hoped to watch it with the Beans to use it as a teaching tool, but given the graphic descriptions of scalping and the Donner party’s cannibalism, I decided 7 and 9 was a bit too young for it ;). At any rate, recently I watched a fascinating program they had on the War for Independence.
The piece took you from the Boston Tea Party through each step of the war. One thing I found particularly interesting was when they talked about a turning point for the American militia forces. A German officer, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, came into the American fold to assist the revolutionary army. He was responsible for all manner of improvements including training men to fight, training on the use of the bayonet, improving camp sanitation and conditions, etc. I found it fascinating that, on the program, they talked about something he wrote in his journal about these American troops.
His approach was to take an elite crew of 100 men, train them and then have them train others. It is actually a very sensible approach and is used by many companies today. But, one observation von Steuben had about these colonial Americans was very interesting and telling. Being used to training troops in traditional European armies, he gave order and they were followed. In his journal he wrote that these Americans were a challenge because they demanded to know the why, not just the what and how. And that, ladies and gentlemen is Americans, isn’t it? We’re not big on just following orders. Even as small children we rail against our parents’ “Because I said so.” As parents, although we use it, we begin explaining the why to our kids quite early. The Beans ask why frequently. It isn’t a form of disobedience. They simply follow instructions better if they understand why they are important. I can’t see that much has changed these days… we still always want to know Why before we do something.
And, back in the 1700s, Baron Von Steuben understood this about us. It is definitely a valuable concept to understand when it comes to dealing with Americans, even today. And, those from other cultures may find themselves a bit annoyed and dissatisfied that American’s won’t simply “believe me” or “do it this way because I said so.” Just know it’s another of those American values we’ve been talking about. We want to know why…