Like most people, I am variously impelled by greed, curiosity, and other ignoble motives—mixed in, of course, with Higher Things. Consequently, I would like to have been there when Kidd buried his treasure, when HMS Vulture docked in New York and the fleeing Benedict Arnold had his interview with Sir Henry Clinton, and when Jack Kennedy had his date (if he did) with Marilyn Monroe. I would be rather gripped by watching Squanto brief the Pilgrims on how to cope with the New England winter; and seeing John Adams, as our first ambassador to our ex-king, try to make conversation with that d-d-ddifficult old m-m-m-monarch; and Peter Cooper nursing his litde teakettle, the Tom Thumb, in the race with the horse. Or Lincoln wisecracking at a cabinet meeting.
But most of all, I would like to have been at Lexington Green on the morning of the nineteenth of April, 1775. It might be possible to discern who actually fired first, a question argued ever since, but what interests me much more is the spirit of the moment, the attitude of the British officer, Major Pitcairn; of John Parker, the militia captain; of the disciplined but ignorant Redcoats, of the farmers, and of onlookers. It’s one thing to be part of history, but rather different, ordinary, horrible to be there and be hit. All over quickly, they say, whereupon the drums pick up the beat and the fifes play and the files parade off to Concord and the rude bridge of Emerson’s hymn. Even so, long ago, in the Roman Empire; on the Belgian border when the Uhlans heaved up the gates of a village and paraded in; all over the world since time began. Tum-ta-ta-tum, and we march. Maybe the drums are a bigger menace than the weapons.