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Sunday, September 25, 2016
Secret Spy Ring Key to American Democracy
Carla asked, "What surprised you in this book?" to open the discussion of George Washington's Secret Six, by Brian Kilmeade. Patty was surprised that some of the dialog seemed too modern and unlikely to have been historically accurate for that time. Ken said he hadn't realized how important espionage was in 18th century warfare. He thought it was all exciting fighting and hadn't expected spy networks with femmes fatales working in the background. Carla had known about Benedict Arnold but hadn't realized how close the United States came to losing West Point to the British. This brought some consideration of the possibility that if things had been different, maybe if George Washington hadn't created his spy ring, our government would still be British. It was that close! Pam and I were surprised that the process of rebelling and fighting and establishing a new country had taken as many years as were listed in George Washington's Secret Six. From what we had learned in school, it seemed that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and the country was on its way. In George Washington's Secret Six, we saw that it was another 10 years before the British left New York, signifying defeat. Cindy T. was surprised that the spies really used codes and invisible ink. These have been the stuff of children's toys for many years, although they were very real and still are in some forms.
We were all interested in who might have been the female spy, Agent 355. Although there is no proof as to who it was, there were a number of possible women mentioned in one edition of the book. Speculation included Dennis saying she might have been a sister of one of the spies. Cindy said that there was no confirmation in the book that Agent 355 had been in prison and that any of the women in the list of possibilities in the book would have had a prison sentence attached to her history, since much was known about those women.
Cindy V. noted that while reading, she was thinking about how the spies made the decision to accept the dangerous responsibilities involved with the spy ring. She suggested it might have been easier for a woman to choose espionage because they might have been less likely to have a job and might have had less public and monetary status to lose. Carla asked all of us to consider whether we would have accepted a position as a spy for George Washington. Washington's charisma was mentioned, but Pam said that Washington and the spies were actually separated by secrecy; so working with the great General might not have been a lure. Lydia suggested that if British soldiers had taken over one's house, one might have been moved to work against the British.
The end of the discussion included some comments about the differences between this book and a factual history and also the differences between choosing a journalist's book and a historian's book. Ken said that he found some deliberate fictionalization in the book; there had been a Culper ring but that they had nothing to do with George Washington deciding to fake an attack on New York to fool the British. I said that without having gained a solid background in history, it's hard to tackle history books. Dennis, Jay, and Ken agreed that history books often contain too much information presented in a boring manner. Then they recommended some history books they had enjoyed. Frank said that journalism and popular writings are better suited to sparking interest and imagination and are gateway books, leading readers to more factual histories.