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"Sons of Liberty" miniseries

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  • Member since
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  • From: Greenville, NC
"Sons of Liberty" miniseries
Posted by jtilley on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 10:25 PM

Just caught the last episode "Sons of Liberty," on the History Channel.

I've been somewhat defensive of war movies ("Saving Private Ryan," " Band of Brothers," "Das Boot," etc.).  We've had quite a few that I've really liked in the past few years.

With this new mini-seies, though, the History Channel wandered onto my turf. (The Revolution was my first field of concentration when I was in grad school.)

I sort of liked the first couple of hours. The depiction of the start of the Revolution as a gritty, grimy story of ambition, self-interest, and lack of communication is, I think, more-or-less on target. But by the end of the fourth hour the show degenerated into nonsensical junk.

If you want to watch the Revolution on the screen, watch the HBO mini-series "John Adams," or the A&E production of "The Crossing," with Jeff Daniels as George Washington. "Sons of Liberty" probably will be out on DVD shortly, but my suggestion is to spend your money elsewhere.

Ugh. 

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

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Posted by BLACKSMITHN on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 9:36 AM

I couldn't keep up with the whole series, but the episodes I saw of John Adams were great. It seems odd to me that there just aren't a lot of really good films about the American Revolution. I mean WW2, there are a ton of them, same with the Civil War, less so with WW1, but the Revolution just seems to lack any real exceptional, defining film. In my opinion, of course.

  • Member since
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  • From: Western North Carolina
Posted by Tojo72 on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 12:16 PM

I really enjoyed The Crossing and I have the John Adams mini series,very good.

I don't know about historical,but I found Sons of Liberty enjoyable also.

Seems like they are also coming out with a Alamo series in May

  • Member since
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  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 12:30 PM

You are so right, BLACKSMITHN.

I can almost count the Revolutionary War movies that I know about on one hand. "The Patriot" had some things to recommend it (it showed the Revolution as a long, bloody war), but historians have lots of problems with it. I especially don't like the way it demonizes the British - shooting wounded prisoners, setting fire to civilians, etc., etc. (Having Draco Malfoy's father play the unspeakably evil British cavalry officer didn't help.) And a lot of historians have criticized it for whitewashing slavery. It wasn't exactly incorrect in its depictions of free Blacks, but it barely acknowledged that there was such a thing as slavery in the South. And though the African-American guy who was promised his freedom if he served in the militia for a year is believable, the movie didn't mention that the British offered freedom to any slave who ran away from his/her master.

Back in the midst of the 1976 Bicentennial hoopla there was a movie called "Revolution," with Al Pacino and Donald Sutherland. It was awful.

John Ford's "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939) is a terrific, old-fashioned adventure movie, with great acting and spectacular early color photography. But it doesn't say much about the Revolution. (And I always wonder what British theater audiences must have thought of the last scene, when the American flag goes up and the orchestra plays "America" - aka "God Save the King.")

Then there was "John Paul Jones," with Robert Stack. Not as bad as it could have been, but pretty hokey - and childishly patriotic. (It treated George Washington the way "Ben Hur" treated Jesus.)

There was the TV mini-series "George Washington," starring Barry Bostwick (fresh from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"). I have to take a little bit of the blame for that disaster. When I was working at the Mariners' Museum I got a phone call from a lady who said, "I'm from Twentieth Century Fox, and we're making a mini-series about George Washington. We were wondering if you could loan us some boats to cross the Delaware." My reaction was "Ok, lady, who put you up to this?" Oops.

Let's not talk about Disney's "The Swamp Fox." Disney's "Johnny Tremaine" was based on a superb novel by Esther Forbes. I highly recommend the book (even if you aren't in the age group for which it was written), but Disney turned it into a childish joke.

My personal favorite Revolutionary War movie is an old, 1960s black-and-white one called "The Devil's Disciple." It stars Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, and, as General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne, Laurence Olivier. It's based on a play by George Bernard Shaw, and it makes no pretense of being historically accurate. It is in fact a classic piece of Shaw cynicism. But it's superbly acted and utterly hilarious. The last line is vintage Shaw: "General Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga, and history told lies as usual. But the rest of this story is pure fiction. You can safely believe every word."

That's just about all I can think of. Anybody know any others?

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
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  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 12:57 PM

Regarding "Sons of Liberty" - I can't list all the things that were wrong with it, but here's a start.

General Thomas Gage was not present at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was on the other side of Boston Harbor, coordinating the British assault. He most definitely did NOT shoot Dr. Joseph Warren. The movie didn't even mention General William Howe, who did lead the British assault (on foot, with an aide carrying a bottle of wine beside him).

The image of Gage shooting Warren in the back, then ordering "mutilate the body," is absurd.

Gage's wife, who was colonial-born, did have a good deal of sympathy for the rebels. (So did Gage himself. He wasn't the vial villain the show made him out to be.) But there is no evidence whatever that she was having an affair with Joseph Warren (who was a happily married man), or that she gave secrets to the rebels.

The eyewitness accounts of the fights at Lexington and Concord disagree with each other, but the version in the mini-series was pretty ridiculous.

There's no mention of the fact that the "Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed's Hill. And the sequence of events is thoroughly messed up. (The rebels fortified Breed's hill during the night. The British woke up to see the defensive works in place, overlooking the city of Boston. Gage then ordered Howe to lead a detachment of troops across the harbor, land on the beach at the foot of Breed's Hill, and take it by frontal assault. And the fakey shot of a fleet of British ships of the line showing up just in time for the battle is sheer nonsense.)

It's highly unlikely that George Washington ever recited the Declaration of Independence to his troops. In the first place, he may or may not have read a copy of it himself by that time. (He never did sign it.) In the second place, he probably was physically incapable of making any sort of inspiring speech by this time. (If you wonder why, take a look at this: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://blogs.artinfo.com/lacmonfire/files/2012/02/Dentures.png&imgrefurl=http://blogs.artinfo.com/lacmonfire/2012/02/22/george-washington-at-the-reagan-library/&h=266&w=540&tbnid=Y0zJ4rqDVolHpM:&zoom=1&docid=1XRjVDuyZYrpGM&ei=SCzJVPW2BYKbNsyehKgF&tbm=isch&client=safari&ved=0CCoQMygMMAw . It's a wonder that the man was able to talk at all.)

The mini-series villified Thomas Hutchinson to a degree that was laughable. He was American-born, he opposed many of the British laws that caused trouble in the colonies, and he did just about everything he could to calm the waters. The mini-series version of the Boston Massacre isn't too bad, but it stops before the interesting end of the story. Hutchinson ordered the British infantrymen arrested and put on trial for murder. John Adams defended them, got all but two of them off completely, and got the charges of those two reduced to manslaughter with the minimum punishment: branding on the palms of their right hands.

The account of the Boston Tea Party was a mess. The Sons of Liberty were protesting against the Tea Act of 1773, which LOWERED the tax on tea imported by the East India Company (thereby enabling it to undercut the prices of smugglers like Hancock). The idea of dumping the tea into the harbor was to stop the East India Company from selling it cheap. No British soldiers were present.

I could go on, but why bother? Hollywood and history often don't get along well with each other. When they do, the results can be pretty impressive. When they don't, and the scriptwriters insist on changing the facts to create (supposedly) more audience appeal - well, you get "Sons of Liberty."

The question I always ask is, "If they'd made it historically right, would the average viewer think it was any worse?"

I did like the way John Hancock was presented: a young, foppish man who was mostly interested in his own financial interests. And the Sam Adams, John Adams, and Paul Revere characters weren't bad. But my overall reaction to the mini-series is: forget it.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

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Posted by GMorrison on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 2:08 PM

jtilley

That's just about all I can think of. Anybody know any others?

Of course, the incomparable "1776".

Modeling is an excuse to buy books

 

  • Member since
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  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 2:18 PM

Good catch, GM.

Actually, 1776 had a few good points (not many).

I liked the way it dealt with the slavery issue. (Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence included a paragraph condemning slavery - and somehow or other managed to blame King George III for it. Jefferson agreed to delete that paragraph in order to get the delegates from the southern colonies to sign.) The character of John Adams was, I think, pretty believable. And much of it was shot in the actual room in Independence Hall. (Years later one of the Park Service employees at the site came to work at the Mariners' Museum. He said he was just outside the camera frame for all the shots taken in the room, so he could move the furniture when necessary. The actors and movie crew weren't allowed to move the furniture.) On the other hand the music was remarkably forgettable, and some of the characters acted like cartoons. Richard Henry Lee ("Mah name is Richard Henry LEE, and ah come from old Vir-gin-i-a) undoubtedly rolls over in his grave whenever the movie is mentioned.

Another gripe about "Sons of Liberty" with a faint maritime connection: Major John Pitcairn was not in command at Lexington or Concord. He was there all right, but the CO was an army colonel named Smith. Pitcairn did get killed at Bunker Hill - but not leading a charge. And I'm pretty sure nobody charged Breed's Hill on horseback. General Howe, in tactical command, walked.

Earlier in his career Pitcairn had been assigned to a warship on a cruise in the South Pacific. When the ship spotted an island that wasn't on the chart, the captain named it after his Captain of Marines.  Thus Pitcairn Island, where some of the Bounty mutineers ended up.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

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  • From: Green Bay, WI USA
Posted by echolmberg on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 2:35 PM

I have not seen the "Sons of Liberty" series yet but I have it DVR'ed.  I hope to watch it at least by this weekend.

One part that my young daughters and I can't wait to see is when George Washington fended off a British attack by driving out of the woods in a Dodge Charger while holding the American flag.  I hope they included that scene.  That's the kind of stuff they don't teach you in school!

Eric

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  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 2:37 PM

Well, I have to say I don't remember that one, Eric. But the actual mini-series was almost that bad.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
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  • From: Green Bay, WI USA
Posted by echolmberg on Thursday, January 29, 2015 11:13 AM

It was a Dodge commercial from last year I think.  I hope this link works.  It's from YouTube showing the commercial.

Eric

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  • From: SW Virginia
Posted by Gamera on Thursday, January 29, 2015 11:30 AM

I'm a GM guy myself but I love that commercial!

I skipped the series, considering it is 'History Channel' have UFOs or Sasquatch showed up yet?

Thanks for the list of movies Jtilley, I'm going to have to look some of those up.  

"I dream in fire but work in clay." -Arthur Machen

 

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  • From: Bethlehem PA
Posted by the Baron on Thursday, January 29, 2015 11:43 AM

Bear in mind that this is entertainment and not a history lesson.  Don't expect a documentary.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

 

 

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Posted by BlackSheepTwoOneFour on Thursday, January 29, 2015 12:30 PM

+ 1 with above poster.

Dre
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Posted by Dre on Thursday, January 29, 2015 5:51 PM

T'is only my opinion, but read "1776" by David McCullough and forget the TV altogether.... it is a fascinating read and the one book that I recommend to anyone interested in that era.

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Posted by mitsdude on Friday, January 30, 2015 2:55 AM

I know the 1960's TV series "Daniel Boone" was before, during and after the Revolutionary War.

There were also two RW series one in early 70's "The Young Rebels" and the other in the late 70's was a miniseries whose name I forget. The mini series had a cast that many of us would recognize. Willam Shatner, Don Johnson, Peter Graves, Jim Backus and many others.

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  • From: Bethlehem PA
Posted by the Baron on Friday, January 30, 2015 11:49 AM

mitsdude

...the other in the late 70's was a miniseries whose name I forget. The mini series had a cast that many of us would recognize. Willam Shatner, Don Johnson, Peter Graves, Jim Backus and many others.

You're not thinking of "George Washington", are you?  That starred Barry Bostwick as General Washington.  I don't recall Shatner or Johnson in it, though.  It was based on James Flexner's multi-volume biography of Washington.

That aired in 1984, towards the end the heyday of TV miniseries,  ushered in by "Roots".

Here's the IMDb page for it:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086720/combined

I'm surprised Richard Chamberlain wasn't it it; he was the king of the miniseries back then.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

 

 

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Posted by the Baron on Friday, January 30, 2015 12:04 PM

There were also 2 very good documentary series on the Revolution, back in the late 90s or early Aughts.  One was called "The American Revolution", and I believe it was produced by and aired on A&E.  If I recall, it was narrated by Edward Herrmann (who passed recently).  This series and the other one, whose title escapes me, showed the influence of Ken Burns' "Civil War" documentary, in that they featured famous actors voicing characters from the time, reading their quotes.  The other series even featured actors and actresses in head shots speaking to the camera.  That was a little melodramatic, I thought, but both series were documentaries.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

 

 

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  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Friday, January 30, 2015 10:45 PM

There have been quite a few good documentaries about the Revolution. I do wish Ken Burns would do a really long one that would pull out all the stops. (It would take a long one to do the subject justice.)

I think the mini-series mitsdude is trying to remember was the one based on John Jakes's novel The BaCensoredard. I have a higher opinion of Jakes's work than some of my colleagues do; I used to assign that book in my freshman-level American history courses.

I can't recall meeting anybody who actually liked the Barry Bostwick George Washington mini-series.

I think I tend to be pretty tolerant of movies that tell fictitious stories in historical contexts. It seems to me such movies are similar in concept to historical fiction - and surely nobody argues that the historical novel isn't a legitimate art form. (Think: Ivanhoe, War and Peace, A Tale of Two Cities, etc., etc.) Some of my favorite movies fit into that category. Examples: "The Last Samurai," "The Warlord," "Pharaoh's Army" (my favorite Civil War flick), "Master and Commander," "Das Boot," "Fury," "The Bridges at Toko Ri," and my all-time favorite war movie, "Twelve O'Clock High."

I've also seen quite a number of movies and mini-series that make a genuine effort to tell real historical stories, and do it quite successfully. Examples: "Eleanor and Franklin," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Waterloo," "Patton," "MacArthur," "Band of Brothers," "The Pacific," "John Adams," etc., etc. They doctor things a little bit here and there for dramatic effect, and they leave out a lot of stuff, but they obviously represent a genuine effort to tell the truth.

In my opinion "Sons of Liberty" just doesn't come close to that level. Ok, its website says "It is not a documentary." It sure isn't. It's a sloppy, poorly researched (if it was researched at all) mess that tells outright falsehoods, and demonizes real historical figures who don't deserve it. (If I were a descendant of Thomas Gage, John Pitcairn, or Thomas Hutchinson, I'd be on the phone with a lawyer and filing a defamation of character suit.) I really expected better from the History Channel.

My wife (a retired high school teacher) and I have had some lively discussions about Disney's "Pocahontas." She says any movie that gets kids interested in history is a good thing. It's hard to argue with that one. But I always ask, "to get kids interested in history is it necessary to move Yellowstone National Park to Tidewater Virginia? Or tell kids that people of different cultures can learn each others' languages in thirty seconds?"

(Incidentally, in the recent archaeological digs at Jamestown the researchers dug up a the skeleton of a small animal whose teeth were worn down to an unusual extent, suggesting that it was a pet that lived in captivity. It was a racoon. Looks like Disney got that one right.)

As a semi-retired teacher I tend to think in terms of grades. For what it's worth: "Band of Brothers," "The Pacific," "Glory," "Patton," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Escape from Sobibor," and "Eleanor and Franklin" - 95 (A). "Blackhawk Down," "We Were Soldiers," and "Waterloo" - 90 (A-). "Gettysburg" - 88 (B+).

"Pharaoh's Army," "Das Boot," "Master and Commander," "The Bridges at Toko Ri," "Porkchop Hill," "In Which We Serve," "The Cruel Sea," "Saving Private Ryan," and "Twelve O'Clock High" - 95 (A). "The Last Samurai," "Fury," and "Platoon" - 90 (A-). The Richard Sharpe series and "Pocahontas" - 85 (B).

"Sons of Liberty" - 68 (D+).

I hope it's obvious that (a) I really do like lots of history-related movies, and (b) I have strong personal opinions - with which, of course, anybody is perfectly entitled to disagree.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

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Posted by tankerbuilder on Monday, February 16, 2015 12:47 PM

Hi;

    You only have the opinions you should have  .As a college graduate myself and a Foreigner to these shores at birth , I think it should be told right . I am so sick and tired of asking kids about history and being told , " we don't have to learn that " !

   I learned it all and then some . Because I wanted the truth . After All  I had to take the oath ,when I joined the military . Going home , after the Wall came down , I realized , Austria stopped being my home , when I was born .

    I do not blindly follow any political espousement  .I am just glad those before , did what they did , when they did and shall ever be remembering them . Not with sales either !

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Posted by the Baron on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 12:08 PM

There is wisdom in Santayana's statement that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

 

 

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  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 1:08 PM

"Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." -- Santayana

"Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it next semester." -- Tilley

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

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  • From: Green Bay, WI USA
Posted by echolmberg on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 3:10 PM

Accurate or not, I'll tell you one thing: My 11 year old daughter was glued to the TV as we were watching it.  Out of sheer coinkydink, she just so happens to be studying that aspect of history in her Social Studies class.  She was fascinated by it because it placed human faces to what she was learning.  It wasn't just words in a book (or web pages on the school-issued iPad).  Now she felt more of a connection to what happened in history because she got to see the action happen in front of her on TV.

Was it 100% accurate?  I have no doubt that it was not and I tried to correct things as we watched the show.  But I'll definitely say that she's taken a far greater interest in the subject in school because of the show.

Eric

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Posted by GMorrison on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 3:13 PM

"Those who fail to learn from the past are called politicians"- Morrison

Modeling is an excuse to buy books

 

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  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 9:17 PM

Echolmberg makes an important point - the same one my wife makes about "Pocahontas."

I want kids to get interested in history. (For cryin' out loud, I'd be happy if they'd get interested in anything constructive.) But I continue to question whether a TV show or movie has to distort the truth - or tell outright lies - in order to be interesting.

I was particularly galled by the way "Sons of Liberty" depicted the Battle of Bunker Hill. It's a fascinating battle. (It's been called "the only engagement of the Revolution that's of any real tactical interest.") Would the show's depiction of it have been hurt if the right British general (Howe, a pivotal figure of the Revolution who didn't make it into the script at all) had been in command? Did that ridiculous scene of Gage shooting Dr. Joseph Warren and ordering "mutilate the body" really improve the show? (In reality, Gage wasn't even present at the battle.) Couldn't the producers have found a site that resembled the topography of the battle site at least a little bit? And what on earth did that hokey shot of a fleet of British ships-of-the-line arriving just in time for the battle add to the story? (No such thing happened. The British troops were carried across Boston Harbor from Boston to Charlestown in boats.)

There's no way that a three-night TV miniseries can tell the whole story of the coming of the Revolution. (Most good university history departments in the country offer entire courses on the subject.) Some simplification and omission is unavoidable. I hope we can agree that there's a line somewhere between real history and sheer entertainment. In my opinion (with which anybody's free to disagree), "Sons of Liberty" was way on the wrong side of that line.

Echolmberg, it's great news that your daughter's picked up some interest in American history. If she's receptive to learning more, this thread discusses quite a few good flicks that you can rent or buy. (I'd particularly recommend "The Crossing." Maybe she'd recognize Jeff Daniels - who actually doesn't make a bad George Washington.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

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Posted by GMorrison on Saturday, February 21, 2015 7:41 PM

I was in a used bookstore the other day and found a history of the Battle of Bunker Hill, written by Nate Philbrick. I didn't know he'd put out that subject, and i look forward to reading it.

Modeling is an excuse to buy books

 

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  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Saturday, February 21, 2015 10:33 PM

Philbrick is a good scholar. I haven't gotten around to reading this book, but my wife gave it to me for my birthday a couple of years back. I've thumbed through it enough to see that it doesn't try to make complex subjects into black/white, right/wrong issues (which were just as rare in the eighteenth century as they are today).

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

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Posted by GMorrison on Monday, February 23, 2015 11:01 AM

Per your earlier post, of course that's why I bought it.

Seriously, thank you for noting that and its meaningful.

Philbrick and I share roots in the same family tree, but so many generations ago that if we passed each other on Main Street he at least wouldn't know me, lols. As most probably know, my forum name is an alias, my true family name is the same as that of a somewhat famous mutineer.

Think Philbrick, not Nordhoff or Hall.

Modeling is an excuse to buy books

 

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Posted by GMorrison on Monday, February 23, 2015 11:04 AM

AFA comparing the American Revolution to Indochina, an interesting and valid point. I wonder what the French historical perspective would be on that?

Modeling is an excuse to buy books

 

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