“They just don’t get it,” said one England fan – over the New York Post’s controversial decision to declare Team USA’s 1-1 draw with England on Saturday a ‘victory.’
Sorry to say, it’s the England fan who doesn’t ‘get it.’ The qualifier was the subhead: “The Greatest Tie since Bunker Hill.” We Brits clearly require an injection of historical perspective from time to time.
Bunker Hill was the 1775 battle between British forces marching out of Boston and the Colonial Army, dug in at Breed’s Hill (Bunker Hill was actually nearby, and played little part in the battle.) The Brits mercilessly assaulted the American fortifications, but found the Colonial Army to be a far tougher nut to crack than they’d anticipated (at that early stage in the war, the British still considered the Colonial Army to be an ill-trained militia of farmers and boys. Bunker Hill taught them otherwise.)
The American troops were disciplined and focused – General Putnam, leading the Colonial Army in the field, uttered the famous line “Don’t shoot ‘till you see the whites of their eyes” as the Brits clambered up the hill to assault the American fortifications – only to get driven back by a hail of point-blank musket fire.
Eventually, after a long and bloody battle, the British succeeded in taking Breed’s Hill and claimed ‘victory’ - yet they suffered over a thousand causalities – more than twice the loss of the Colonial Army. British commander General Clinton ruefully admitted: “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”
Historians have generally placed the score as a nil-nil draw; noting that the Americans decimated the British forces and escaped swiftly from the field of battle – even preventing their wounded from being captured. British General Burgoyne later admitted that the American retreat had been “no flight; it was even covered with bravery and military skill.”
From a broader perspective, this ‘draw’ was undoubtedly a victory for the United States. It was the single greatest blow to the British Army during the whole War of Independence. It hardened King George III’s resolve to crush the insurrection – and increased support for the Independence movement across the thirteen colonies. In many ways, Bunker Hill was the turning point; turning a rebellion against taxation into a de facto battle for Independence; one that ultimately resulted in the birth of the United States.
But is it fair to compare the Battle of Bunker Hill to America’s 1-1 ‘victory’ on Saturday?
Well, considering that America has never gone further than the semi-finals of the world cup – and spent 40 years in qualifying exile after their one-time victory against England in 1950 – I think it is. To have drawn even with the England Team is nothing short of a victory. It means the Americans are still in with a shot of advancing into the quarter-finals. In that respect – in that the venerable England team failed to decisively knock the Americans out of the competition – the draw was as much a Pyrrhic victory for England as the Battle of Bunker Hill ultimately turned out to be.