Sunday, September 13, 2015

George Washington, A Mere Human


"Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all." 
- George Washington


         Not so much with the quote, huh? George Washington is considered the Father of the United States of America. He has been placed on the highest pedestal that could be found for him. He has nearly reached God status in some people's eyes. He was a top leader at both initial meetings of the Continental Congress. He was the U.S. Army's first Commander, and he is touted as the man that won the Revolutionary War. He was the first President of the United States, and he was the one that set the standard for the two term Presidency. He helped to shape the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the very structure of our system of governance. He is portrayed as a man of honor, a pure Christian soul, and a noble warrior. In some historical writings, he is even compared to Cincinnatus of the early Roman Republic, the 'Citizen Soldier.' Washington took up the role of the citizen warrior, who was offered a kingdom, but instead went home to his farm to let democracy take its place in the world. It's too bad that he really was not that the pristine and flawless Father of Us All that he is touted to be. He was a living, breathing, human being. He had flaws just like the rest of us, and he failed just like us. Further, just as many of our leaders now, he was not without his criminal scandals, and he was not a professed Christian, but rather, a Deist, believing that a singular God figure had created the universe on scientific principles and then hit the bricks for better shores. He spoke of freedom, but owned slaves. He spoke of individual liberty and the right of people to protest against their government, but he was the first and only President in U.S. history to personally lead a national military force into combat against the people of his own nation.
        What kind of man was George Washington, really? First of all, he was born of stock from the Lower English Gentry. They came from England in 1657, and very quickly amassed a modest tobacco plantation and a number of slaves. Washington, however, was not a member of the social circles of the Virginia Tidewater elite. After his father died, he was unable to get the same education in England that his brothers had. In the end, from his own studies, and with the help of various tutors, he achieved the equivalent of a sixth grade education. He did not enter the elite, though, until he married Martha Dandridge. She was the daughter of John Dandridge, a wealthy planter and English immigrant, who was a member of the Virginia Tidewater elite. At the time that she met Washington, despite already having an established family, with four kids and a massive estate, Martha was only twenty-five when she was widowed by Daniel Parke Custis. She and Washington were both twenty-seven at the time they were wed. Washington took over the administration of her estate, watched over hundreds of slaves working in his fields, while he profited off their labor and moved himself into a position of leadership in the Virginia Assembly. While there, he wrote his own story of his feats, and subsequently, he built himself up as a hero of the French and Indian War.
         So what actually happened? George Washington can actually be criminally charged with inciting the colonial side of Great Britain's Seven Years War, known to U.S. History as the French and Indian War. Washington was sent into western Pennsylvania, with a militia commission, by the Virginia Assembly to explore a rumor that the French were looking to establish a military presence in the region. They were looking into securing land that they had speculated in heavily, on the expectation that the land would soon be obtained by the Britain. George Washington was involved in the deal, directly. When he arrived in the region in 1754, he encountered a small French unit under the command of Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. Washington ordered his men to fire on the French unit, despite Jumonville being on orders to parlay with any British forces encountered in the region. In the fray, Jumonville was killed. Another unit later captured Washington after the battle, and forced him to sign a confession, where he admitted to killing Jumonville, in order to secure his release. Upon his return to Virginia, Washington told his version of the story and became a local hero. On the international stage, however, he brought a global war to the American colonies, after engaging a French unit, unprovoked. In a modern court, this could label Washington a self-confessed war criminal. He also later participated in two failed attempts by the British to capture the base, Fort Duquesne, a key French military post in the Americas.
         This, of course, was not the end of his military career. Touted as an American military hero, George Washington's service record is full of defeats. In fact, his failing record as a commander is a signature of his poor education and limited military experience. He had a complete lack of strategic imagination. He attempted to take a bunch of farmers and turn them into a European quality military force that could stand toe to toe with the British Army in a traditional European style field engagement. The result was heavy losses, high rates of desertion, and a series of close scrapes that routinely placed his life and freedom in jeopardy, along with the men that fought with him. He was constantly on the run. He made no real use of the militia under his command; in fact, he was openly disparaging of them. He failed to use the militia for what they were really good for, Guerrilla Warfare. He thought it was uncivilized, despite his uncivil behavior as a member of the Militia years before.
        The real interesting thing is how Washington came about the victory that ended the Revolutionary War in the United States' favor, Yorktown. It was getting harder and harder to evade the British, and the United States needed legitimacy. The Continental Congress went to the French, who because of their conflict with Britain in Europe, was unable to offer more than cursory support at the beginning. They were also weary of helping a young country that had not proven itself. The earlier Battle of Saratoga brought France into the war with its money, at least. It is also important to note that his was a battle in which George Washington did not participate. The most significant French contribution to the war came as Britain was shipping reinforcements to the colonies. The French army joined American forces at the Siege of Yorktown, while the French navy blocked the the fleet that was on its way to reinforce the British garrison there. If the French had not had a personal score to settle with Britain after they were beaten in the Seven Years War, they may not have had any reason to help the United States. If the French had not shown up, the British reinforcements would have arrived. The result would have been a resounding defeat for the infant United States, and would, likely, have seen the execution of most of its tops leaders, including George Washington.
        Of course, the French did show up, the United States was able to pull independence out of the shadow of the gallows, and George Washington became the mythical Father of our 'Great Nation.' This is not designed to sully the reputation of George Washington. Honestly, it was a reputation that was manufactured to begin with, so it cannot be sullied. He was a man that took advantage of his circumstances to get to the top of his world. He was the same as any man of opportunity of his day. He took the tales of his exploits, repackaged them, exaggerated them, and then took advantage of a high tension situation and a massive stroke of luck. He was not a God, he was not some noble warrior, and we was not some faultless monk without sin. He was a physical, live, breathing, flawed human being. The reason that the people of this country are constantly disappointed is because the people that built this country and every leader since, with every good and bad part of their being, are turned into God-like figures to be looked up to. They are put on a pedestal so high that when it turns out they are human, just like the rest of us, people are disappointed, let down, and even hurt inside. What were we expecting would happen? There is no one that has ever lived or will ever live that can.
        Placing that much pressure on a single person is ridiculous, especially in a day in age when a leader's entire life is on television. Further, once people realize that their contemporary heroes are just as deluded and fucked up as they are, they start to question the heroes of myth, and they find out what their heroes that they were taught to believe in like gods, really are, human beings with issues, just like the rest of us. So, you have a writing like this that points a very different picture of George Washington. No longer is he the god like, noble warrior, and sin free role model. He made mistakes in his youth. Any decent scholar that analyzes Washington's actions in 1754, can see him for the flawed, imperfect, and sometimes impudent human that he was. This does not sell well with some, though. People find it difficult to to see their old heroes in this new light, as someone, much like themselves, who simply had a shot to make a name for himself and took it. Was he a big personality? Yes. Was he in the right place at the right time? Most definitely. Should he be blamed for the crimes that he committed? Without a doubt. Having said these things, should the fact that he managed to outrun the British for so long and that he was later able to take advantage of Britain's strategic blunders, and Frances need for revenge, to pull a victory out of his ass, be ignored? No, of course not! If not for his stroke of luck, we would not be here to talk about the nature of Washington's persona. We just need to keep people like Washington in perspective. We need to recognize how their flaws and mistakes made them who they were, and put them into a position to do for us what they did for us as a whole. They gave us the idea that in this country, for better or for worse, a regular person should be able to say, do, and believe whatever the want to do, so long as they are not infringing upon the rights of their fellow citizens. If nothing else, they as least gave us a lot of interesting stuff to talk about......

2 comments:

  1. Many people will refuse to believe this; they also refuse to believe the fact that Columbus was a butcher of every indigenous people he "discovered". I think it is called cognitive dissonance, where the mind refuses to believe facts when presented to it.

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