Hate Breeds Hate

We have read often about the terrible conditions undergone by the American rag-tag army as it endured the freezing cold Winter at Valley Forge prior to the attack on the Hessians at Trenton during the Revolution. But we don’t read as often about the many other such Winters both at Valley Forge and elsewhere, that had to be endured as the war dragged on for eight long years and the underfed and ill-clothed condition of the army remained virtually the same. Washington Irving in his biography of George Washington described one such Winter at Morristown in some detail:

“The dreary encampment at Valley Forge has become proverbial for its hardships, yet they were scarcely more severe than those suffered by Washington’s army during the present winter [1780] while hutted among the heights of Morristown. The winter set in early and was uncommonly rigorous. The transportation of supplies was obstructed, the magazines were exhausted, and the commissaries had neither money nor credit to enable them to replenish them. For weeks at a time the army was on half allowance, sometimes without meat, sometimes without bread, sometimes without both. There was a scarcity too of clothing and blankets so that the poor soldiers were suffering from cold as well as hunger. .  .  .  The severest trails of the Revolution in fact were not in the field, where there were shouts to excite and laurels to be won, but in the squalid wretchedness of ill-provided camps, where there was nothing to cheer and everything to be endured. To suffer was the lot of the revolutionary soldier.”

The details of the picture sketched here are graphically completed in a letter written by General Anthony Wayne, who was in charge of six regiments hutted near Morristown:

“Poorly clothed, badly fed, and worse paid. . . . some of them not having received a paper dollar for near twelve months, exposed to winter’s piercing cold, to drifting snows and chilling blasts, with no protection but old worn-out coats, tattered linen overalls and but one blanket between three men.”

Needless to say, there was widespread sickness and desertions were common, even mutiny. The wonder is that any of the soldiers stayed it out and that Washington had enough men to continue the fight when the war resumed after the long, cold Winters. But he did.

Much if this remarkable fact is attributed by many historians to Washington’s undeniable charisma, his devotion to his troops, and his willingness to endure the same conditions as they. But there is another factor that needs to be mentioned and that is the fact that the British and their allies were intent to demoralize the colonists by burning whole villages  and pillaging everything in sight. This activity had precisely the opposite effect. One famous incident involving the wife of the Rev. James Caldwell is recounted by Irving:

“When sacking of the village took place she retired with her children into a back room of the house. Her infant of eight months was in the arms of an attendant. She herself was seated on the side of a bed holding a child of three years of age by the hand, and was engaged in prayer. All was terror and confusion in the village when suddenly a musket was discharged in at the window. Two balls struck her in the breast and she fell dead on the floor. The parsonage and church were set on fire and it was with difficulty her body was rescued from the flames.”

The terrible incident became a rallying cry for the angry colonists who grew to hate the invaders and more determined than ever to drive them from their homeland. Their hatred helped keep them warm during the harsh winters.

There were a great many loyal British subjects as the war began and the colonies had a difficult time raising militia enough to engage in a war against one of the most powerful armies on earth, especially since many of those “loyal” British subjects joined with the invaders to fight against their former countrymen. But as the war went on and the atrocities multiplied, despite the harsh conditions of the Winters and the lack of pay accompanied by the diminishing value of printed currency, the number of loyal British subjects diminished and the intensity of the colonists grew and became fierce. And they became better soldiers.

In any number of ways throughout history the same story, or stories very much like this one, has been repeated in the innumerable wars that humans have waged against one another. And yet the lesson is never learned. It is determined by one side or the other to “escalate” the war and demoralize the enemy by dropping bigger bombs or sending drones — which is the modern version of pillaging — only to discover that such actions merely enrage the enemy and make them more determined than ever to retaliate.

We find this today with the rapid growth of terrorist groups that has resulted from the “war on terror” this nation has declared as a result of the attack on the Twin Towers. The number of terrorists doesn’t diminish, it expands. Hatred breeds hatred. This is one of the lessons that history has held before us and it is one of the many lessons that we continue to ignore.


Political Hogwash!

“I think he cares for his country, don’t get me wrong about that, but I think he truly misunderstands what this country was based upon, the values that America was based upon, which was free enterprise and having the ability to risk your capital and having a chance to have a return on your investment,”

These are the garbled words of Rick Perry who is referring to President Obama whom he calls, in the same interview, a “socialist.” I have spoken about scare words like “socialist” in an earlier blog, so I won’t go there. I would prefer to reflect on the longer comment about the values Perry thinks this country was founded upon. One must wonder whether he ever read any of the founders’ words! Almost to a man, even the staunch Federalists had deep reservations about unbridled capitalism. They tried in any number of ways to put reins on human greed and see to it that no one became so wealthy they were a threat to found a new aristocracy.

One of the most common steps taken by every colony was to write into law prohibitions against “primogeniture”: the ability of a father to pass along his entire wealth to his eldest son. By the time of the Revolution all of the colonies had outlawed this practice, choosing instead a more equitable distribution of wealth through wills — what was called “partible inheritance.” The idea was to spread the wealth as much as possible and not allow it to accumulate in the hands of a few who would then become powerful, or worse yet, aristocratic. It didn’t always work that way, of course, but the point is that the values this country were founded upon are not to be found in raw, unbridled capitalism. Though most of the founders were not Puritans, they espoused largely Puritan values — such things as industry, courage, charity, and thrift. That is, the values that were prominent in the eighteenth century were other-directed and most assuredly unrelated to the “return on your investment.” Perry is deluded and is simply trying to re-write history as he slanders the President. What he says is hogwash.

When we take these words together with candidate Michele Bachmann’s praise of the residents of New Hampshire for the courage their ancestors showed in the local battle of Lexington and Concord, we must assume that the corporations who back these candidates don’t choose them for their intelligence and knowledge of history, but for their malleability. It would be wise to brace ourselves: there will be more of this sort of nonsense in the coming months, not less.