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.

George Washington’s Failures

Washington Irving, author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” was named by his mother after the first president of the United States — who, it is said, blessed the lad early on, leading the boy to determine then and there to write the definitive biography of the man his mother so greatly admired. It was eventually written and, when Irving was 78, printed in five volumes. While somewhat adulatory, it is reputed to be one of the very best biographies of the remarkable first president. Sadly, it is currently out of print. Fortunately for us, however, the five volumes have been reduced to one fairly large paperback by Charles Neider who did a remarkable editing job and provided us with a very fine biography — and one well worth reading.

Early on in Washington’s career he was involved in the debacle led by the English General Braddock against the French and Indians in the West of the United States — Pennsylvania and Ohio, as it was then. Braddock was bull-headed and insisted on fighting the French and Indians the way he might have fought the Spanish or the Germans in Europe — marching to battle with much musical fanfare, colors flying, and loud drums in tight formations in the middle of the American wilderness, easy pickings for the French and Indians waiting for them behind trees and rocks and attacking amidst loud war-cries. Braddock’s forces were decimated by a group half its size; those who survived fled in a panic. Braddock himself was killed and Washington had two horses shot from beneath him and later discovered four holes in his uniform from musket balls. He had tried to warn Braddock, since he himself had once before fought against the same foes with a small group of militia from Virginia which met nearly the same fate. Washington had learned his lesson, but Braddock wasn’t going to listen to a brash, young colonial who hadn’t ever received proper (English) military training. So much for smug self-complacency.

Washington Irving tells us about the lessons George Washington learned from his two failures and from his earlier experience in the wilderness surveying for a close family friend for little or no wages.

“In a letter to his brother Augustine, then a member of Assembly at Williamsburg, [Washington] casts up the result of his frontier experience. ‘I was employed,’ he writes, ‘to go on a journey in the winter, when I believe few or none would have undertaken it, and what did I get by it? — my expenses borne! I was then appointed, with trifling pay, to conduct a handful of men to Ohio. What did I get by that? Why, after putting myself to a considerable expense in equipping and providing necessaries for the campaign, I went out, was soundly beaten and lost all! Came in, and had my commission taken from me, or, in other words, my command reduced under pretense of an order from [England]. I then went out a volunteer with General Braddock and lost all my horses and many other things. But this being a voluntary act, I ought not to mention it, nor should I have done it, were it not to show that I have been on the losing order ever since I entered the service, which is now nearly two years.’

“What a striking lesson is furnished by this brief summary! How little was he aware of the vast advantages he was acquiring in this school of bitter experience! ‘In the hand of Heaven he stood,’ to be shaped and trained for its great purpose, and every trial and vicissitude of his early life fitted him to cope with one or another of the varied and multifarious duties of his future destiny.”

What a striking lesson, indeed. So here we are told that one of the greatest men this country ever produced learned valuable lessons from his failures! Can you believe it? We know better, of course, because social scientists in what Christopher Lasch disdainfully calls our “helping professions” have convinced us that we shouldn’t allow the kids to fail, either in school or at home: it’s bad for their self-esteem. Welcome to the age of entitlement.

One day soon, after our culture fades into oblivion, and the “counter-culture” has become firmly entrenched, the epitaph will be written and it will go something like this: “These people were stupid enough to listen to supposed “experts” who told them that children shouldn’t fail. If they had used common sense and read some history they would have known better.”