Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will The Real Founding Fathers Please Stand Up?

In the winter of 1778, the father of our country was camped out with the harried and motley remnants of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. They were defeated, hungry, and frozen; the entire army was on the verge of disintegration. Had they fallen apart, it’s possible that the American Revolution would have failed, and the glorious cause of American independence would now be remembered as just another bloody skirmish in British imperial history, not much different than the Siege of Khartoum or the Zulu War in the following century.

Meanwhile, the British Army was comfortably lodged at Philadelphia, where they enjoyed a steady supply of food sent not from England, but over land from … the farmers around Valley Forge!

The Continental Army was wasting away while the hated redcoats were dining fairly well, thank you very much, from the bounty of nearby Pennsylvanian farms.

How did such a travesty come to pass?

By operations of the invisible hand, of course, the last God standing in our hoary universe.

Local farmers didn’t like to sell their produce to George Washington because he paid in nearly worthless currency, the Continental, whereas the British paid in pounds sterling, the choicest coin of the day.

Politics had nothing to do with it. It was a shrewd, sound economic calculation. It was the invisible hand of the market.

I can hear Jim Cramer, or Lawrence Kudlow, or any of the other epidermal infections on CNBC spasmodically cheering them on right now: Take the smart money! It’s a no-brainer!

Thus, from the storied mists of America’s past, we’re offered a prenatal glimpse of our developing national character, not in the stalwart figure of George Washington, but in the mercenary behavior of colonial husbandmen — our true spiritual forebears.

George Washington, on the other hand, displayed some unsavory conduct that would probably get him cashiered in today’s warfare state, as well as subject him to great, gushing heaps of slander from the Morlocks on Fox News.

To wit: when somebody suggested to Washington that they simply confiscate all the adjoining farms and remove the locals in order to deprive the British of supplies, he refused. Such harshness, he argued, would be worse than the problem it was intended to solve. He recognized that wholesale violence against the civilian population would not only be futile, but counter-productive.

And it would also be immoral. The “horror of depopulating a whole district,” he said, “would forbid the measure.” (I lifted the quote from American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the American Republic, by Joseph Ellis).

So Washington refused, on both moral and strategic grounds, to implement a policy that’s now fairly standard in U.S. wars, and which flag-waving American consumers regard with bovine passivity: pacification. He refused to burn the village in order to save it.

How positively un-American.

You could say the concept of winning hearts and minds has undergone a slight transformation in the years between Valley Forge and Fallujah.

(This is not to say that George was an angel. He did publicly execute men caught sending supplies to the British in Philadelphia, and occasionally left their bodies strewn along the road as a warning to any other budding entrepreneurs, but that was regarded as an extreme measure undertaken because of dire necessity. Now it’s the military equivalent of a slap on the wrist, and we send American soldiers thousands of miles around the world to do such things on a routine basis. George Washington was responding to an immediate, pressing crisis. We’re doing it now because of … why, exactly?)

Who is more familiar to contemporary American eyes, a general cum politician with common sense and some small measure of humanity, or a bunch of opportunistic profit seekers scrambling to make a buck, regardless of the consequences? Which character type is today more celebrated, more envied, and more sneakily admired? Which type shanks his way up to the highest peaks of American public life?

Which type now makes the rules?

Who are the real founding fathers?

Next Fourth of July, don’t forget to tip your tin cup to the true progenitors of the American Way.


Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Probably there is no such thing as "too much" iconoclasm...

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