Monday, February 19, 2007

President's Day

On this President's Day, Prof. Scott Horton waxes nostalgic for the original President George:
Following the Battle of Trenton in 1776, Washington set firm rules for the treatment of prisoners in American custody. "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands," he wrote. In all respects the prisoners were to be treated no worse than American soldiers; and in some respects, better. Through this approach, Washington sought to shame his British adversaries, and to demonstrate the moral superiority of the American cause. He also anticipated that the prisoners, treated with such attention and care, would reconsider their loyalties by the end of the war and embrace the American cause (his expectation was fulfilled - nearly all of the surviving prisoners of Trenton, for instance, settled in America and attained citizenship, many after US military service). But Washington makes clear that he took this approach in the end because of his experience in the wilderness, and the lesson he learned there: soldiers who mistreated prisoners, who took up cruel practices, were bad and unruly soldiers - the discipline and morale of the entire fighting force was undermined by such conduct. For Washington, the issues were clear on both a moral and practical level, and his guidance was given with firm conviction.

Those were the days, when moral decency was premised on what you did and the example you set for others, and not what you said you did or told others to do. Thank God we had a man such as George Washington in those trying times, and for shame that we don't have a man such as him now.

1 comment:

adam said...

We also should have listened to his warning about foreign entanglements...