Friday, September 24, 2004
Washington's Crossing: I just finished David Hackett Fischer's history of the winter campaign of 1776-77. Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware was but the start of this period that Hackett argues was key to the success of the Revolutionary War.
I'm usually hesitant to "ruin" the ending of the book, but Fischer has something to say about America today based upon what happened at our founding.
The most remarkable fact about American soldiers and civilians in the New Jersey campaign is that they did all of these things at the same time. In a desperate struggle they found a way to defeat a formidable enemy, not merely once at Trenton but many times in twelve weeks of continued combat. They reversed the momentum of the war. They improvised a new way of war that grew into an American tradition. And they chose a policy of humanity that aligned the conduct of the war with the values of the Revolution.
They set a high example, and we have much to learn from them. Much recent historical writing has served us ill in that respect. In the late twentieth century, too many scholars tried to make the American past into a record of crime and folly. Too many writers have told us that we are captives of our darker selves and helpless victims of our history. It isn't so, and never was. The story of Washington's Crossing tells us that Americans in an earlier generation were capable of acting in a higher spirit -- and so are we.
The "blame America first -- and always" crowd is wrong.
Fischer's work is a great read for anyone interested in American history.