“George Washington’s integrity set a pattern for all other presidents to follow.”
On this statement, both the White House and I agree, How do I know the White House agrees with it? Because it’s right there on the official web site. And you know they don’t lie over there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, right?
So, since we have a point of agreement – common ground, so to speak – I suggest we use it to build some bridges of understanding to the 21st century.
As we prepare to celebrate his birthday, Feb. 22, it’s important to remember who George Washington was. He was a war hero. His exploits under British command during the French and Indian War alone are the stuff of which legends are made. In one memorable battle, he had several horses shot out front under him. No, this was not a man who loathed the military. But he was hardly a warmonger, either. He accepted the command of the colonial army in the revolution under one condition – that the Continental Congress provide his men with chaplains.
His speeches and letters portray a man humble to the core. He never took credit for any achievement. He always honored God for providing the victories and inspiration necessary for the creation of the new republic.
Washington was a truly great man and leader. As great as the other Founding Fathers were, not one was his peer. He was the unparalleled military leader who led the war of independence and he was the glue that united the states in some contentious days before the Constitution was drafted and ratified.
We owe this man not only our respect and veneration, we owe it to ourselves to heed his warnings to us. I think he has a message for us today, as we are about to embark on a war without a mission – a war that seems to have more to do with “domestic affairs” and political motivations than any clear national security objective.
“The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject,” he warned in his farewell address. “At other times, it makes the animosity of the Nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the Liberty, of Nations has been the victim.”
Washington also understood the concept that peace is best kept through strength. In his first presidential address, he stated it cogently: “To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
Today, many of our elected leaders believe in wishful thinking that stands this sound principle on its head. Their lowest priority is a military prepared for war. They over-commit defense forces in so-called “peacekeeping” missions – really global police work. They cut and slash only at military budgets in phony and shortsighted efforts to reduce deficits. They destroy the morale of soldiers by using the armed forces for experiments in social engineering.
But, as we consider the mysterious flood of offshore money into the last national election, perhaps the most interesting of all Washington’s observations was his warning about foreign entanglements.
“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government,” he prophesied. “Real Patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite (nation), are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.”
Does this sound familiar, my fellow Americans? Do you know any “tools” or “dupes” of foreign interest in high places in 1998 America?
Washington believed in “temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.” He would not have looked favorably upon post-Cold War NATO, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, Most Favored Nation status or the North American Free Trade Agreement. I guaranty it.
“The Great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible,” he said. “So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled, with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.”
Washington made that pronouncement only three years before he died — 199 years ago. It wasn’t self-interest that led him to make such a warning. It was experience. It was wisdom. It was integrity. Does anybody remember integrity?