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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Can Barack Obama Make a Difference?

In the wake of Obama's election as President, people on Wednesday were asking, "Does it really matter?" "What can one man do?"

Autumn, 1776.

A disorganized but proud American Army, facing the largest British invasion force ever assembled, is ripped apart in battle after battle. The Battle of Long Island is a disaster. New York City falls in the Battle of Harlem Heights. Fort Washington is seized. American soldiers are chased across New Jersey, and a remnant only about a tenth its original size makes it across the Delaware.

Surrendering American soldiers are routinely slaughtered by the British Army's fearless mercenaries - Hessians. Those allowed to surrender are abused by both Hessians and English. New Jersey citizens quickly discover that an occupying army of English and German soldiers will steal, murder and rape. Bodies are mutilated.

In the face of these atrocities, how did General George Washington react? Did he seek vengeance? This brief excerpt from David Fischer's Washington's Crossing answers that question. It explains what sets America apart. It explains how one leader can make a difference.

Washington ordered that Hessian captives would be treated as human beings with the same rights of humanity for which Americans were striving. The Hessians expected a different fate, with good reason after Long Island and Fort Washington. They were amazed to be treated with decency and even kindness. At first they could not understand it. One of them, Johannes Reuber, thought his good treatment by the rebels must have been the work of Colonel Rall [a Hessian colonel killed in the Battle of Trenton]. "With his last breath," Reuber wrote, "he thought about the Grenadiers and asked General Washington to leave his men unharmed."

He learned otherwise when the Hessians were marched to Philadelphia and paraded through the city, where "the old women who were present screamed at us in a terrible manner and wanted to strangle us because we had come to America to steal their freedom." The American army protected the Hessians, and Reuber learned to his surprise that General Washington had issued a broadside declaring that Hessian soldiers "were innocent people in this war, and were not volunteers, but forced into this war." The general asked that the Hessians should be treated not as enemies but friends. Reuber wrote that "conditions improved for us. Old, young and poor, and all treated us in a friendly manner."

Some of the Hessian prisoners from Trenton were sent from Philadelphia to Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, and on to western Vir­ginia in 1777. They were escorted by a company of Pennsylvania militia. When they reached the Pennsylvania state line, all of the militia went home except the captain, who told the Hessians, "whose affections he had won by his humanity," that "they must march on without an escort, as he himself should hurry on to Winchester." When he met them three days later, every Hessian answered the roll call. Afterward, it was said that "the Hessians received many indul­gences." Of 13,988 Hessian soldiers who survived the war, 3,194 (23 percent) chose to remain in America. Others later emigrated to the New World with their families.

The same policy was extended to British prisoners after the battle of Princeton. Washington ordered one of his most trusted officers, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Blachley Webb, to look after them: "You are to take charge of [211] privates of the British Army. . . . 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. . . . Provide every­thing necessary for them on the road." There were exceptions on the American side. Loyalists and slaves who joined the British were sometimes treated cruelly by local officials. But Congress and the Continental army generally adopted Adams's "policy of humanity." Their moral choices in the War of Independence enlarged the mean­ing of the American Revolution.

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.

Washington made a difference, setting an ideal for American military behavior that remained until we had a President who set a different example. I prefer the example set by Washington, and hope that is one that Obama sets himself.


Anonymous said...

To be honest, Bernie, it is NOT about what can Obama do, but it is about what WE can do. No one does ANYTHING alone and I am hoping that for every tear streaked face, sign waving, and voice bellowing person that claims to have wanted to be apart of this CHANGE, they actually do make a CHANGE and get involved with their community. I had a lady come and hug me and kiss me on the cheek and say, " Great things are coming" and she was surprised when I said, "That's what they say."
If people don't take responsibility for their lives and do what THEY need to do to make it better for their children and their children's children and expect OBAMA to just wave a magic wand and make things better, I believe they are in for a rude awakening.
I have always been proud to be a Black man and with Obama's win I hope everyone of ALL nationalities can stand a little bit taller and walk with pride, but if they believe that their lives and this country will become better without them putting in the work, all of the cheering, dancing, and celebrating was, in comparison, no better than us being at the Phillies World Series game.

Alfonso Todd

gsbrace said...

Amen Alfonso. I do believe though that Barack Obama can make a difference by the simple fact that he is asking us to do what you just said. He wants to do this WITH us, not for us.

Bernie's point that a little humanity goes a long way is more than meets the eye. How many politicians view their constituents as anything more than votes? Do something for the constituent and they are more likely to vote for you? I think the big difference that Barack Obama can make is treating us as if we can make a difference, showing us how and then letting us do so.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but isn't that something we need right now in this country?

michael molovinsky said...

alfonso todd, you have once again hit the nail squarely on the head.

michael molovinsky said...

gsbrace, i'm afraid your in for some disappointment. so far, in all due respect, obama's accomplishments are mainly as a inspirational speech giver. barack can get you to vote, but can be make someone work instead of deal drugs? can he make someone take responsibility for children they fathered? can he make someone come to his job earlier and stay later? if your going to wait for obama to show you how to do something, there certainly will be no change.

Anonymous said...

Obama's first hire was long-time Clinton enforcer and vicious political hack, Rahm Emanuel. He's not moving forward. He's moving backward with a list of enemy names and a lot of donors (Move On claimed $80 million worth; one third of Obama's money is untraceable) who want payback. If you want to "get" someone in Washington, Emanuel has long been known to be your man.

I'm not seeing one bit of difference at this early hour. We've elected a rather profound liar (i.e. "I'll accept public financing) from a filthy political cauldron (Chicago) who simply ran one of the most effective campaigns in US presidential history. But we've still elected a liar.

I'm rather surprised at this blog's indifference to all of the untraceable cash - and there's millions. You seem to be taking the Wayne Grube approach to ignoring the insidious problem by declaring the outcome, "nice."

So much for talk of better government.

Dave said...

The country wants to try something different..they have spoken. Let's give him a chance to do some remodeling. 8 years of Bush was too much! Lead and they will follow.

Chris Miller said...

Mr. Todd
Thank you for what you said. You are one hundred percent correct. Unfortunatley nothing will come true until we clean out the swamp in Washington DC and in the Main Stream Media. Personally I believe that President-elect Obams, while a glib speaker but no Ronald Reagan, is going to be in trouble primarily because he owes to much to so many starting with organizations like Move On and ACORN.Until the citizens of this nation begin to research what is happening in this country we are on our way to a socialist form of government.

Ken Matthews said...

I'm still looking for anyone who's read Memories of My Father or Audacity of Hope....Obama's books....also...Does the US Constitution need remodeling ?

Glenn said...

In regards to the election..

There will be those who will resolve themselves to make a positive effort and America will be the better for it. Many will not. Some are determined to believe they will get handouts. Others will continue to accuse Obama of Socialism. The words (in the video) do NOT reflect anybody will receive 'something-for-nothing'. Listen to the words carefully.

Reflect on which of those personas you wish to be. The divisive pessimistic one, or a person of higher ideology.

I've mixed a video. The video is not intended to imply Obama is another MLK, but rather the "product" of what MLK's lifetime dedication had achieved. Imagine now if many peoples were to resign themselves to put away their disconnects and absorb the words of these principals (in the video), we'd have such a great opportunity to improve all of our circumstances in this country.

Video Here..

" Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't."... To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country..."
~Mark Twain~

Glenn said...

(or just click on my name for the video)

Bernie O'Hare said...

Glenn, I will check out on my way to courthouse. I need a faster PC to view viseo.

Anonymous said...

Re: "something for nothing"

Obama's "tax cut" will provide a federal Earned Income Tax Credit to the 47% of earners who currently pay NO federal income tax. At tax filing time, they will receive federal tax refunds after having paid no federal income tax in the first place. The money is planned to come from higher taxes on the rich.

Those 47% are most assuredly receiving something for nothing.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Glenn, Did you make that video yourself?

Glenn said...


Glenn said...

FYI: When people get a check for more then they paid into the IRS it is referred to as ""Making Work Pay" tax credit.

Obama's Nothing new, although he may or may not expand that program, since he hasn't specifically said he would.

"As part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, the U.S. Congress created the Child Tax Credit in to lower the tax for
families who are raising children.... At the start this credit was non-refundable for families with one or two children, meaning ... if you owed less in taxes than the credit amount, the difference would not be refunded to the tax filer."

"The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act", passed by Congress changed things.. "was made to be PARTIALLY REFUNDABLE to families of all sizes who meet the income guidelines... one that enables the tax filer to receive a “refund” (literally a check in the mail from the U.S. Treasury) even if they did not have to pay taxes (or when the credit is more than the amount owed in taxes"

Tax Foundation estimates show that..

If all of the Obama tax provisions were enacted in 2009, the number of these "nonpayers" would rise by about 16 million, to 63 million overall.

If all of the McCain tax proposals were enacted in 2009, the number of nonpayers would rise by about 15 million, to a total of 62 million overall."

Not much difference, eh?

"Those tax returns have become, in effect, a claim form for a subsidy delivered through the tax system rather than a direct payment from a traditional government program like welfare or farm supports."

Anonymous said...

glen 1:53

Thanks for a concise analysis of the handout process. And a hearty, "you're welcome," to all the new sponges I'll be supporting!

"A government that robs from Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul."

George Bernard Shaw

gsbrace said...

"i'm afraid your in for some disappointment."

Rather than simply assume the worst, I'm willing to put some stock into it. The guy hasn't even taken the oath of office and you've written him off.

lighthouse said...

Ken Matthews,
used to look forward to you in the mornings when you were on B-104.

Re your comment: Does the US Constitution need remodeling ?

I think Bush has unfortunately done a pretty extensive job of remodeling with his signing statements, erosion of civil liberties, and officially undeclared war based on dubious cause (Afghansitan justified, though Iraq not...either way, we have not followed the Constitution when it comes to war since December 1941).

Anonymous said...

Ken Matthews is doing the right wingnut schtick, hoping to get picked up by Clear channel or Fox.

Hehewuti said...

normally I don't do this, but this happened in your neck of the woods and someone sent me a lil article -