OneCrankyDom penned a wonderful diarythis morning that has had me thinking all damn day. He starts the diary with a quote from George Washington that I found brilliant almost beyond description:
"Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause... for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country."
-- George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775
My first thought was "More than three years following the shame of Abu Ghraib, and I’m just finding this quote NOW?" The quote was singing in my head all day long at work. How could I use this? At the very least, I figured I would hand a copy of it to a representative of Senator Feingold who I will be seeing tomorrow. Maybe she can get the Senator to read it from the Senate floor at an appropriate moment. That would be cool.
But something made me nervous. More below...
I was nervous about the dual use of "..." and the presumably paraphrased "[prisoner]." I always wonder what is missing from the full quote, and I figured if I was going to push this quote on my favorite Senator, the least I could do was ensure that it was airtight.
It took me a long time to find the full quote, but thanks to the Library of Congress you can read it here(you can even view images of the original).
Something caused me to immediately wince when I finally stumbled upon the complete text. The order from Washington that contains the quote is being given to Colonel Benedict Arnold. Not that that matters a damn bit as far as the wisdom and spirit of the order is concerned, but I imagined I could literally hear the minds of right-wingers snapping shut like steel traps.
I figured I would read the full text anyway. At first I didn’t like what I found there. Here’s the full text, with the critical stuff highlighted:
Camp at Cambridge, September 14, 1775.
Sir: You are intrusted with a Command of the utmost Consequence sequence to the Interest and Liberties of America. Upon your Conduct and Courage and that of the Officers and Soldiers detached on this Expedition, not only the Success of the present Enterprize, and your own Honour, but the Safety and Welfare of the Whole Continent may depend. I charge you, therefore, and the Officers and Soldiers, under your Command, as you value your own Safety and Honour and the Favour and Esteem of your Country, that you consider yourselves, as marching, not through an Enemy's Country; but that of our Friends and Brethren, for such the Inhabitants of Canada, and the Indian Nations have approved themselves in this unhappy Contest between Great Britain and America. That you check by every Motive of Duty and Fear of Punishment, every Attempt to plunder or insult any of the Inhabitants of Canada. Should any American Soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any Canadian or Indian, in his Person or Property, I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary Punishment as the Enormity of the Crime may require. Should it extend to Death itself it will not be disproportional to its Guilt at such a Time and in such a Cause: But I hope and trust, that the brave Men who have voluntarily engaged in this Expedition, will be governed by far different Views. that Order, Discipline and Regularity of Behaviour will be as conspicuous, as their Courage and Valour. I also give it in Charge to you to avoid all Disrespect to or Contempt of the Religion of the Country and its Ceremonies. Prudence, Policy, and a true Christian Spirit, will lead us to look with Compassion upon their Errors without insulting them. While we are contending for our own Liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the Rights of Conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the Judge of the Hearts of Men, and to him only in this Case, they are answerable. Upon the whole, Sir, I beg you to inculcate upon the Officers and Soldiers, the Necessity of preserving the strictest Order during their March through Canada; to represent to them the Shame, Disgrace and Ruin to themselves and Country, if they should by their Conduct, turn the Hearts of our Brethren in Canada against us. And on the other Hand, the Honours and Rewards which await them, if by their Prudence and good Behaviour, they conciliate the Affections of the Canadians and Indians, to the great Interests of America, and convert those favorable Dispositions they have shewn into a lasting Union and Affection. Thus wishing you and the Officers and Soldiers under your Command, all Honour, Safety and Success, I remain Sir, etc.
Dammit! That's some pretty heavy editing! It might not be one of those made-up Lincoln quotes that right-wingers love to spew, but it sure didn’t shine quite as bright as the version I read this morning (which, it is very important to note, OneCrankyDom had found elsewhere and had NOT personally doctored).
How the hell do you get [prisoner] out of "Canadian or Indian?" Is this some kind of South Park joke?
Turns out Washington was giving Arnold orders to march into Quebec, and was presumably imploring Arnold not to give fledgling America any more enemies than the big one it already had – Great Britain. I felt deceived, since the "Canadians and Indians" wouldn’t be British prisoners, as the doctored quote labored to imply. They would simply be citizens living in their own land, who just happened to be caught in the middle of a conflict between America and some tyrant.
Hold the pony.
Should I say that again?
They would be citizens living in their own land, who just happened to be caught in the middle of a conflict between America and some tyrant.
Damn, maybe this quote is even more relevant than I originally thought. Go back and read those orders again – this time substituting "Iraq" for "Canada" and "Iraqis" for "Canadians and Indians." Images of Abu Ghraib? WWGWD? What Would George Washington Do?
I have decided it is still a damn fine quote. It’s just a bit messier to explain than the abbreviated version.
The usual lesson - be wary of abbreviated quotes. Hell, be wary of ANY quotes from the right. But be wary of quotes from the left as well. The Internet makes it easy to verify them, and sometimes, as in this case, the full text is sometimes more interesting, and often just as relevant – even if it takes the full punch out of the quote or makes it more difficult to explain.
I remain extremely grateful to OneCrankyDom for bringing this quote to our attention, and I hope I haven’t taken away any of its power. As I commented this morning in OCD’s diary, it is a damn fine quote, and an enormously important find.
Cross-posted at Never In Our Names