Measured Against Reality

Sunday, August 20, 2006

George Washington: a True Leader

Everyone in the United States knows about George Washington. They know the myths, the legends, and even some of the facts. He was a founding father, he was our general during the Revolutionary War, he was our first President.

But many people feel, like I used to, that he was second-rate, mostly hype, the truth obscured by the romanticized mythology surrounding him. A general who lost most of his battles and whose best maneuver was retreat. But is this the truth?

The fact is that he was an amazing leader. The best example of his leadership happened in March of 1783. Cornwallis had been defeated at Yorktown a year and half earlier, but a treaty had not yet been negotiated. Even though the fighting was over, the army could not go home, hostilities could resume any day. And the Continental Congress had promised money and supplies that had not materialized (imagine that, Congress falling short of promises to the military).

His officers had gathered to contemplate mutiny. Some wanted to march on Philadelphia and take over. The United States had not yet been formed, and it was on the verge self-destruction. Washington walked into the room, and before giving a speech he had prepared, lifted a pair of glasses to his eyes. His men, who had been with him for years, had never seen him wear them before. He noted their surprise, and said, “I have nearly gone blind in service to my country.”

Upon hearing this his men began weep. Officers who had survived years of open warfare were weeping. They remembered all they had been through, and why they had gone through it. There was no mutiny. With one sentence Washington had quelled it.

This was Washington’s brilliance. He was a fantastic leader. Whenever something needed to be done, whether it was getting supplies during the harsh winter at Valley forge, bringing the army back from the brink of mutiny (which he did several times), or maintaining discipline in his incredibly undisciplined troops, he did it. He may have lost more battles than he won, but he knew that to win the war he just had to keep his army together long enough for the British to lose their resolve. He knew it, he did it, and no one else could have. That is why he is one of the greatest leaders in our history.

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  • It's impossible to know about that middle section of his life or what happened but talk about a profound change. A guy who was a barely adequate tactician and left the service with a career that listed nothing more important than a battle in Braddock, PA suddenly got this important charge handed to him a decade and a half later and turned it into something brilliant.

    It's fasionable for later historians to try and pierce those balloons, I suppose, but it's a shame they feel the need to do it. The guy was flat-out brilliant.

    By Anonymous Physics Guru, at 11:46 PM, August 24, 2006  

  • I agree that Washington was brilliant, but especially in his leadership. He cared about his men and showed it. He never wavered and showed his own courage when others could barely keep it together. We owe everything to these brave souls and yet we are told lies, myths and half truths about them. The truth is so much more amazing. Read about his retreat after the Battle for Brooklyn and his crossing the Delaware for the Christmas battle with the Hessians. Saami

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