Sunday, February 16, 2014

George Washington

It's Presidents' Day Weekend in the United States! So while you're out buying discounted mattresses and SUV's with 0% APR and $0 due at signing, let us remember the 44 leaders that have made the tough decisions so us commoners don't have to think about petty things like budgets and diplomacy and when they're re-invading Vietnam for the grudge match. I'll be going through all the presidents one by one at this time every year, which will take about 44 years (maybe I'll do Grover Cleveland twice). But we may have six to eleven more during that span, and then another one or two in the added time needed to cover them, so I'll probably be pushing up daisies before I'm done with this (especially if the Vietcong captures me in the counter-invasion).

Fig.1: Only an infallible man can sucker punch like that.
The Commander-in-Chief. The Father of His Country. The American Cincinnatus. The Conflagration from the Plantation (used during his UFC days, fig 1). Whatever you like to call him, everyone knows all about George Washington. He led the Patriots to victory over the British in the American War for Independence, allowing for the establishment of a free United States that would kick butt in everything for the next 200+ years. He presided over the Constitutional Convention, creating a governmental framework without any possible pitfalls. He became the very first President, and set various precedents for the office from titles, term limits, neutrality, and the fact that the American executive doesn't need to put the seat down for anybody. He is arguably the greatest man in the history of history! Unfortunately, there are many people who are willing to be arguably about it. Recent scholarship has attempted to take Washington down a notch or two, and show that he exhibited many shortcomings during his lifetime. I'm here to combat these so-called historians ("communists" is probably the more appropriate term) and present Washington the way he needs to be to those impressionable school children: as a hero who could do no wrong. Only then can Americans feel better about themselves.

But first, let's review his humble beginnings. Washington was born February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland, Virginia, possibly through immaculate conception (I see no evidence to the contrary). Actually, he was born on February 11, 1731 since Great Britain was still using the outdated Julian Calendar, but Washington had the foresight to know that the Gregorian Calendar was the future, and changed his birthdate before the British officially did in 1752. Anyway, Washington's family owned a somewhat successful farm where they grew tobacco and possessed a decent number of slaves, meaning they were of "middling rank" in colonial Virginia (as opposed to those kids from Scooby-Doo, who were of "meddling rank"). George's father died when he was 11, and his half-brother Lawrence became a sort-of surrogate father, playing catch with him in the yard and taking him to his first PG-13 movie. Of course, the story of George chopping down the cherry tree supposedly came into play beforehand, but the tale is a bunch of hooey! It's not because he never told a lie (that part is true; he never even blamed the smell on the dog), but because he would never have done something so heinous as destroy a beautiful fruit-producing plant! How barbaric!

Fig.2: Young Washington's 
metabolism worked off 
those doughnuts like a boss.
Through his family's connections and George's overall awesomeness, he was able to secure prestigious jobs such as a surveyor, general of a Virginian militia, and lead taste-tester at Krispy Kreme. When the French began moving into the Ohio Valley, Washington was forced to put down the warm glazed doughnut and go do something about it. First he asked them to leave, which was promptly met with calls of "English pig-dogs," farts in their general direction, and a catapultation of a cow or two. So he and his Native American friends did the sensible thing and ambushed a French regiment, killing a diplomat in the process. The French retaliated by attacking Washington's post at Fort Necessity, leading to his capture (but only because he wanted to be). This chain of events led to the Seven Years' War between various European powers and their Native allies, which was confusingly called the French and Indian War in America (almost like calling World War II the "Japanese and Nazi War"). Washington successfully protected the Virginian frontier from enemy raids with the passing grade of keeping 67% of his men alive. Hey, nobody said he had to be an honor roll general!

After the war, Washington started doing pretty well for himself. He inherited the Mount Vernon estate after his half-brother's death, and built his well-known mansion there. He married a wealthy widow, Martha Custis, increasing his wealth, slaves, and stepchildren who would then shout, "You're not even my real father!" whenever they disagreed. He became a popular figure in the landed Virginian aristocracy, and lavishly entertained guests with endless champagne and loaded potato skins. But he couldn't help but complain when the British began taxing the colonists to make up for the cost of the war; he helped draft a resolution that called for a boycott of British goods, which he cheekily referred to as "British bads" (Washington had the same sense of humor, as well as hair color, as Carrot Top). When the fighting began in 1775 between the British Army and colonial militias in Maffachufetts (which is the state's proper and original spelling), a Continental Congress was called by the colonies in order to figure out what to do. Washington showed up in his full military uniform, and was promptly give the job as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army (showing that how you dress to an interview is just as important as what's on your résumé).

As the military leader of the American Revolution, Washington scored countless victories, such as the ones at Boston, Trenton, Yorktown... oh, well I guess that's it. Well, those were the three most important victories of the war! (Nobody cares about you, Saratoga!) This is where those commie historians start spewing that bologna about how Washington's successes in the war have been over-amplified, when really he suffered a record well below .500. Even his victories have asterisks, with lucky breaks such as artillery shipments, weather, and a French naval blockade giving the Americans the upper hand in each respective battle. They even say that he wouldn't have been able to stand and pose heroically during the crossing of the Delaware River without capsizing the boat (fig.3)! These Debbie Downers need to chill out and consider how bad it sounds that the Father of His Country retreated from most of his campaigns, and required a lot of assistance in order to come away with the victory. How un-American is losing and needing help? Kids don't need to see a great man like Washington be all interdependent and stuff!

Fig.3: Rock the boat! (Don't rock the boat, Georgie.) Rock the boat! (Don't tip the boat over.)
Thankfully, there are some strengths of Washington's performance on the battlefield that the grumpy historians can agree on. Despite those defeats (which I believe were on purpose just to keep the war close and interesting), Washington had a knack for not losing decisively. In what many consider his biggest military failure, the fall of New York to the British, he managed to escape with minimal loss of life, materiel, and medicated foot powder (a must-have for those long campaigns). He kept the Patriots in position so they can live to fight another day, something that Tom Brady does nearly every Sunday. Also, Washington remained a positive symbol for the American cause; his can-do attitude and bright ivory smile gave hope to the colonists as they rebelled against, oh you know, the most powerful imperial force the world had seen since the days of wearing togas! His political acuity and influence kept all of the cogs in the revolutionary machine working together, from the Congress to the colonies, the militias to the standing armies, and their French allies to everyone else (you have to admit, the French are hard to get along with). Without Washington, the American War for Independence would have gone the way of the Eureka Rebellion in Australia, which gives me second-hand embarrassment just thinking about it.

Fig.4: Possibly the biggest reason 
Cincinnatus didn't want to remain 
dictator is that it meant he would 
have to at least put some pants on.
But the greatest, most selfless act of Washington's career occurred just after the war ended. The customary act for a military leader who led his country to victory in a great war was to take power himself and rule with a tyrannical fist, knowing that he was doing a good job if the people wanted to go back to the tyranny before the war. But Washington surprised everybody by resigning his post as commander-in-chief after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, and retired to his home in Mount Vernon. Even King George III admired this move, calling Washington "the greatest character of the age" before adding that he could still out-crazy him any day. Because of this act, Washington is often compared to the Roman statesman Cincinnatus (fig.4), who ruled as dictator when Rome was under attack by not so felice Italian tribes, then promptly retired to his farm when victorious, citing that his goats were easier to deal with than politicians. Nonetheless, Washington was forced out of retirement when the Articles of Confederation, the original constitution, started stinking up the place. He became president of the Constitutional Convention, and then unanimously elected President (with a capital "P") of the United States in 1789.

Obviously, since he was the first President, he has to be the best, right? Not so, say those Marxo-fascist haters! They claim that Washington's tenure as the Chief Executive was possibly the worst time in his public career. Other than establishing some standards for the Presidency, such as the two-term limit, the title of simply "Mr. President," and late-night fondue parties on the third Wednesday of the month, he failed to stem many issues that would plague the United States in its near future, and even created some extra ones. An example of the latter is his response to the Whiskey Rebellion, where farmers rebelled against a tax on the distillation of liquor. Washington personally led a militia to quell the rebellion, the only time an active President marched onto a battlefield (other than the little-known FDR tank that stormed the beaches of Normandy). Diplomatically, he strained foreign relations with the French, who were revolutionizing all over the place, and left his successor in John Adams to clean up the croissant crumbs. While he also warned against political parties in his farewell address, he indirectly encouraged them by siding with his army bunkmate, Alexander Hamilton, instead of fellow ginger Thomas Jefferson in both domestic and foreign issues; this created the strain that led to the two-party fight between the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican-Happy-Fun-Time Party.

Fig.5: Washington's personal 
servant, Billy Lee, in the back-
ground, totally not giving him 
the stink-eye.
But Washington's biggest criticism is his stance on slavery. Many documents show that Washington had a personal disdain for the practice, as one should have disdain for the idea of people owning other people who aren't robots. But publicly, he supported the institution with all of his authority. As President, he signed the first Fugitive Slave Law, which allowed for slaveowners to recapture slaves without having to close their eyes and count to one hundred first. He gave support to the French when one of their Caribbean colonies, Haiti, was in the throws of slave revolt led by the awesome name Toussaint L'Ouverture. When Washington traveled to the capital of Philadelphia, whose law proscribed that slaves who resided there for six months would be freed, he brought some slaves with him but made sure they went back to Virginia within five months and 29 days. And when one of Martha's servants, Oney Judge, escaped to New Hampshire, he did everything in his power to hunt her down short of leaving a New Hampshire-sized hole in the Earth. Unfortunately, slavery was an accepted reality in late 18th century America, engrained in the public consciousness in the South and the North. Could Washington have done something about it? Of course, he's The Boss (take that, Springsteen). But he did enough awesome stuff over the course of his life, and he figured he'd let some guy in a top hat take care of that later.

Washington died on December 14, 1799, after a bout of sickness following an inspection of his plantation in the pouring rain (you gotta be thorough about these things). It wasn't long before he was deified in the American consciousness, touted as first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countryman, and first in the all-you-can-eat chicken wing buffet line. He certainly had his critics during his lifetime (mostly people who were all jealous of his fine powdered hair), but it hasn't been until recently that historians began debunking the myth of his perfectness, which I believe is detrimental to the well-being of the American citizen. Washington needs to remain the unblemished hero as which teachers and textbooks portray him, a cut above us all. If children are made aware of his faults, it shows that he was merely human, that everyone makes mistakes, and that any one of us could grow up to become a great and influential figure like him. What kind of lesson is that? A good one, you say? Why don't you go to Laos with the rest of those commies!

If you're interested in reading more about George Washington from another historian who isn't a Soviet-loving-Stalin-worshiping-sadist, check out this Canned Historian approved book that was used to conduct more research on this topic: 

Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow
Published: 2010; Hardcover: 927 pages
Canned Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Ivory Dentures 

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