Washington Would Have Been Pleased

King George III asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

The National Army Museum in Great Britain has named George Washington Britain’s greatest foe.

The American was voted the winner in a contest run by the National Army Museum   to identify the country’s most outstanding military opponent.

He was one of a shortlist of five leaders who topped a public poll and on   Saturday was selected as the ultimate winner by an audience of around 70   guests at a special event at the museum, in Chelsea, west London.

In second place was Michael Collins, the Irish leader, ahead of Napoleon   Bonaparte, Erwin Rommel and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

At the event, each contender had their case made by a historian giving a 40   minute presentation. The audience, who had paid to attend the day, then voted in a secret ballot after all five presentations had been made.

Stephen Brumwell, author and specialist on eighteenth century North   America, said: “Washington scores highly as an enemy of Britain on   three key grounds: the immense scale of damage he inflicts upon Britain’s   Army and Empire – the most jarring defeat that either endured; his ability   to not only provide inspirational battlefield leadership but to work with   civilians who were crucial to sustain the war-effort; and the kind of man he   was. As British officers conceded, he was a worthy opponent.”

Go here to read the rest.  The great Englishman of the last century, Winston Churchill, wrote this about George Washington:

George Washington holds one of the proudest titles that history can bestow. He was the Father of his Nation. Almost alone his staunchness in the War of Independence held the American colonies to their united purpose. His services after victory had been won were no less great. His firmness and example while first President restrained the violence of faction and postponed a national schism for sixty years. His character and influence steadied the dangerous leanings of Americans to take sides against Britain or France. He filled his office with dignity and inspired his administration with much of his own wisdom. To his terms as President are due the smooth organisation of the Federal Government, the establishment of national credit, and the foundation of a foreign policy. By refusing to stand for a third term he set a tradition in American politics which has only been departed from by President Franklin Roosevelt in the Second World War.

Published in: on April 20, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (14)  
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  1. Interesting that 66% of the votes went to fellow anglophones/ former subjects. Not to take anything away from Gen. Washington but I suspect that the English find it easiest to admire those most like themselves.

    I’d like to see a poll of British professional historians on the subject.
    Collins doesn’t belong on the list at all, much as I admire him.
    Bonaparte was surely a much greater threat than the creation of a new, weak republic.

    It’s interesting that Rommel was included rather than his boss, Feldmarschall Kesselring. Perhaps because Rommel while Kesselring made the Allies pay for inch of ground — and his name calls to mind all the Allied blunders in the Italian campaign. He also did all he could to preserve Italy’s art treasures from war damage, he certainly deserved to be on the ballot.

  2. Smiling Albert probably wasn’t included Thomas because, just like during the War, the Itialian campaign is the Forgotten Theater. Rommel got all the press and Kesselring got shoved down the memory hole along with the rest of that sad and unending tromp up the Italian boot. The fall of Rome being completely overshadowed by D-Day the next day was symbolic of how the Italian campaign was going to vanish in post war memory.

  3. Kesselring’s command over Rommel was nominal at best, and Rommel was always unlikely to take direction from anyone. Another thing that needs pointing out is that, unlike the honourable Rommel, Kesselring was a monster and should have been hanged along with the other Nazi war criminals. And it is difficult to point to any action where he was in charge that had anything like the success or the panache that Rommel managed from time to time to achieve. As a commander, he was a judicious manager of mass murder and slow defeat.

  4. The liberation of Ireland took place as the British Empire had defeated the greatest enemy it had ever fought – the Kaiser – and as its power stretched across the earth over bounds it was never again to achieve. You may see it as the first rumble of the coming end of empire, or as the final vengeance of centuries of oppression and slaughter, but either way, to manage to break the will of a country whose will had not been broken by five years of sanguinary conflict against the greatest military power on Earth was an astonishing feat, and means that Collins well deserves his position among the Empire’s greatest foes, and might even be counted as more successful, and against wilder odds, than the great Washington himself.

  5. By the way, I wrote this on the National Army Museum’s site:

    Washington had one extra virtue that I don’t see mentioned here. He knew when to give way, and could tell when someone else’s plan was better than his own. Some of the greatest generals in history, such as Rommel and Bedford Forrest, suffered from an inability to collaborate; not Washington. That is in effect what led to victory. When the sudden appearance of De Grasse’s French fleet off the American coast gave the allies an unexpected and probably unrepeatable strategic advantage, Washington proposed to use the limited and precious resource of Rochambeau’s 5000 French soldiers to take New York City. Rochambeau argued that it made more sense to attack and destroy’s Cornwallis’ force at Yorktown, thus terminating the British ability to operate on the American mainland. Washington saw the sense in it, followed Rochambeau’s plan – and the world was turned upside down, as the defeated British regulars were to sing.

  6. “As a commander, he was a judicious manager of mass murder and slow defeat.”

    Tell us how you really feel about Smiling Albert Fabio! 🙂 If I were Italian doubtless I would feel the same way. I think Kesselring was a competent commander and played a bad hand dealt to him the best he could. As to the atrocities I will bow to your superior knowledge in that area, since what little I know about the Italian campaign has been focused on its military aspects.

  7. ” but either way, to manage to break the will of a country whose will had not been broken by five years of sanguinary conflict against the greatest military power on Earth was an astonishing feat”

    To a certain extent, but the English had long been sick of Ireland. Except for the Ulster hard liners most of the English government prior to World War I was quite ready to grant home rule. Collins and the IRA deserve a lot of credit, but to a certain extent the English were almost looking for an excuse to get out of all of Ireland except Ulster.

  8. “He knew when to give way, and could tell when someone else’s plan was better than his own. ”

    Washington never considered himself a military genius or, for that matter, a professional soldier. He was always willing to take sound advice. Sometimes this trait caused him to accept advice that he would have been better advised to reject, but by and large the trait served him well.

  9. There is a brief but telling mention of Kesselring in Ann and John Tusa’s Nuremberg, which I recommend. “He was honest and truthful according to his lights, but his lights were that of a savage… [one of] the more criminal military commanders.” You have heard about Lidice and Oradour, I take it, but people outside Italy never heard of Marzabotto (1802 dead), Sant’Anna di Stazzena (557 dead), the Ardeatine Pits (335 dead) and so on and so forth and so following. And Kesselring bragged of what he had done, and went as far as saying that Italians should build him a monument. He was truly the scum of the earth, and why he did not end up decorating a properly knotted rope is more than I can imagine.

  10. According to Wikipedia Fabio, the Italian government refused to carry out the death sentence, because the death penalty had been abolished and was considered to be a relic of the Fascist era. ( I understand that this may be mistaken as I often find Wikipedia filled with errors on historical periods I know well.)


    • Yes, it was. Italy had abolished the death penalty since the nineteenth century; Fascism brought it back, but even under Fascism it was rarely practiced – a dozen sentences and three executions, IIRC – because there was a built-in resistance among Italian officialdom. It was actually abolished on the symbolic date of June 6, 1944, and since then only the Fascist party has ever campaigned to bring it back. Even so, he could have been shot under military law.

    • Just one point. Reading again the Wikipedia entry, the real issue was the British decision to try the bastard instead of letting him be tried by an Italian court. Wikipedia may say what it likes about Italian courts, but Kesselring’s murderous subordinates who actually carried out the killings were sentenced to ergastolo – life without parole – and died in jail. Kesselring’s lawyers took advantage of the trials already carried out to defend him more effectively, which would not have been the case if he had been allowed to be tried by Italians. (On the other hand, we have to admit that we allowed the horrendous war criminal and traitor, Field-Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, to go unpunished. He should have been handed over to the Ethiopians.)

  11. On another matter – I have made a post in my blog about “The pre-history of the Declaration of Independence,” which I imagine might interest you. http://fpb.livejournal.com/623305.html . In fact, should you wish to reprint it here, please do.

    • A very insightful look at the Declaration Fabio. I have it scheduled for reprinting here on May 2, and I thank you for permission to do so.

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