There is a phrase in Latin that the ancient Romans were fond of saying: Aduentes Fortuna Juvat. Roughly translated, it means “fortune favors the brave.”
Earlier this week, as a part of his final push for universal healthcare and the fundamental transformation of American culture and society, President Barrack Obama staged a rally in Ohio attended by scores of his hardcore supporters and, notably, Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Obama concluded his speech by saying, “We need courage, that’s what we need… I want some courage!” He then jetted back to Washington, D.C. The next day, Congressman Kucinich, who had been treated by the President to a ride on Air Force One, announced he was changing his “No” vote on healthcare to “Yes.” In a speech Kucinich declared, among other things, that healthcare is a “basic right.” Time will tell whether or not fortune smiles upon Mr. Kucinich.
Well, with all this talk by politicians about being courageous, I thought it would be appropriate to take a moment to look at an American leader with real courage: George Washington. Now, I am quite sure most of us all know at least a few generalities about the following story from our high school history. Unless of course you are a student in high school today, in which case you are busy learning about much more important things like: The Influence of Hip-Hop on American Culture; The Proper Way to Use a Condom; and Why You Don’t Need a Daddy to Have a Family. But be that as it may, here goes…
It was winter of the year 1776. The new American nation had declared its independence from Great Britain the previous July and all-out war with the British was underway. The American Continental Army, led by General George Washington, had been beaten and chased out of New York by the British forces and was in a desperate retreat. British General Lord Cornwallis had pursued Washington’s diminishing army through New Jersey, until the Americans withdrew across the Delaware River and took refuge in Pennsylvania in early December. Although General Washington’s skillful retreat had prevented the British from completely crushing the dwindling American force, the outlook for the Continental Army, and American prospects for winning the war, was very bleak indeed.
George Washington had fewer than 5,000 men in his army, whose morale was now at its lowest. The Congress, ever pessimistic, had turned tail from Philadelphia and fled to Baltimore. There was no money left to finance the army. Provisions were scarce and Washington’s men were starving and cold. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote Thomas Paine, who was actually with the army at the time. Virtually everyone considered the American cause lost. That is, everyone except George Washington. At this dire hour, faced with these demoralizing circumstances, George Washington, a man of deep faith and courage, decided to go on the offensive. He knew that, despite the forces arrayed against him, he had two things in his favor. First, the popular mood among the people against the British remained strong, and, second, he had the element of surprise on his side. So rallying his men before dawn on December 26th, he secretly led them back across the Delaware River, over land to Trenton, New Jersey where a force of some one thousand Hessian troops (German mercenaries engaged by the British) were quartered. Washington and his men took the Hessians by complete surprise and, after a brief engagement, defeated the entire force with negligible losses to their own side. So overconfident were the Hessians that they were caught sleeping off the effects of their Christmas revelry from the night before. As the story goes, after the battle the Hessian Colonel was found dead with a dispatch letter in his coat pocket warning him of the American sneak attack. The letter was unopened.
After this victory, the American war effort was galvanized, the Congress found renewed confidence in General Washington, and enlistments in the Continental Army increased dramatically. Eventually, the British were forced to retreat to their base in New York City. Many consider this battle to be the turning point in the American Revolutionary War. In later years, George Washington himself became convinced that America was guided by Divine Providence. Fortune favors the brave.
In this the current battle over universal healthcare, we all of us are called once more unto the breach to defend what George Washington and his brave men risked so much to obtain. On one side are the Republicans in Congress, some Democrats, and the vast majority of the American people whose mood against the proposed legislation remains strong. On the other side are Mr. Obama and most Congressional Democrats. In this process, we have seen secret deals made and Senators bribed, all manner of legislative chicanery used, deception and outright lies told by politicians at the highest levels, and a President who on the one hand expresses his ambivalence as to how his legislation is passed into law — as long as it is passed into law — while on the other hand talks about courage. Courage? Just what sort of courage do you mean Mr. President?
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