Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

War and memories

Phibian, at CDR Salamander, has gone ballistic about the new Canadian War Museum, which is just one big insult to the Canadian military and Canadian military history. I was so taken with the comment I left on his blog that I decided to post it here: War is not all bravery. Well, everybody knows that -- we don't build (or we shouldn't be building) museums to celebrate the ordinary. We build them to celebrate the extraordinary. Of course, I'm still fighting our lowest common denominator society that revels in degradation, vulgarity and cheapness. Having said that, I'm watching on DVD an A&E Movie (that seems to have sunk like a stone) called "The Crossing." It's about Washington's crossing the Delaware to fight the battle of Trenton during the Valley Forge winter of 1776. Jeff Daniels doesn't have the charisma to be Washington, but the movie nonetheless clings mostly to historical truth (if one ignores the occasion vulgarities attributed to Washington, a man of extraordinary rectitude). I find the movie fascinating, because the Battle of Trenton is not taught anymore. Thanks to multiculturalism we (1) have no time for it (got to teach about the Iroquois) and (2) we're embarrassed by our own military successes. It is, however, an almost Biblical story in its proportions. For those of you who didn't learn it in school, as I didn't, here's what happened. I've taken these facts, from memory, from David Fischer's book about Washington Crossing the Delaware, not from the A&E movie (see sidebar). Washington has lost every battle fought since July 4, 1776. The British have taken over New York entirely. The Continental Congress has retreated from Philadelphia. Washington's army has shrunk to a few thousand men, whose enlistments expire on December 31, 1776. Washington has no money: his men are hungry and lack clothes and shoes. The winter is exceptionally bitter. Washington learns from spies that 1,200 Hessian soldiers are billeted in Trenton, right across the river. The Hessians are the fighting machines of Europe, and the British have hired them as mercenaries. They are effective and brutal. Washington realizes that their strength is their discipline, and decides to attack them when that discipline will be lacking. On a bitterly cold Christmas Day in 1776, Washington marches his tired, hungry, frozen soldiers several miles downriver to a landing. At 5 p.m., Washington begins the 6 hour process of having these soldiers ferried across the ice-filled Delaware River. On the New Jersy side, these same soldiers, in the middle of the night, march upriver for 4 hours to Trenton. They take the Hessians, sleeping off their Christmas revelries, entirely unaware. It's a rout, with almost no American casualities, and the surrender of the Hessian division. The soldiers than march back to their boats, get ferried across the frozen Delaware again, and march back to their camp. The next day, so as not to lose this unbelievable momentum, Washington again takes on the British. The war may have dragged on another 7 years, but it was won that Christmas. We should celebrate our forebearers' incredible victories. There's nothing embarrassing about this stoicism, strength and bravery. I'm proud to think that these were the men who shaped my country.