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Book Review


David McCollough

Start reading this little book and you are unlikely to put it down. McCollough does a marvelous job of blending human strengths and weaknesses with accurate history. A landed Virginia gentleman [George Washington] with little respect for New Englanders learns to admire and love them for their skill, courage and ferocity in battle. A slave owner commands and learns to respect free Black soldiers. As a leader, what set George Washington apart from his colleagues as well as his adversaries is that he dared to make mistakes while never neglecting to learn from them and grow. And he dared to consult with, delegate, and give credit to others. He was a team player who nonetheless took the heat as well as the accolades.

McCollough uses an even hand, or pen, in his portrayals--finding humanity on each side as well as their hired cohorts. Blunders and brilliance on both sides are painted vividly as are the heart-rending casualties and sicknesses. He also finds the elan and charisma of Washington who suffers defeat after defeat only to rise again in a frozen night to triumph with only half his army in what became the turning point of the war, though it would be long years before that deed was appreciated.

There is meat here for the historian and terrorist-hunter alike, not to mention anyone who wants a feel for the ambience of the American Revolution.

It is ironic and disquieting to see similarities between the Washington epic and the situations faced by Palestinians, Afghanis and Iraqis today. Indigenous peoples simply oppose invaders, whatever their ilk. They link up, friends and enemies alike, in firm opposition to the heavy boot of imperialism. It need not be that way, but it will take enlightened leadership indeed on all sides of the modern chasms to bring about lasting peace any time soon.

It is not orthodox religion or indigenous peoples that are our enemies. It is the extremists who have highjacked three monotheisms. It is the extremists who still live the dream of Manifest Destiny. It is the weak politicians who prefer propaganda over substance. And it is the apathetic voters who by nature or nurture feel too impotent or disinterested to research all sides of each issue and make themsleves heard.

Radicalization follows the degree to which indigenous peoples suffer violence or dispossession. McCollough illustrates that point vividly, and so does the steady escalation of terror since 9/11. The tactics of war may have changed, but human nature has not. Viewed in this light, current events are just one more period of endless conflict. Only the players have changed.

It is also painfully evident that in contrast with 1776, the shoe is now on the other foot. Only the king's name has changed.


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