By Drizzle Sez
In this piece, part of a new segment on SpeedontheBeat.com entitled "Hero Or...," SpeedontheBeat.com contributor Drizzle Sez discusses the legacy of George Washington and asks "is Washington more hero or hypocrite?"
"... And im proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died, who gave the right to me..."
For any proud patriot, this is a deep quote to a good song. But, listening to it, I'm brought to the following question: was George Washington a hero or a hypocrite? To some people, just asking the question is more blasphemous than pissing on the cross. I obviously don't agree, but I understand.
George Washington: founding father, general of the first American army, without him there is no America. Literally, the first American hero. History tells little American children that George Washington led the then Continental Army to victory against the oppressive British and became the first President of the newly formed and freed United States of America. 'Merrka. All that is true, but the devil of George Washington's history is in the details.
Before he was the American hero we make him to be, George Washington was a British Army officer. He literally was an instrument for the oppressive regime he later went on to defeat. He the defected from that army and went to lead the opposing army. If any person did that today, he'd be labeled the worst person alive and be ostracized if not outright killed. George is a hero in this regard because that was also true back then but he left to fight for what he believed was right anyway even though the chances of him losing were nearly 98%. We need more people like that today.
But, let's backtrack. What made the British so oppressive that one of their star officers defect to fight what was nearly an impossible war against the largest army on Earth? The answer lies in the original Bill of Rights. All the original 10 Amendments were in response to the things the colonial Americans thought the British did to oppress them. Freedom of speech, taxation without representation, quick and fair trial, etc. All these were denied colonial Americans. Though the war was started over taxes, George Washington left because of the atrocities he personally witnessed being done by the British army. Which, again, makes him a hero.
Everyone knows how the war ended. America wins. Then what happens? George Washington becomes the first president. So why ask if he's a hypocrite? Historically, he ended an oppressive regime on the continent and replaced it with another oppressive regime. The difference is, the oppressed peoples changed.
During the Revolutionary war, Washington was responsible for the Sullivan Expedition, which destroyed over 40 Iroquois villages. After the Revolutionary War, the new United States of America was nearly broke and no longer had the backing of a major and respected Empire. Under today’s circumstances a country like that would go belly up in a few years from economic ruin and all the richer, more powerful nations would pick it up as they pleased. Back in the days after the war, George Washington and the Continental Congress were not worried about this in the slightest. The economy of America revolved around agriculture, textiles, and mining. These things were all relatively cheap enterprises because of the existing free labor force: slaves. I can leave the ugly history of that out of this look.
In 1784, at the end of the Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States of America was on the 3rd most-valuable landmass in the world (behind South America and India). It was large and resource rich. To any white culture interested, the only stopping a huge grab was its existing population. In order to expand, George Washington's cabinet encouraged citizens of America to go out into the frontier zones and literally grow America. This is a relatively benign policy by itself. But, the rest of the policy was that the United States military would assist if the effort was met with backlash by the natives.
This is the equivalent to someone coming into your home today and the military coming to shoot you if you say "no." Such a policy is in direct violation of the 3rd Amendment, one of the Amendments that George Washington fought so hard to create. Why did the first president ignore these rights when it came to the native population?
Although George Washington was not directly behind the policies, the results still occurred under his rule. The mass migrations and oftentimes destruction of the native population was the norm during his tenure as president. George Washington fought to end oppression but in the end, create a country that was built on oppression. The expansion of the United States would not occur without oppressing Native Americans and the economy would have failed if not for the slaves. George Washington built this nation with pretty words as his hammer and oppressed people as the nails.
The "freedom" (because they still aren't 100% free) of the people oppressed under his rule did not come until long after he was dead. Oppressing people after fighting oppression makes him a hypocrite. I hear that song I mentioned in the beginning and realize that George Washington and the founding fathers did not fight and die for my freedom.
Abraham Lincoln did. Martin Luther King did. Many people did. But George Washington maintained my people's oppression and used it to his advantage. For that, he will always be an important historical figure…but to me? He's a hypocrite, not a hero.