General Washington on invasions

Shortly before the Declaration of Independence was signed, Benedict Arnold led a colonial force to invade Canada, in the hopes of harrassing the English army and, more importantly, hoping the Canadian people might rise up in support of independence. Columnist Brian O’Malley quotes letters from General Washington on how the Canadians should be treated. O’Malley’s point is to criticize our current invasion of Iraq. Whatever you think of that, though, the portrait of Washington that comes through is fascinating, a combination of wisdom, tactical brilliance, and moral integrity. From O’Malley’s column:

First, if the citizens don’t want us there, don’t go. Washington told Arnold, “You are by every means in your power to endeavour to discover the real sentiments of the Canadians towards our cause, and particularly as to this expedition; ever bearing in mind that if they are averse to it, and will not co-operate, or at least willingly acquiesce, it must fail of success. In this case you are by no means to prosecute the attempt.”

The expense of starting the mission and the disappointment of not completing it, Washington wrote, “are not to be put in competition with the dangerous consequences which may ensue from irritating them against us.”

Second, the safety of American personnel depended on how they treated people. Washington wanted Arnold to “conciliate the affections” of the Canadian settlers and Indians and ordered Arnold to teach the soldiers and officers under his command “that not only the Good of their Country and their Honour, but their Safety depends upon the Treatment of these People.”

Third, proper treatment of prisoners was necessary. The prominent British parliamentarian William Pitt, who championed American grievances, had a son serving in Canada. John Pitt was never taken into American custody, but in the event that Pitt was captured, Washington warned Arnold, “You cannot err in paying too much Honour to the Son of so illustrious a Character, and so true a Friend to America.”

This insistence on kind treatment extended beyond Pitt. Washington wrote, “Any other Prisoners who may fall into your Hands, you will treat with as much Humanity and kindness, as may be consistent with your own Safety and the publick Interest.”

Washington told Arnold to restrain the Continental troops and their Indian allies “from all Acts of Cruelty and Insult, which will disgrace the American Arms, and irritate our Fellow Subjects against us.”

Fourth, any Americans who mistreated Canadians should be punished. “Should any American Soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any Canadian or Indian, in his Person or Property,” Washington wrote, “I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary Punishment as the Enormity of the Crime may require.” In an accompanying letter Washington added, “Should it extend to Death itself it will not be disproportional to its Guilt, at such a Time and in such a Cause.”

Fifth, respect the people’s religion. “As the Contempt of the Religion of a Country by ridiculing any of its Ceremonies or affronting its Ministers or Votaries, has ever been deeply resented, you are to be particularly careful to restrain every Officer and Soldier from such Imprudence and Folly and to punish every Instance of it.”

Unfortunately, the troops did NOT obey Washington’s injunctions–this was Benedict Arnold, remember–and Canada has been mad at us ever since.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Carl Vehse

    O’Malley’s attempted analogy of Canada to Iraq fails with the stated purpose of the Canadian invasion. This is completely different than the reasons given in HJR 114 for invading Iraq.

    Second, the “religion” Washington was referring to was Roman Catholicism of the French in Quebec.

    Third, Benedict Arnold and the American forces were defeated, in their attempt to carry out Arnold’s plan of defeating the British forces in Quebec he had sold to Washington. Arnold was seriously wounded in that battle (an American general was also killed), but Arnold was promoted to general and sent to defend the Hudson River valley in New York.

    The Americans had to abandon their Quebec siege when British reinforcements showed up in May, 1776.

  • Carl Vehse

    O’Malley’s attempted analogy of Canada to Iraq fails with the stated purpose of the Canadian invasion. This is completely different than the reasons given in HJR 114 for invading Iraq.

    Second, the “religion” Washington was referring to was Roman Catholicism of the French in Quebec.

    Third, Benedict Arnold and the American forces were defeated, in their attempt to carry out Arnold’s plan of defeating the British forces in Quebec he had sold to Washington. Arnold was seriously wounded in that battle (an American general was also killed), but Arnold was promoted to general and sent to defend the Hudson River valley in New York.

    The Americans had to abandon their Quebec siege when British reinforcements showed up in May, 1776.

  • Carl Vehse

    this was Benedict Arnold, remember

    Benedict Arnold didn’t become a traitor until later, after the Battle of Saratoga (1777), when he was wounded again in the same leg that was wounded at Quebec.

    This time Arnold was passed over for promotion, and he couldn’t get Congress to reimburse his expenses incurred during the Battle of Quebec.

    These events, and who knows what else, led Arnold to become a traitor a few years later.

  • Carl Vehse

    this was Benedict Arnold, remember

    Benedict Arnold didn’t become a traitor until later, after the Battle of Saratoga (1777), when he was wounded again in the same leg that was wounded at Quebec.

    This time Arnold was passed over for promotion, and he couldn’t get Congress to reimburse his expenses incurred during the Battle of Quebec.

    These events, and who knows what else, led Arnold to become a traitor a few years later.

  • Don S

    Carl is absolutely right — the article is silly as an attempt somehow to condemn the Iraq invasion, though it is interesting history. Taking the five points you have extracted from O’Malley’s column: 1) At the time of the invasion a vast majority of Iraqi’s supported our intervention (witness the April 9, 2003 pulling down of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad); 2) We have likewise treated the Iraqi population extremely well and have made billions of dollars of investment in their crumbling infrastructure; 3) the Canadian prisoners of war were not ruthless terrorists; 4) We punished the Abu Graib offenders; and 5) We have been very respectful of Muslim religious practices and mosques, and have restored a measure of religious freedom to the Christians in the country. It is the Muslim terrorists who insist on bombing mosques on Islam holy days.

  • Don S

    Carl is absolutely right — the article is silly as an attempt somehow to condemn the Iraq invasion, though it is interesting history. Taking the five points you have extracted from O’Malley’s column: 1) At the time of the invasion a vast majority of Iraqi’s supported our intervention (witness the April 9, 2003 pulling down of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad); 2) We have likewise treated the Iraqi population extremely well and have made billions of dollars of investment in their crumbling infrastructure; 3) the Canadian prisoners of war were not ruthless terrorists; 4) We punished the Abu Graib offenders; and 5) We have been very respectful of Muslim religious practices and mosques, and have restored a measure of religious freedom to the Christians in the country. It is the Muslim terrorists who insist on bombing mosques on Islam holy days.

  • http://www.spudart.org spudart

    In response to #3 from Don: We are to love our enemies, no matter who they are.

  • http://www.spudart.org spudart

    In response to #3 from Don: We are to love our enemies, no matter who they are.

  • Don S

    Spudart — my point was that there is very little correlation between the situation addressed by Washington during the Revolutionary War, and the Iraq situation. I was not conceding that we have not “loved our enemies”. In fact, the evidence is that we have a policy of very humanely treating the prisoners of war we are currently holding, and that those isolated instances where abuse has occurred have been effectively dealt with. “Loving” your enemies does not require you to permit them to kill you.

  • Don S

    Spudart — my point was that there is very little correlation between the situation addressed by Washington during the Revolutionary War, and the Iraq situation. I was not conceding that we have not “loved our enemies”. In fact, the evidence is that we have a policy of very humanely treating the prisoners of war we are currently holding, and that those isolated instances where abuse has occurred have been effectively dealt with. “Loving” your enemies does not require you to permit them to kill you.

  • fw

    carl vehse and don s:

    so then you two men believe in something called “situation ethics” am I to understand?

    if you are not promoting situational ethics, what have you written here that would lead me to understand your writings otherwise?

  • fw

    carl vehse and don s:

    so then you two men believe in something called “situation ethics” am I to understand?

    if you are not promoting situational ethics, what have you written here that would lead me to understand your writings otherwise?

  • Carl Vehse

    fw:

    so then you believe in cheating on your tax return am I to understand?

    if you are not cheating on your tax return, what have you written here that would lead me to understand your writings otherwise?

  • Carl Vehse

    fw:

    so then you believe in cheating on your tax return am I to understand?

    if you are not cheating on your tax return, what have you written here that would lead me to understand your writings otherwise?


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