Lessons Learned by Washington Are Familiar Today
In the first volume of his “Revolution Trilogy” about America’s war for independence, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Atkinson acknowledges that Gen. George Washington demonstrated “tactical shortcomings as a commander,” but succeeded as a leader whose “great responsibility enlarges him.”
“He readily embodies the sacrifice of personal interest to a greater good, as well as other republican virtues of probity, dignity, moral stamina, incorruptibility—traits that should remain true norths for every citizen today,” Atkinson said at a Lemnitzer Lecture series event hosted June 26 by the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute of Land Warfare.
As described in his new book, The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775–1777, Atkinson said the first two years of the American Revolution “certainly brought bitter lessons to Washington” that would be familiar to Army commanders today—that war “was rarely linear, preferring a path of fits and starts, ups and downs, triumphs and cataclysms; that only battle could reveal those with the necessary dark heart for [years of] killing; that only those with the requisite stamina, aptitude and luck … would be able to see it through.”
In 1776, Atkinson said, the hardest of war’s hard lessons was that “for a new nation to live, young men must die, often alone, usually in pain and sometimes to no obvious purpose.”
“Creation of the American republic is one of mankind’s most remarkable achievements,” Atkinson said, pointing out that the “existential struggle” for American independence “churned up issues that perplex us to this day.” He urged everyone to keep that struggle in mind.
“Keeping faith for those who fought, suffered and died for the principles we profess to still cherish requires more than a nodding acquaintance with them, more than a perfunctory acknowledgement of their struggles,” Atkinson said. “For better and for worse, their story is our story; their fight remains our fight.”