Was George Washington Indispensable or was he just a person who happened to be in the right place and the right time and had the greatness thrust upon him? The New York Times Obituary stated that James T Flexner showed George Washington as a normal man, in exact words ”brought the hero down from Olympus, if not to eye level, at least to where we can see him whole and see him plain.’’. One may agree or disagree with that, but is it not true for most great people, that they were thrust in extra ordinary circumstances. It also is possibly true that the events of the time were moving forward in such a way, that the results would have happened as they did. Whether Gandhi was there or not, India would have won freedom in 1947 because Britain was setting all its colonies free following the Second World War. Even if Nelson Mandela was not there Apartheid would have been abolished in South Africa in the 1990s and indeed it is possible that if George Washington was not there, the United States would still have won independence in 1776. But therein lies the most important part. It is not that one event which defined those countries but numerous actions and inactions which happened since then. Indeed Gandhi may or may not have set the country free but his philosophy of non violence defines India. Nelson Mandela bought tolerance into a country where it did not seem possible that people of different colors could live together. George Washington was offered unlimited power to rule a country which had the potential to be the richest in the World and he turned it down. It is very important to understand what a monumental decision that was. Fidel Castro got power in a small island and hung to it till absolutely close to death. Stalin, Polpot, Idi Amin, This is a long list covered in blood. These people who at least for a time were heroes for their country and then the lust of power took them over. Indeed it is not our ability what defines us, it is our choices.
George Washington was a man, even in his lifetime, was considered a figure larger than life, and indeed he was credited with supernatural abilities like it was said of him that that bullets could not hit him. There was an aura of invincibility around him. Indeed lot of the legends were most likely made, like the Cherry tree episode which never happened. As a Soldier he was capable of rashness and poor judgment, he was addicted to gambling, indulged in a good deal of wrenching and was said to be a most horrid swearer. Was this person who would be the commander in chief for the continental army? Let us look at the events of the revolutionary war. When the war began, the British Colonists (“Americans”) did not have a professional army or navy. Each colony provided for its own defenses through the use of local militia. Militiamen were lightly armed, slightly trained, and usually did not have uniforms. Their units served for only a few weeks or months at a time, were reluctant to go very far from home, and were thus generally unavailable for extended operations. Militia lacked the training and discipline of regular soldiers. Each colony was its own little country and fiercely independent. To get them together to be one fighting force was a monumental task; But George Washington was able to do that. The Reason was very simple, everybody trusted him and everybody respected him and indeed he himself was very conscious of the responsibility which came with his character. The second reason why he was able to forge a successful army was his adaptability. While his background was of a professional soldier with single minded professional discipline, here he had to deal with a rag tag mixed outfit of varying loyalties and ambitions. George Washington combined all of that because he realized that all of it, the Militias, the army could be one fighting force without necessarily losing their individual identity. This was not easy, and indeed battles were lost because some commanders would not take George Washington as their leader, but as a competitor. General Horatio Gates loss of Philadelphia is an example of such disunity. It was not just disunity; there was actually mutiny on his hands, a mutiny which could spell disaster to this nascent country and army. A lesser man perhaps would have folded or worse impose a dictatorship. George Washington did neither, he showed his people his vision, and that what they were fighting for was a lot bigger than individual ambitions and goals. Only a leader like George Washington could keep an army not paid in over a year, not only motivated but certain of victory. Indeed, it was true that if they disbanded they may not have been paid or so was there fear, but make no mistake, this was an army of patriots led by an extra ordinary leader.
There was more to George Washington in other ways as well. A quality which was not found in abundance in any army in those days was patience. George Washington not only had it, but was also able to use it as a weapon. There was a willingness on his part to wait for the right time to strike. This was perhaps instrumental in defeating a numerically and technically superior force.
Perhaps, lot has already been written about George Washington’s character. But it is important to note, how this was an integral part of being a great leader that he was of the army. The army which he was leading had numerous reverses, had little money and unpredictable supplies. In these circumstances it would be perhaps understandable if the resources of the civilians be commandeered to support the army. But George Washington never did that, and not because he could not, the continental Army could easily have taken control of civilian property and taken all the resources required to feed and maintain the Army. But George Washington knew that if this line was crossed, the country would be on a slippery slope. What is the point of fighting for ideals without following them yourself? The present generation of politicians would be well served if they could learn that there is no point fighting for a constitution and civilization without regard for either.
I do not know if George Washington was indispensable or not, as the commander of the continental Army. I will tell you this however, if History had put me in a situation to choose the leader of the Continental Army against the British Imperial Forces in the revolutionary war and, I would not chose anybody of all the people who ever walked this planet than George Washington.