Saturday, May 10, 2008

May 21: Happy Anniversary!

Tuesday, May 21, 1776

The Continental Congress resolved "That such as are taken, be treated as prisoners of war, but with humanity, and be allowed the same rations as the troops in the service of the United Colonies; but that such as are officers supply themselves, and be allowed to draw bills to pay for their subsistence and cloathing...."

Consult Worthington Chauncey Ford, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Volume IV: January 1-June 4, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1909), page 370.

Before the Continental Congress declared America's independence from Great Britain, they declared that America should treat prisoners with humanity.

"Lessons on Iraq from a Founding Father:" George Washington's Rules for One Preemptive War

America's invasion of Canada, perhaps our first preemptive war, was effectively over before we declared independence from Britain. Our objective was to confront and defeat the few British forces in Quebec, without antagonizing the local population, whether Indian, English or French.

In his orders to Colonel Benedict Arnold, September 14, 1775, George Washington emphasized the need for American forces to "conciliate the affections" of the settlers and Indians of Canada. Washington wanted Arnold to convince 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."

George Washington made the kind treatment of prisoners part of his invasion plans. In the treatment of prisoners, Washington wanted Arnold to restrain both 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."

Sadly, not all American officers and soldiers in Canada respected the liberty, property and religion of the Canadians. On April 19, 1776, Washington wrote to General Philip Schuyler, "I am afraid proper measures have not been taken to conciliate their affections; but rather that they have been insulted and injured, than which nothing could have a greater tendency to ruin our Cause in that Country. For human nature is such that it will adhere to the side from whence the best treatment if received."

Most American forces withdrew from Quebec by the end of June 1776, mere days before Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.

Read my Washington Post Op-Ed column, also published by the Middle East's leading English-language daily, Arab News:

Friday, May 9, 2008

Generosity to Prisoners

Johannes Reuber, a grenadier among the Hessians captured at Trenton, remembered the generosity demonstrated by Americans after George Washington recommended kind treatment for the prisoners.

Read about it here, and consult the sources mentioned for more information

Bruce E. Burgoyne, Enemy Views: The American Revolutionary War as Recorded by the Hessian Participants (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1996).

William M. Dwyer, The Day is Ours!: November 1776-January 1777: An Inside View of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton (New York: Viking Press, 1983).