Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Subjugating a smaller, poorer, and less experienced opponent

In the Introduction to The Philadelphia Campaign: 1777-1778, Stephen R. Taaffe gives an overview of the importance of this particular campaign on the American War for Independence, and writes this: “The Philadelphia campaign demonstrated Britain’s inability to formulate and implement a successful plan to subjugate a smaller, poorer, and less experienced opponent.”

After I stopped laughing hysterically, I realized what profound implications that statement has for those who decide to gird up their loins and take a giant step outside the box. Like David facing Goliath. Or the Americans defeating the British, for that matter. The one who has all the training, resources, and experience isn’t necessarily going to win the contest. We forget how difficult it really is to formulate and implement a successful plan to overcome someone who isn’t burdened with previous experience that leads to “the way things have always been done” kind of thinking. If you lack size, wealth, training, and experience when facing a larger opponent, then you have to find the determination, courage, and ingenuity to overcome the monolith. The most impressive and far-reaching victories have always been won that way.

These reflections led to the following scene, which I sketched out while eating dinner (yes, I DO read at mealtime when I’m alone!). At the Battle of Trenton, the Americans captured almost 900 of the Hessian soldiers garrisoned there. They were taken back to the American camp, where General Washington hosted the officers at dinner. I can just imagine THAT scene! Well, here’s part of my take on it in a very quick rough draft. I’ll substitute real names of the Hessian officers present in the final version, and give them accents too.

The Hessians’ Dinner with Washington

Leaning back in his chair, one of the Hessian officers pointed out triumphantly, “You Americans do not possess the training, experience, and resources we and the British do, so regardless of this minor, temporary victory, it is impossible for you ultimately to win the war.”

Thoughtfully Carleton took washed down a bite of his dessert with a drink of wine. “That is exactly why we will win,” he broke in.

Everyone at the table turned to him. It took a moment for the Germans to mentally translate his words, then they erupted in incredulous titters, while Carleton’s fellow officers regarded him as though he had unexpectedly dropped into the room from the sky.

“I see that you, sir, are an idealist,” the oldest of the Hessians said with a smile.

“Wars are won on ideals,” Carleton responded. “What you consider to be our weaknesses are, in fact, our strengths. Because we are not burdened with the training and experience you are, we are free to invent something entirely new, something you, my dear sir, do not anticipate.” He waved his hand in an airy gesture. “Witness the events of the past few days. Why, for instance, are you enjoying our hospitality, not as our conquerors, but as our prisoners?”

Nonplussed, the German officers exchanged glances. Several faces reddened, but around him the American officers relaxed and began to chuckle.

Washington motioned to the servant to refill everyone’s goblet, then lifted his with a faint smile. “To your health, gentlemen. And to King George the Third. Long may he rule . . . England.”

The Germans had no choice but to join in the toast, though more than one scowled as he did so. But Carleton was not finished.

Tossing down the wine, he set down his goblet with deliberation. “Another reason why you will lose is that you have nothing personal at stake in this conflict, whereas everything we have to lose—or to gain—is very personal indeed: our homes and families, our land, our freedom, the legacy we will leave for our children. A man will gladly die before he will give that up.”

The room was silent now, and for the first time Carleton saw respect in his fellow officer’s eyes. And in the eyes of the prisoners.

Copyright © 2011 by J. M. Hochstetler. All rights reserved.

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