Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Happy US Independence Day!

Yesterday, my wife and I were in New Jersey (yes, New Jersey), where we met with a good friend.  With that friend, we took a trip to Washington's and the Revolutionary Army's winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey (yes, again, New Jersey).  While there, our friend (who is from New Jersey) was reminded, and my wife and I were informed, that the winter of 1779-1780, during which time Continental troops were bivouacked in Morristown and nearby Jockey Hollow, was far and away the worst winter, in terms of weather, seen by the Revolutionary War combatants (and since).  Yet it is little heralded in mainstream media, overshadowed by the gentler winter of Valley Forge.

The reason that the US Park Rangers give for the lesser general popular knowledge of the Morristown winter encampment is that Valley Forge was far more destructive...not because of the weather, but because of the folly of the commanders, who had their men set up in the low-lying areas with their poor drainage and poorer hygiene.  Morristown quartering was set up on the upper slopes of the area hills, so that runoff would flow away from camp.

What does it say about the United States and its people that a failure, neither of fighting spirits nor of tactics but of logistics and the understanding that successful farmers (the very same people trumpeted by the Founding Fathers--you know, those folks whose ideas we are told we ought to take as Gospel*) have to have about how water--and what it carries--acts, is enshrined in the collective national memory as a high point of its natal narrative?

I well understand the annoyance that the Morristown folks feel.  There is something of it in the assertions of excellence made by a number of Texans (including myself, in all honesty).  And I do not know anyone who does not, at least on occasion, indulge in the "Oh, yeah?  Well, I've got X" behavior that often gets called dick-wagging or a pissing contest.**  But my question still stands; why do we so enshrine failure, rather than the successful display of having learned the lesson from the failure?

*Of course, the Founders, the Framers of the Constitution, openly acknowledge that their efforts and the document which encapsulates them are imperfect...

**Okay, "often" in my experience, which is admittedly not the most representative that can be found.

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