As someone more than fascinated by our early history, I am struck by what I see as some very interesting parallels between the trials and tribulations of yesterday and today. For instance, I can very easily identify with Thomas Paine’s immortal words, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” I take them into my heart just as I’m sure my 4th Great Grandfather Andrew Murray did while serving under Washington’s command from 1776-1778.
The earliest days of the war were the darkest for the man chosen to lead the Continental Army. Inadequately equipped with troops that consisted of some too young, some too old and almost all who were poorly trained with very little discipline…Washington actually found himself, at the brink of losing the New York port area to the polished might of the British war machine, on the field of battle praying for a bullet to save him from dishonor! Miraculously, in the foggy morning mist of August 30, 1776, he successfully evacuated the entire American army of 9,500 men across the East River while the British slept, unaware.
In November, Washington’s orders were to defend the Hudson River from Fort Lee on the New Jersey and Fort Washington directly opposite on the New York side. Again, miraculously, Washington narrowly escaped an unexpected and deadly siege of Fort Washington by thousands of British regulars and Hessian mercenaries. He could only watch helplessly from Fort Lee (a matter of feet from where my office is today), while the trapped and terrified defenders were shot and bayoneted. The defeat “was said so completely to have overcome him that he wept with the tenderness of a child.”
On the run with his army across New Jersey towards Pennsylvania, sabotaging bridges behind them, the patriots in many ways found themselves isolated in their own country. Thousands of New Jersey residents had rushed to take the loyalty oath offered by the British and “scrapped the cause of independence as a foolish pipe dream.” This people, is the fiery metal of human courage, spirit and determination we are forged from! It was during this dark and bleak period that the American troops’ bedraggled spirits were lifted by Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, read to the men by Washington himself! THESE are the times…
Today, one doesn’t need to march barefoot and bloody through the snow with only a shoddy blanket for clothing to understand the sense of isolation and despair in the face of overwhelming odds and a significantly jaundiced public opinion. The patriots of yesterday have returned as the “tea baggers” of today! Our very own families and fellow workers turn away from our “extremism”! Just the mention of the word “Founders” starts the eyes a rolling and to many, the most sacred social blueprint of all time has become an obsolete and “foolish pipe dream”…a “flawed document” in the words of the 44th human being who swore an oath to defend and protect it!
Today, the sons and daughters of entitlement march on the Capitol of Wisconsin comparing themselves to the brave and courageous souls in Cairo who risk their lives for the very freedoms we would squander in exchange for “benefits” well beyond the dreams of the Egyptian…who actually is barefoot and starving!
Yes, in many ways today looks every bit as bleak as the early days of our yesterday. And yes, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”