by Timothy Lane 11/9/15
Reading a historical anthology titled I Wish I’d Been There, I came across an article about the Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783. In this, angry Continental officers and men considered some sort of revolt to get Congress to pay them what it had promised. George Washington stopped this with a brilliant speech, highlighted by his putting on spectacles to read a letter and noting that he had grown gray in the service of his country and was now going blind.
Washington argued that the problem was impotence (Congress under the Articles of Confederation could collect money only by voluntary state contributions) rather than dishonesty. Whatever one thinks of Congress then or now, he was right about its lack of resources — and eventually the promises were (more or less) fulfilled.
Of course, readers will be familiar with similar problems today, particularly the quality of health care in the Veterans Administration. We don’t yet know if the promises our veterans have received will ultimately be redeemed, though it’s clear that the Democrats will always consider the interests of the VA employees (who pay union dues which are then used to fund the Democrats) as more important than the interests of the vets.
In other words, in 1783 Congress may or may not have intended to fulfill its promises, but lacked the resources. Today, Congress (sort of) has the resources (in borrowed money), but all too many no longer care to fulfill their promises.
The lesson of Newburgh is that our problems aren’t new. Similar concerns also turned up in the poetry of Rudyard Kipling — especially Tommy and The Last of the Light Brigade. In the former, he repeatedly shows how the ordinary soldiers are regarded as nuisances at best during times of peace, but given plenty of (temporary) respect in wartime.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;”
This sort of attitude was part of the problem that led to Newburgh (which happened as the war was ending), and we see it today in the hostility of the Left to the military (which most of them hide, at least somewhat, in times of war). As to where this can lead, Kipling covered that too.
Our children’s children are lisping to “honor the charge they made –”
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!
What we owe our veterans, particularly those who actually fought in a war, is always a good question. Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers featured a society in which only veterans could vote or served in certain government positions. Many of us thought that society would have great VA benefits. We simply don’t have enough wealth to give them everything. But we certainly should keep our promises, and currently that isn’t happening. And we certainly shouldn’t expect veterans to need charity or welfare to get by. I don’t know what the proper level of benefits, but it does seem too low, especially the quality of care received.
Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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