I have to admit, this post was another reason that I did not write for several weeks. In a previous post, I wrote about the book “7 Men” by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas’ whole argument stems from the idea that we should not be so critical of the great men of the past and that we should take them as role models. The first man that Metaxas profiles as great is a man that many of us know: George Washington. His titles include:
- Founding Father
- General of the Continental Army
- First President
One noticeable title missing from that list: King George I of America. Washington was such a great leader that many people wanted to see him become King of America. Washington disagreed so much with this idea that he stepped down with only two terms as President. This became tradition for every President until it became official law in 1951. His act of stepping down from power is why Metaxas calls Washington great.
George Washington is one of those heroes who transcends history. It is almost as if the stories of the man have grown so fantastical that he has faded from reality into myth. He is larger than life and his successes are universally praised.. He stood bravely in the face of danger and fought for what he thought was right. He was considered a man of integrity, honor and ambition. At 21 years he was commissioned as an officer and led men into battle. Despite great success at a young age, he made many mistakes resulting in the loss of lives. Without giving up he showed great resolve by continuing to grow and to learn. The skills and resolve he developed as a young man gave him the strength to face the formidable British army. What makes Washingiton great to me is that he took what was given to him and developed his skills until he was a master, yet he chose to give up power when it was offered to him freely because it crossed his ethical boundary.
No matter how great Washington was, I cannot and will not look past his failure to lead the country away from the slave trade. I have sat down to write this post so many times but have failed to see how I can praise this man when he saw slavery and had slaves himself (although he did free them when he died). I tried to watch the movie “12 Years a Slave”, but I could barely get through many scenes and chose to fast forward because it was just too difficult. I asked myself, how can I write praises about a man who led our country and allowed such actions to continue? It has given me great trouble over the past few weeks. I even considered not writing about Washington at all because of it.
I do not understand how such evil can exist, but I was reminded that history will treat our generation just as harshly as we treat previous ones. Will we want future generations to praise us even though we stand idly by and allow sex trafficking and slavery to exist today? What about the death, war, and famines that occur daily as a result of American/Western consumerism and resource hoarding? Or more than likely something that we don’t even perceive right now. These are all areas in which historians will eviscerate our culture for future generations. We do not see ourselves as that evil or wrong, but in seen and unseen ways we are.
These are important questions to ask and I need to continue to ask how men of conviction and integrity can stand idly by when tragedy occurs. Our role models are weak, but so are we. Our uniqueness, both in personality as well as time and space, validates our existence and our goodness, but does not excuse or forgive our faults. I will write more about that in a future post. In the meantime, I want to do more research on what George Washington wrote, said and did around slavery… perhaps he was more honorable then I give him credit.