"History is to the nation as memory is to the individual. Just as an individual deprived of memory becomes disoriented, not knowing where he has been or where he is going, so a nation denied a conception of its past will be disabled in dealing with its present and future ..."
- Arthur Schlesinger
I'm not sure about other writers, but as soon as I finish one column my wheels start turning toward the next topic. But like that fiery letter the anger-management people tell us to write one day and burn the next, the reader rarely sees my first draft. I do a lot of "burning" before the final copy reaches print.
That's what happened with this column, which I was going to call: "If I ran the world."
Arrogant, huh? If no one else since the beginning of time has been able to turn discord into concord, what makes me think I can turn the world's swords into plowshares?
Thus, after my humble return to earth, you get the tamed-down version minus much of the original verbiage except this: If I ran the world, I would force-feed every citizen large doses of history as it happened - no gilding, no revisions and no omissions to spare our 21st-century sensibilities.
Then again, with my head buried in Columbia County history for the past few years, maybe I'm just more attuned to George Santayana's classic phrase, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," than most of my peers.
After that lengthy introduction, it appears I now only have room for one "force-feeding" among the dozens I've been thinking about since the war over the war in Iraq heated up. Still, maybe the following incident will illustrate what happens repeatedly when governments and military leaders get their parameters of responsibility mixed up.
Button Gwinnett, Georgia's second acting governor following America's Declaration of Independence, took his "commander-in-chief" role seriously. Gwinnett also hoped to become the state's first constitutional governor when elections were held in May, 1777.
But when Gen. Lachlan McIntosh, the commander of Georgia's revolutionary forces, assumed he had authority to make military decisions, not all battles occurred between the Patriots and the British. The resulting clash between McIntosh and Gwinnett would be catastrophic for Georgia and the would-be governor alike.
In Gwinnett's mind, Georgia's best line of defense was to defeat the British forces camped in nearby Florida, although similar forays had already failed. Still, without consulting the general, Gwinnett organized his own Florida assault. While this attempt also failed militarily, it succeeded in sharpening the growing hostility between McIntosh and Gwinnett.
By the time the general called the governor "a scoundrel and lying rascal," even normal Gwinnett supporter George Walton compared the "scoundrel" to Alexander the Great, who thought himself "the lord of the earth." Consequently, Gwinnett's feud with McIntosh, plus his failed coup, cost him the election. No one was happier with this turn of events than the general.
Shortly thereafter, a still angry Gwinnett challenged McIntosh to a duel, the acceptable method in those days of preserving a gentleman's "honor." On the appointed day the now former governor and current general met at dawn on the outskirts of Savannah, then the capital of Georgia, paced the customary 12 steps apart, turned and fired.
The spectacle was over in seconds. Each man found his target; both fell wounded to the earth.
McIntosh recovered quickly, but when Gwinnett died of gangrene four days later the victor was accused of murder. The preposterous charge didn't hold and McIntosh was acquitted, but sentiment ran so high against him that he asked to be reassigned. That fall the Continental Congress honored the general's request, essentially depriving Georgia of her finest military leader, and sent Gen. Robert Howe to Georgia to take his place. A little more than a year later the weaker, less-effective Howe was in command when all of Georgia fell to the British.
It would be another three years before the declaration our Founding Fathers signed on July 4, 1776, achieved the independence they sought. In the South, that final battle would be fought in June, 1781, right here in the backcountry of Georgia. But that's another story ...
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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