My chat with George Washington

Brian M Downing

I used to have fairly interesting dreams, the details of which I shall omit just now.  Suffice it to say that advancing years and predilection with foreign policy have taken a toll.  My reveries were usually graced with young women such as the one I chatted with Saturday in a bagel store on Route 66.  But last night I dreamed of a conversation with George Washington.

GW: Ever since my apotheosis I haven’t paid much attention to foreign affairs.  I did for a while, right up to the Mexican War.  I trust we learned from that.

Me: Hmmmmm.  Where to begin.  May I call you George?

GW: Certainly not.  You act like that impertinent speculator named Devon who dropped by unannounced to tell me of dubious land deals in Westmoreland County.

Me: Of course, sorry.  At present we have troops in 88 countries and are engaged in wars in Mesopotamia and a remote region north of Hindustan.  And we seem likely to attack Persia.

GW: The papists have seized power and have us off trying to conquer the Mohammedans!

Me: Nope.

GW: Is Andrew Jackson still president? That’s it.  And the fool’s fighting the British in every corner of their blood-soaked empire.

Me: Actually, the British have been on our side since the world wars.

GW: World wars? Plural?

Me: Yes.  We helped the British and the French fight Germany – twice.  About 350,000 Americans dead.  You know, that debt we owed Lafayette?

GW: Methinks the debt was not so large.  Didn’t anyone read my farewell speech?  “Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?”

Me: Nope.

GW: History! People must read history.  Don’t they know that Europeans have been slaughtering each other for centuries and people fled to America to escape chronic war?

Me: Nope.

GW: Geography then.  Don’t people see that Providence has blessed America with vast bodies of water to defend us from foreign princes and their mad designs?

Me: Mon general, they can’t find Washington, DC on a map of Maryland and Virginia.

GW: Congress won’t stand for this. They know nothing of the outside world and want nothing to do with it.

Me: They still know nothing of the outside world and want everything to do with it.  They get considerable sums of money to do so.

GW: Has no one pointed out this folly and warned of where it must lead?

Me: Yes, a former general did just that on his farewell from the presidency.  Not you – President Eisenhower in 1961.  But since then we’ve fought and died in Tonkin, the Levant, Panama, the Spice Isle, and those other places I mentioned.

GW: And the American people tolerate this?  Their children are sacrificed in senseless wars that have nothing to do with America’s security.

Me: Almost no one has children in the military now.

GW: You use Hessians?

Me: No, they’re Americans, just not from the length and breadth of the American people.  Oh, and there’re a lot of Mexicans.

GW: But persons of quality and gentle condition are leading the military, are they not? The Putnams, the Lees. . . .

Me: Not in a long time.  Noblesse oblige became passé in the 1960s.  Would you send your kids to fight in Mesopotamia – even as generals?

GW: You vex me!  These wars must be expensive.  Are they taxing tea?

Me: They’re taxing cherry trees and wooden teeth!  The war in Mesopotamia runs about ten billion dollars a month.  I bet you couldn’t throw that across the Rappahannock!

GW: [Icy stare] One more jest at my expense and I’ll cane you, sirrah!  Where will all this end?  America will be indebted to foreign powers.  She will be hated for her arrogance and militarism instead of admired for its virtue and commerce.  [Sigh]  But these are the worries of an old man.  There must be many men of quality and gentle condition who, though they serve not in the armies or militias, nonetheless set high moral example and busy themselves with science and industry to better the common weal.

Me: Actually, they set up factories in foreign countries as fast as they can – if they’re not in prison or schtupping interns.  But on the bright side, they’re not quartering troops in our houses yet.

GW: They have no honor.  They are like the French nobility before. . . .

I woke up at this point.  Not sure what he was about to say, but I don’t think it was “before the Enlightenment.”  I rolled over, and thought of the young woman in the bagel store on Route 66.  We began to talk of. . . .  Oh, the general asked me to promulgate these in the Commons.  Hear ye! Hear ye!

©2008 Brian M. Downing