There is a little piece of the story that I didn't know until I read the center pages of Edward Lengel's book, General George Washington. It might have been there the whole time, and it just failed to register with me. There, in Trenton, the Colonel Johann Rall, leader of the Hessian soldiers, was killed in the battle. Drawing his last breaths, he talked directly to the American general, Washington.
That's right, our George Washington, the commander-in-chief of the Continental army, consoled an enemy colonel on his deathbed. The German asked the American to treat his soldiers, now prisoners of the Patriots, well. Shortly after, before shipping the Hessian soldiers to prison, George Washington treated some of them to a dinner, where he impressed them as a very affable gentleman. They were intrigued by how polite and refined Washington was, but they also made note that he was not the marble-statue-of-a-god that they had envisioned.
George had been defined in media and gossip as being larger than life, but these men couldn't help but note that he was generally a nice fellow, very amiable. Perhaps they knew that he had comforted their leader as the clock of his life ran down. Maybe they read the expressions on his face and understood George's desire to end the war and live the life of a regular citizen.
Later, Patriot soldiers found their own peers stripped and pillaged by British troops, they wanted to do likewise to the British troops. When General Washington found his soldiers stripping and robbing British corpses, he immediately put a stop to the action. Not only that, the commander-in-chief had some of the injured enemy soldiers taken to domestic houses nearby to receive medical care. Others, more seriously injured, were delivered to doctors, like Dr. Rush himself, where they received amputations they needed.
These scenes of humanity should not be left in the past. How might they be applied in the lives of fourth graders?
- We should treat even those who are not our friends with respect. Their blood is just like ours - red.
- There is a time for fighting for principles and a time for sympathizing for the losses in other people's lives.
- Treat other people the way you want them to treat you.
- Show others how to be polite.
- Take care of people - not just friends.
- Do the right thing even when people around you are not.
I can only imagine how hard it was to fight a man in one instance and console him with compassion and empathy in the next. George Washington is often described as a man who does not wear his heart on his sleeves, a man who keeps his emotions in check, but his humanity shines through in the most unlikely places.