Garrett Epps: McChrystal Seen Through Washington's Glasses





[Garrett Epps, a former reporter for The Washington Post, is a novelist and legal scholar. He teaches courses in constitutional law and creative writing for law students at the University of Baltimore. He lives in Washington, D.C.]

On March 15, 1783, a group of Continental Army officers met in Newburgh, New York, to plan a mutiny against the Continental Congress. Independence was all but won, but the Army had not been paid. Some prominent politicians thought a brief uprising of the soldiers would bring the delegates to their senses. But they had not reckoned with George Washington. Without notice, the old lion showed up and scolded the officers: "This dreadful alternative, of either deserting our Country in the extremest hour of her distress, or turning our Arms against it, (which is the apparent object, unless Congress can be compelled into instant compliance) has something so shocking in it, that humanity revolts at the idea."

Then, in what historian Ron Chernow calls "the most famous coup de theatre" of his career, Washington attempted to read a document, failed, and drew from his pocket a pair of glasses, which no one in the room had ever seen him wear. "I have grown not only gray but almost blind in the service of my country," he said. Hardened veterans of Valley Forge burst into unashamed tears, and the "Newburgh Conspiracy" dissolved.

Washington's victory at Newburgh established a principle that was vindicated in President Obama's decision to remove Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his position as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan after McChrystal and his staff made insubordinate comments to a reporter from Rolling Stone....

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