As we celebrate the founding of the greatest country on God’s green earth, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine reminds us that all around the world, others are still struggling to shake off the yoke of imperialistic tyrants. This year, Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin’s escapades also demonstrate that the woke scolds are wrong: George Washington is the greatest American of all time.
In recent years, left-wingers have directed a sustained attack against America’s Founding Fathers. Elite institutions like the New York Times have claimed that "the beginning of American slavery" was "our true founding," not the Declaration of Independence, and that "one critical reason" the colonists fought for independence was "to protect the institution of slavery." After getting lambasted by serious historians, the Times sneakily edited out its most egregious errors but left these misbegotten essays online. Other lefty ingrates have torn down statues of the Founders, and some vandals in Portland, citing the Times, spray-painted "Genocidal Colonist" on a statue of our first president.
To see a real genocidal colonist, look no further than Yevgeny Prigozhin. A Russian petty criminal who rose to prominence as Putin’s caterer, Prigozhin linked up with a bunch of Russian Nazi enthusiasts and in 2014 founded the Wagner Group. Over the next several years, Wagner’s thugs looted, murdered, raped, and tortured across Africa and the Middle East while serving as one of Putin’s proxies. In 2018, several hundred Wagner fighters and their allies attacked an American unit in Syria, only to discover that you don’t mess with Uncle Sam. Reportedly, Prigozhin was furious that the Russian Air Force stood by as American drones, helicopters, stealth fighters, and heavy bombers annihilated his mercenaries.
Prigozhin’s frustrations with Putin finally boiled over in June. For months, he had complained that the Russian government had given Wagner insufficient support in Ukraine. Among his grievances are that the Russian rubber-stamp parliament is "useless" and that Russian defense officials are sitting "like fat cats" and withholding ammunition and equipment from his convict army. On June 23, Prigozhin declared a "march for justice" and sent a column of Wagner tanks and armored vehicles on its way to Moscow, shooting down several Russian aircrafts before abruptly halting his mutinous uprising the next day and decamping to Belarus under mysterious circumstances.
During the Revolutionary War, General Washington encountered similar problems. The trials of Valley Forge, where American troops left a trail of bloody footprints as they marched barefoot to winter quarters without sufficient blankets or food, are legendary. But the army’s supply problems started years before and continued for years after: In October 1775, Washington was already writing home, "We are obliged to Submit to an almost daily Cannonade without returning a Shott [sic] from our scarcity of [gun] Powder." And throughout the war, Washington and his army had to fend off backbiting mediocrities like Horatio Gates, Thomas Conway, and their congressional supporters.
After eight years of shortchanges and broken promises, Washington’s officers had enough of the Continental Congress and were ready to mutiny. Shortly after he initially took command in 1775, Washington had told his army that it was constituted "in defence of the common Rights and Liberties of mankind," not for personal gain or profit. As rumors of the plot spread throughout the army, he summoned his officers and condemned the plan, saying there was "something so shocking in it, that humanity revolts at the idea." Pausing to find his glasses at one point, he asked, "Gentleman, you must pardon me, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in service to my country." His shamefaced subordinates burst into tears; the mutiny was broken.
This is only one of the many times that Washington saved the republic. If he wanted power, his army would have followed him in an uprising against the elected government. He might have become a dictator, or he might have failed and plunged the country into a civil war, but in either case our experiment in self-government would have failed in the prototype stage. Leftwing cranks today denounce Washington as a murderous tyrant, but when he had the chance to become one, he turned away.
Toward the end of the war, King George III asked the American painter Benjamin West if Washington would remain in command of the army or take over the government instead. When West told him that Washington would resign his command and go home quietly, he replied, "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world." As usual, George III got it wrong. Washington was not just the greatest man of that time, he is the greatest man in the history of the greatest country on earth—because of what he did not do.
Mike Watson is the associate director of Hudson Institute's Center for the Future of Liberal Society.