[The following is a speech delivered to Tufts Republicans, at Tufts University, Medford, Mass.]
The war is going badly. There has been a series of embarrassing defeats. The people are discouraged. The commander-in-chief is widely ridiculed. George is very unpopular.
But the war is not in Iraq. And the unpopular commander-in-chief is not George Bush.
It’s not 2006, it’s 1776, and George Washington’s army is falling apart.
Defeated in New York, Washington’s army had suffered heavy casualties and had been forced to retreat, all the way across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, hoping to defend the American capital at Philadelphia.
When that war started, some people expected an easy victory, and so most of Washington’s army had only enlisted for a few months. There came a day, Dec. 31, 1776, when these enlistments were set to end.
The British army was on the other side of the Delaware River, and Washington wanted to fight them, but half his army was about to go home.
So, one snowy day in December 1776, a New England regiment was called out into formation. The historian records that some of those men didn’t even have shoes. Uniforms? They were dressed in dirty rags. They were sick and hungry, and they were cold.
Picture these hungry, cold men, there in the Pennsylvania snow, when General Washington came to address them. He sat on his horse, and he said that if they would just stay in the army a few more weeks, it could mean victory, independence, and liberty.
Washington told them that any man who re-enlisted for six weeks would receive a $10 bounty.
That was when $10 was a lot of money, and at that point, Washington hadn’t been authorized to offer any bounties -- but he was desperate. The army needed these men. So he offered the bounty, hoping to get it authorized later.
And then Washington asked that any man who wanted to re-enlist would step forward.
Not a single man moved.
Can you blame them? They had left behind their homes and families. They had suffered hardship and hunger.
They had risked their lives, and seen their friends shot dead, and for the past four months, they’d seen one disaster after another. Why shouldn’t they quit? They had done their duty, and they had every right to go home.
So when Washington called for volunteers to re-enlist, not a single man stepped forward.
But Washington wouldn’t quit. The historian records what he told them next: “You have done all I asked you to do, and more than can be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake…If you will consent to stay only one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any other circumstance.”
And then he told them that they were facing “the crisis which is to decide our destiny.”
That was it. Washington couldn’t think of anything else to tell them. And so he sat on his horse and waited.
Then one old veteran stepped forward. And then another, and another, and pretty soon, every man in that regiment who wasn’t too sick to march had stepped forward to re-enlist.
That’s a true story. It comes from a history book by Richard M. Ketchum, called The Winter Soldiers, published in 1973.
Now, I’m too old to join the army. And because I’m an objective journalist, I can’t be running around the country campaigning. But I can tell you the facts.
And the fact is, what George Washington told those New England soldiers 230 years ago, is still true today. We are facing -- America is facing, you are facing -- “the crisis which is to decide our destiny.”
You are not cold. You are not hungry. Here at Tufts, you have every privilege and every convenience you could want.
Nobody is asking you to carry a flintlock musket, to march barefoot in the snow, to charge into cannons firing grapeshot, or to face the British bayonets.
But as you sit here at Tufts in your comfortable classrooms, I want you to know that there are men your age – boys, really, 18, 19, 20 years old -- on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And right now, in a house in Morrow County, Ohio, there is a woman with five kids. Her husband is in the Army Reserves. He’s already done one tour of Iraq, and he’s getting ready to go back. That woman’s husband is my wife’s little brother, and his five kids are my kids’ cousins.
Now, I am not asking you to go to the recruiting station tomorrow -- although I’m sure they’d be glad to see you. The top bonus for recruits is now $40,000 – a big improvement over the $10 George Washington offered his men. You’d be eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill -- and guys, chicks love a man in uniform.
But I’m not asking you to do that. I am asking you to remember that there are kids your age who are dying every day, fighting for your freedom. And there are other kids who don’t know if their daddy’s ever coming home.
They’re fighting for you, and you’ve got to fight for them.
George Washington told his men, “Your country is at stake.” And I’m telling you, today, your country is at stake.
George Washington asked his men to give him six weeks. And we are now six weeks from Election Day.
What George Washington told his men 230 years ago is just as true today. This is “the crisis which is to decide our destiny.”
And it’s time to step forward.
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