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January 3, 2006
Patrick Henry's Dirty Little Secret

Pssst ... do you want to know a dirty little secret about Markos Moulitsas' hero du jour, Patrick Henry? The man that Kos notes approvingly in terms of character, writing that "When our nation was founded, we had men of real character and courage fighting for their nascent America, one in which liberty and freedom trumped the authorative tendencies of the monarchy. Patrick Henry gave words to those efforts: 'Give me liberty or give me death!'"

It turns out that Henry never served in the Revolution -- and even when given a commission and a command, he declined to serve:

1775 August 26: Although Henry had no military experience, he was elected colonel of the First Virginia Regiment and commander-in-chief of the Virginia militia.

1776 February 28: Henry resigned his military appointment.

Wow -- who knew that Kos would celebrate such a chickenhawk!

Of course, that slur would be ludicrous to use on Patrick Henry. Instead of picking up a gun and commanding an army, Henry relied on his better skills and went into politics and rhetoric to fight for freedom. He urged the armed uprising as one of the leading pundits of his age, from his seat in the Virginia Assembly and as governor of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia. His proclamation for liberty or death did not mean that he intended on grabbing his pistol and run out into the nearest battle he could find. It did mean that he made liberty, freedom, and democracy his life's work -- and in doing so, he helped form the basis of the mandate of Americans to throw off the British monarchy and engage in the world's greatest experiment in self-rule. His contribution to American freedom is no less honorable for his refusal to serve in the Revolutionary Army, and no less important.

All Kos did with his screed is demonstrate that he has nothing more than a facile understanding of both American history and the nature of civilian-based democratic government rather than military juntas.

UPDATE: Roger Ailes and CQ reader Duckman rightly point out that Patrick Henry did take part in one engagement, a raid to secure powder a few days after Lexington in May 1775 -- before he received his commission, in fact. Mea culpa. However -- and this is my point -- Patrick Henry's worth to the American Revolution has little or nothing to do with this one uncontested military effort on Henry's part. If that qualifies Henry as a hero in Kos' eyes, then why wouldn't flying two years of defense missions in a notoriously unreliable jet protecting the homeland qualify as well? Especially since the latter person requested a transfer to combat while the former resigned his commission just as the war started to heat up? Rather than "denigrating" Henry, as Duckman says I did, I pointed out that Henry's greatness had nothing to do with whether he served in a combat position at any point in his life, but in the work he did to push for the creation of this nation of freedom and liberty. He used his best skills to the fullest extent to perform great work. That isn't validated by his presence at one single engagement just as it isn't invalidated by his resignation of his commission after the war started -- as I argued.

The nitpickers get one fact right (and I got one wrong, of course) while managing to miss the entire point. Debating war policy based on the worthiness of one's prior service to the nation is a stupid, juvenile exercise, very much akin to measuring genitalia to determine manliness. Try focusing on the policy itself rather than the military experience of those who debate it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 3, 2006 7:40 PM

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