Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Madness of King George

Let's say that there's a nation out there. Let's call it Big Freakin' Nation. It's the richest nation on the planet. But the rich folks who run it are a bit of the penny pinching type, and aren't interested in raising taxes on themselves.

Now, let's say that the titular ruler of this country, let's call him Mad King George, decides that he's just going to go overseas and grab whatever money he can. He even insists that the budget can be balanced without raising taxes if he can just squeeze enough money from overseas.

Now, let's say that the folks overseas object to this, and when Mad King George refuses to listen to their objections, basically declare war against Big Freakin' Nation and start chewing up its armies.

Sound far-fetched? I just described the American Revolution in a nutshell.

England defeated France and Spain in the Seven Year's War (1756-63), and gained France's former Canadian colony and Spain's former Florida colony, as well as consolidating control over India and kicking France out of India. But the victory came at a high price. The feudal system had collapsed some years before when Oliver Cromwell's "New Model Army" showed that a professional standing army was the most effective way of making war, meaning that the King could no longer call upon the Lords for a levy (draft) but, rather, had to rely on an expensive "volunteer" professional military (I put "volunteer" in quotes because some of the volunteers were not particularly eager to join the military, especially those press-ganged into the Navy, who fell asleep drunk in the gutter outside the bar and the next time they woke found themselves in the middle of an ocean on a ship as a "volunteer"). The rich folks in Parliament refused to raise taxes on themselves to pay for the war, so the national debt doubled. The new king, George III, went looking for more money, and decided to try to milk the colonies.

War could have been averted, but Mad King George could not fathom the notion that anybody would dare fight the empire upon which the sun now never sat, what was arguably the greatest empire now that the world had ever seen. So he laughed off attempts by the colonists to avoid war, and when they actually started shooting at British troops, had an unpleasant surprise.

The biggest surprise was that they didn't just quit when he sent over virtually the entire standing Army, nearly 32,000 troops, in the summer of 1776 (the size of the British Army in 1775 is estimated at approximately 36,000 men world-wide). Instead, the colonists declared independence. This put Mad King George into a bit of a bind. There were no more troops to send, and 32,000 troops was barely enough to hold what little territory was being held. Englishmen were showing little desire to sign up for the Army, despite pay hikes and improvements in conditions for soldiers. So he recruited Germans with promise of good pay and land, a total of over 30,000 of them over the course of the war. This put an even larger dent into the treasury. Since the rich people in parliament still refused to raise taxes upon themselves, there was no choice but to borrow yet more money.

I won't go into the rest of the war here. But the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781 was the turning point of the war for one simple reason: the British treasury ran out of money for hiring more soldiers, and indeed, was no longer capable of meeting interest payments on its current debt and could get no more loans at all.

In short, the political inability of Mad King George to raise taxes and institute a draft led directly to the defeat of the most powerful nation on earth by a rag-tag bunch of colonists whose armies, at their largest, numbered perhaps 17,000 soldiers total. The American Revolution was not won on the battlefield. The American Revolution was won by bleeding the British dry -- by running the Exchequer out of money and the Royal Army out of soldiers (since they could hire no more soldiers once the treasury ran out of money).

Today, Mad King George II appears to be going the same way... once again, refusing to believe that anybody would dare fight the greatest Army ever to roll across a desert, once again, refusing to raise taxes to pay for the war, once again, refusing to institute a draft to raise the manpower to fight the war. After the Iraqis finish bleeding the army we currently have there dry, who will replace them? No one. No one at all. The United States will be forced to sue for a humiliating peace just as England was forced to do so 230 years ago.

There will be no draft. Congress will no more approve a draft today than parliament would have done so 240 years ago. What there will be, will be a humiliating withdrawal and the loss of American prestige and power for years, if not decades. If we learn something from the experience, we may go on like Britain did to a second level of greatness, having learned humility from our defeat. If we don't learn, well... America as the world's only superpower was a nice idea, wasn't it?

- Badtux the History Penguin

1 comment:

  1. 'America as the world's only superpower was a nice idea, wasn't it?'

    No it wasn't even a good idea - but I enjoyed the rant :-)



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