WASHINGTON – The first American president has yet another feather to add to his extensively plumed hat: George Washington is Britain’s greatest enemy.
The results of a recent competition at the National Army Museum in the U.K. show the surveyor from Virginia is his former colonial master’s “Greatest Enemy Commander.” He beat out Irish nationalist Michael Collins with twice as many votes, as well as Napoleon Bonaparte, Erwin “Desert Fox” Rommel and founder of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The degree to which Washington reconciled with his former enemy seems to be what both sides of the Atlantic appreciate most about the “Father of His Country.”
“Washington was identified with a long period of progress, of enlightenment, of America being on the side of the good guys, of coming to the rescue of others, particularly the United Kingdom in two world wars, when we were in difficulty,” says Sir Peter Westmacott, the current British ambassador to the U.S.
The general’s profile on his NAM page states he was “often outmanoeuvred (sic) by British generals with larger armies,” but his “political leadership” allowed him to hold together the disparate “army of secessionists,” with the help of the French.
Westmacott says the “man who could not tell a lie” probably bested the other four military leaders in this contest due to the universal sense of good that came from his victory, unlike those of his competitors. He notes Michael Collins might be seen that way in Ireland. There were also an “extraordinary number of things of lasting value,” that came from Bonaparate’s reign to the French political system, education and transportation.
Yet ultimately, the contest took place in Britain, not Ireland, and Bonaparte is considered by historians and in the English psyche as “an expansionist who wanted to dominate the whole of Europe, and eventually got his comeuppance,” says Westmacott.
The ambassador cites Washington’s “legacy to civilization, to world peace, to even the world’s economy and the decades and decades we had of prosperity and growth until recent years,” with what helps him stand above Britain’s former military enemies, and what helped the two countries reunify in subsequent decades.
Any ill-will in Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, something that was “badly mishandled at our end,” Westmacott says, did not last for very long. (Side note: “The American Revolution is regarded by the Brits as something we’d rather never happened,” he says.)
“Despite a few wobbles in the 19th century — the war of 1812, and the American Civil War and so on — was rapidly replaced with an extraordinary and lasting and amazing relationship,” says Westmacott. “In British mentality, that’s probably the lasting part of the memory: It’s America as an invaluable and extraordinary ally in the last century, rather than a country of ungrateful immigrants who broke with their king in a way they shouldn’t have.”
The museum’s nationwide poll took place from Feb. 13 to March 31 and yielded 8,000 online votes. The top five commanders were chosen among those from the 17th century onward who led an army against British forces “in the field of battle.” This excluded notable figures like Adolf Hitler.