As David Hackett Fischer describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Washington's Crossing," thousands of American prisoners of war were "treated with extreme cruelty by British captors." There are accounts of injured soldiers who surrendered being murdered instead of quartered. Countless Americans dying in prison hulks in New York harbor. Starvation and other acts of inhumanity perpetrated against Americans confined to churches in New York City.It's obvious, but worth repeating: in a time when America actually was in existential danger, when America's enemies actually were trying to erase their way of life, when America's enemies actually did hate them for the freedoms they wanted, American soldiers still obeyed the rule of law.
The light of our ideals shone dimly in those early dark days, years from an end to the conflict, years before our improbable triumph and the birth of our democracy. General Washington wasn't that far from where the Continental Congress had met and signed the Declaration of Independence. But it's easy to imagine how far that must have seemed. General Washington announced a decision unique in human history, sending the following order for handling prisoners: "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren."
What's the excuse today?