The Power of Hubris and the Death of George Washington
”Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” - Otto von Bismarck
The greatest American to ever live should not have made it past his 22nd birthday. George Washington’s first battle was the disastrous 1754 Battle of Fort Necessity, where an unsuspecting and unprepared column of British soldiers, led by the starry-eyed then-Colonel Washington, attacked, was surrounded, and nearly obliterated just south of modern-day Pittsburgh by a numerically superior force of French, Abenaki, Lenape, and Shawnee. Washington was so consumed by his desire to prove his worth to his British superiors that he sparked a global conflict between Britain, France, and their respective allies that killed 1.1 million people; more than the Civil War, War on Terror, and Revolution combined. But that same hubris and vanity which nearly got Washington killed might have actually killed the father of our nation — and his upstart rebellion with it — if he hadn’t come so close to annihilation 20 years prior. Hubris did not make George Washington the man - but it made George Washington a legend.
Before we get to Washington the legend, we must know the man, and to know a man is to know where he comes from. George Washington was a scion of the Virginia agricultural gentry, a third son on track to be London-educated and serve in His Majesty’s army. This suddenly went up in smoke when his father’s sudden death in 1743, when George was 11, forced him to forego a comprehensive education and instead manage Mount Vernon with his mother. Because he never got the experience of going to Britain many of his gentry peers had, Washington was never fully accepted as British - creating a chip on his shoulder of biblical proportions.
Combine this with a lifelong desire to excel and repeated snubs by England-born or educated military superiors, and you get such a compulsion to succeed and prove himself that he plowed headlong into a global war with a foreign power. Yet, surprisingly, the negative consequences of his actions are about as large as the positive ones. If Washington had not experienced his near-deadly mistake, he would never have become the humble, persevering, inspirational leader of men that he did in our world. He might not have the willpower to persevere through the darkest days of the war, and this is assuming Washington even became a general. And finally, a vain and puffed-up victorious Washington might have accepted a crown and became King George I — arguably an even worse fate than continued British rule.
In the end, the power of one man’s hubris changed the world forever. George Washington was not a man to be blinded by vanity — but he very nearly was.