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Pulling a Fast One: A&E's George Washington

I am one of those who find prime time broadcast television to be a vast wasteland of gratuitous sleaze and stupidity. Watching it, you can almost hear your brain cells decompose.

But I do like to watch television, so I normally find something worthwhile on cable outlets like the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, or A&E, these networks being rich in classic movies, documentaries, and the like.

The only problem with these otherwise fine historical presentations is that one must be constantly on guard against the left-wing activist using his show to make the Great Political Statement. Mercifully, it doesn't happen often but when it does - watch out.

On January 10, A&E premiered (and replayed several times) "The Crossing," a movie about General George Washington's famous victory at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776, when his ragtag army crossed the Delaware River and in a surprise attack routed the Hessian mercenaries. Jeff Daniels stars as George Washington; David Ferry plays the role of General Nathaniel Greene, also of the Continental Army.

What, you ask, could the political left do with that? Well, if you're a member of the revisionist left, you can make something out of nothing since there is no allegiance to truth and accuracy. If you want to make a political statement, you just invent history.

In "The Crossing" the writer does just that. During the battle the Hessian commander, Colonel Rall, is mortally wounded. Greene is sent to tell Washington he should see Rall before he dies. Viewers are treated to this extraordinary exchange:

Greene: "General Washington, Colonel Rall is dying. General Mercer says you cannot let him die without speaking to him. It's a courtesy of war."

I'm not schooled well enough in military history to judge, but that passage doesn't sound implausible. Warfare then was replete with all manner of courtesies, not the least of them being the Brits' use of bright red uniforms and large fur hats, designed to make them, not innocent civilians, the targets.

So far, so good. Now comes Washington's answer:

"Courtesy? There are no courtesies of war, Nathaniel. This is not a parlor game where I must pay my respects to that stinking mercenary who killed five hundred of my men in Brooklyn. Slaughtered them when they tried to surrender, skewered them in the backs with bayonets. You want me to weep for those bastards, men who kill for profit?"

I for one refuse to believe that the Father of Our Country used that kind of language, or that he referred to his generals by their first names. (Did Greene call Washington "George"?) But hey, this is Hollywood and editorial liberties will be taken, so we'll cut the writer some slack here. Besides, would you blame GW for thinking that?

Now it comes: The opportunity for the writer to make his Great Political Statement.

Greene: "Our own cause is, at its heart, a fight against British taxation, is it not? In the end, sir, we all kill for profit - the British and the Hessians, and us."

Washington, convinced, nods his agreement.

Come again? So this wasn't the heroic effort of a ragtag citizen militia that defeated the most powerful nation on Earth in an extraordinary struggle for freedom against oppressive government, giving birth to the United States of America? No, the Revolutionary War was just a fight over "profit" and the greedy, selfish Colonialists were on par with those hired to travel the world to kill.

Who in the world could see things this way? If your answer is "a bloody communist, that's who!" - you're right. Here's what A&E's own website says about the movie's writer, Howard Fast:

"In the '50s, Fast was blacklisted...[His] books were purged from school libraries. 'Citizen Tom Paine,' formerly used as a school text, was banned from use in New York City schools. His 1990 memoir, 'Being Red,' goes more deeply into the issue... He also wrote ...pamphlets, journal articles, and columns for the Daily Worker, Masses & Mainstream, and other radical publications."

One can safely assume that Fast is beyond hope. But what of the others? What possessed the movie's producers to hire Fast in the first place? Why did the director allow this imbecilic claptrap to stay in? How did Ferry manage to say those lines with a straight face?

Oh, to be the editor on the set. I would have kept Greene's line but then would have had Washington give Greene the back of his hand, sending him sprawling face first into the mud, with a dismissive, "Oh, shut up!"

But that wouldn't be historically accurate, would it?