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Lange: Burgoyne's Blunder

12/19/11 7:55AM By Willem Lange
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(Host) As U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq - and eventually Afghanistan - commentator Willem Lange is reminded of other attempts to impose political regimes by force in distant places, including one that occurred right here, on the border of the Green Mountain State.

(Lange) I’ve been around long enough to remember the news from North Africa and Iwo Jima; Inchon and Porkchop Hill; My Lai and Saigon. Along the way, our enemies have changed from sovereign nations to semi-independent bands of armed patriotic or religious guerrillas. But our military seems still to be fighting the battles of our youth.

We humans are ever at our most creative when we’re searching for new ways to roll rocks down on each other.

For some years back in the ‘60s we lived about a mile from a spot that witnessed one of the turning points of the war to decide the fate of the infant United States. The world’s most powerful nation’s forces were out to crush a rebellion of insurgent colonists. They possessed a good strategy and little doubt of success – in spite of the irritating refusal of the insurgents to recognize their hopeless condition. They were, however, far from home.

General John Burgoyne would move south from Quebec, meet General Clinton and Colonel St. Leger at Albany, and divide the rebellious colonies into pieces that could easily be overcome. Loyalists would flock to aid the cause.

Benedict Arnold delayed “Gentleman Johnny” for a year. But in the summer of 1777 Burgoyne’s force of about 6700 men and 400 Iroquois warriors made its way south. It paused at the mouth of the Boquet River, only a short stumble through the woods from where we used to live. You can still see signs of the camp if you know where to look.

Burgoyne lingered, and one day dictated the dumbest proclamation of his career. It pompously concluded: “I have but to give stretch to the Indian Forces under my direction... to overtake the harden'd Enemies of Great Britain and America... wherever they may lurk. I trust I shall stand acquitted in the Eyes of God & Men in...executing the vengeance of the state against the wilful outcasts.”

If he intended to get the colonists’ attention, he succeeded. But it wasn’t the kind he wanted. He did recapture Fort Ticonderoga; but the trek to the Hudson required three dozen water crossings, impeded by downed trees and ruined bridges left behind by the retreating rebels. In August he sent a detachment toward Bennington and lost about 900 men in that raid.

Continental morale was rising and its army growing. In the end, Burgoyne wasn’t able to reassert the authority of the Crown. Near Saratoga, he was defeated and forced to surrender his entire army. To this day, along his route to calamity, the Boquet River flows unperturbed to the lake. The almost invisible remains of fire pits bear mute witness to the futility of prosecuting a political policy by force so far from home and in such an unfamiliar setting. Nature, though scarred, closes over the wound in the end.
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