“We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.”
I love reading about the American Revolution — what a fascinating time. How large all those Founding Fathers loomed – George Washington, Ben Franklin, Lafayette, Samuel Adams. What a cast of characters — how positively Shakespearean! One forgotten fellow in this band of brothers is Nathanael Greene. Considered Washington’s favorite general, Greene was the commander in charge of one of America’s hugest defeats early in the war at Fort Washington and yet he went on to lead a brilliantly creative Southern campaign that bedevilled the seasoned British General Cornwallis and is widely considered to have been a huge, perhaps even the deciding factor, in America’s victory.
Here’s one of the things that fascinates me about Greene: He was born a Quaker, but somehow as a young boy, he managed to find and consume books on military history. He read about Julius Caesar’s campaigns and famous ancient battles. And he absorbed all this so deeply that, eventually, he became a self-taught strategist who gave Cornwallis a run for his money. Amazing!
And here’s the second thing about Nathanael Greene that I love — and that we can learn from him as writers: his attitude about defeat. “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again” — what more inspiring words can you find anywhere?
Despite being hugely outnumbered by seasoned British troops — and never actually winning a battle — Greene nevertheless made the enemy pay heavily in every engagement. He used motivational techniques, counterintuitive tactics, and pesky persistence to win back the South against overwhelming odds. He didn’t see defeat as failure, he saw it as delayed success. What a powerful idea!