But since Clark’s triumphs were those of a war leader, that is, the products of fear, pain, and opportunity, they were not stable. Clark’s mistake was to think them the larger triumphs of alliance.”Richard White, The Middle Ground (20th anniversary edition, 2011) p. 371
I’m reading, at Dave’s cousin Toby’s excellent suggestion, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. The quote describes George Rogers Clark, one of many who overinterpreted their success in making war as leadership for other situations.
The book lists battles, betrayals, and atrocities. Yet, this history tells a parallel story of the peace leaders, the alliances, and diplomacy that avoided or slowed even more torture and murder.
The title of the work refers to a middle ground made of blended and new customs, sometimes based on shared misunderstandings. In this middle ground, mediation rather than coercion was the more productive form of leadership.
The French were at their strongest when they appeared, at least to themselves, the most weak. When they offered goods freely, when they mediated quarrels, when they stayed Algonquian hatchets and covered the dead, then they achieved a status that no other group could rival. They were, conversely, at their weakest when they appeared the most dangerous and powerful…[When they] abandoned mediation and deployed force, then [their] special status began to dissipate.”White, The Middle Ground, pp. 182-3
Of course, I read this book through the lens of the fear and pain of this current moment. While White describes the history of a particular time and situation, he also describes the human condition.
Fear and pain may get valued results, but only temporarily.
When the pandemic crisis subsides (we are not there yet), let us build communities, maintain alliances, and foster respect among peoples instead of division, blame, and worse, revenge.
Let us hold up peace rather than war leadership as a metaphor for our actions and hopes for the future.