If John Adams Were Around Today, I Suspect He Might Retire Early to the Farm at Quincy and Brood About What America Has Lost Along the Way

On April 27, 1777, John Adams wrote this in a letter to wife, Abigail:

“I think that models in gold, silver and copper ought to be struck in commemoration of the shocking cruelties, the brutal barbarities, and the diabolical impieties of this war; and these should be contrasted with kindness, tenderness, humanity and philanthropy which have marked the conduct of Americans towards their prisoners. It is remarkable that the officers and soldiers of our enemies are so totally depraved, so completely destitute of the sentiments of philanthropy in their own hearts, that they cannot believe that such delicate feelings can exist in any other; and therefore have constantly ascribed that milk and honey with which we have treated them, to fear, cowardice and conscious weakness. But in this way they are mistaken, and will discover their mistake too late to answer any good purpose for them.”

So many questions. Did Adams truly understand how British prisoners were being treated? Was he blinded by the cause to which he sacrificed so much personally and for which his family also sacrificed so much? Or were American soldiers and Americans in general disposed in that war to treat the conquered with the dignity and concern Adams obviously assumed? What would Adams think of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, U.S. attitudes toward the Geneva Convention, lack of perceived legal rights by U.S. authorities for “the enemy” and all the other headline-grabbing war-related issues of our times? What would Adams tell Abigail about Charles Graner Jr. and Lynndie R. England? Was that a different time? Does the nature of the age change the nature of the issue?

If John is listening, I’d welcome an e-mail with some guidance on all this. I don’t seem to be gaining much inspiration from the commentary of today’s John Adams’ counterparts urging that the U.S. be viewed as “a benevolent global hegemon.”

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