A Tale of Two Letters

In the aftermath of 9/11, the government went of in search of ‘Who?’ and ‘How?’ tracing every detail of the plot which eventually became the official report. I took a different tack, asking ‘Why?’
In the aftermath of 9/11, the government went of in search of ‘Who?’ and ‘How?’ tracing every detail of the plot which eventually became the official report. I took a different tack, asking ‘Why?’ I wrote a number of ‘thinking out loud’ essays where I explored terrorist thinking. The national media reprinted an al Qaeda training manual that had been seized in one of the many raids. It was full of contradictions. I wrote at the time: “The Muslims see the pen, the word, and the tongue as the intellectual tools for educating themselves. For convincing the West there is the gun, the bullet, and the teeth.”

In every conflict both sides (rebels and authority) have the same bad habit of preferring violence to diplomacy. The Declaration of Independence (which was actually a declaration of war) echoes the al Qaeda training manual: “Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

When and if a president again puts troops on the ground in the Middle East, he, like President Bush, will have followed directly into the trap that has been set for us. The war in Afghanistan was the longest war in American history. The stated goal of bin Laden was to destroy our economy, and as the banking collapse of 2008 attests, his strategy was a remarkable success both on and after 9/11. War deflates a nation in a myriad of ways.

It is very difficult to kill an idea. There are plenty of neo-Nazis and closeted fascists in Europe, just as there are racists in America 150 years after the end of slavery. Everybody thinks their opinions are well reasoned, even if they are wildly contradictory and self-defeating.

In the case of bin Laden, I suspected that his complaint was primarily about modern finance and our tolerant views of immorality. In 2003 I discovered that he had penned a Letter to America in 2002. Sure enough, he sounded just like a conservative Christian. He lamented the lack of punishment for the adulterous actions of Bill Clinton and decried viewing immorality as ‘personal freedom.’ It is a safe bet that he would oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. However, he also also echoed Poor Richard’s Almanac: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” not realizing that Ben Franklin was not its author. Bin Laden wrote:

“You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on Usury. As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense; precisely what Benjamin Franklin warned you against.”

Sacred scripture is right about the problem with interest, but it admonishes a lot more than just adultery and usury. There is that pesky commandment about killing, too, which he conveniently ignored, and God never hated the Jews. Our sins disappoint God, but he is patient and forgiving.

This got me to wondering ‘When and how did usury become a permanent fixture of modern finance?’ This brings me to the second letter, one written by George Washington to Robert Morris.

Robert Morris is one of two people to have signed all three founding documents: The Declaration (1776), The Articles of Confederation (1781) and The Constitution (1789). He was the richest man in America, the first Superintendent of Finance (he created the blueprint that Alexander Hamilton followed), the first to export to China, he built the fledging navy with personal funds while living in British-occupied Philadelphia, and his house was the first White House. In other words, this guy is a HUGE player in American history. His business partner was the president of the First National Bank. He was in charge of the money from the inception of the nation, and his credit was better than the nation’s. At one point, Morris Notes were more readily acceptable than Continentals. He is the primary author of the American experiment, not Jefferson, Madison, Adams or the other common names. He established the financial blueprint.

I have read everything I could find on this man, and two divergent stories were repeated often. One, he was so clever that his tutor quit teaching him because he was so bright that he did not need to be taught. Another version of the same story was less flattering. Morris’ tutor quit because Morris was unable to be taught. He was a smug know-it-all (think Donald Trump as a young man, or the avarice-driven characters of The Great Gatsby). Either way, it leaves an impression. People who are so smart that they are dumb is not unusual. I suspect I am seen that way sometimes, too.

The second often-repeated story was that when George Washington was stuck at Valley Forge, and in need of supplies, Washington wrote a desperate plea to Morris. Upon receipt, Morris turned to a Quaker who lent Morris the money to fund the war. (It would be very uncharacteristic for a Quaker to fund war). Washington received the funds, ordered the supplies, crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve, routed the mercenary Hessians, turned the tide of the war, and the rest is history. I was burning with curiosity about this letter, and searched for it for years. I could never find it, until one day I had a chance to search the stacks at Boston University. They had a collection of correspondence by both Morris and Washington, but I still could not find it!

Occupying the same area, however, were other biographies about Morris, so I quickly devoured them. Back in the 1920’s, another historian had followed the same trail I was on, and he discovered that the letter was written AFTER Washington crossed the Delaware! I couldn’t find it because I had the wrong date. The letter was not about the need for supplies, since they had captured plenty. The letter was about the desire for cash. The troops were not fighting for modern personal freedoms, they wanted payment, just like the mercenaries they had defeated.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

Trenton Dec 31, 1776

Sir: Our affairs are at present in a most difficult, tho’ I hope a fortunate situation: but the great and radical evil which pervades our whole system and like an ax at the tree of our safety, interest and liberty here again shows its hateful influence. Tomorrow the continental troops are all at liberty. I wish to push our success to keep pannik and in order to get their assistance have promised them a bounty of 10 dollars if they continue one month. But here again a new difficulty presents itself we have not the money to pay the bounty, and have exhausted our credit by such frequent promises that it is not the weight we could wish. If it be possible, sir, to give us assistance do it; Borrow money where it can be done we are doing it upon our private credit; Every man of interest and every lover of his country must strain his credit upon such an occasion.

No time my dear sir is to be lost. I am, etc.

The bearer will escort the money.


The war did not end until 1783. The soldiers that survived probably used the bounty to return home and purchase land. Land and liberty were synonymous, especially since only a landowner would be allowed to vote. Morris had a spectacular career, but eventually landed in debtors prison. (I suspect the closing of them was in part to release him). He bet big on the land around Washington D.C., but the new capital city grew slowly. Part of his holdings were where the Watergate complex is located, a scene which eventually forced Nixon from power. History is not always as it seems. Current events are not black and white either. Man is a complex puzzle, but solvable.

These two letters capture a recurring theme that violence can be justified based on the will for a more just system. Washington and Morris were both wealthy, just like Osama bin Laden. How is it that those with all the advantages of an unjust society should oppose their status, and find it necessary to resort to violence to change the status quo? Society can only improve if men are willing to improve themselves first. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) is not a battle of good versus evil, it is a battle between two hypocrites that do not value the blood of their fellow man. Of course, that may explain why the official 9/11 report did not study the root cause of the attack. Inconvenient truths are readily ignored, even if hundreds of years old.
blog comments powered by Disqus