Irish Times
16 Apr 2012

THE FIRST president of the United States, George Washington, has been voted Britain’s greatest enemy commander by historians and academics, overcoming the challenge of Ireland’s revolutionary leader Michael Collins.

Washington secured 30 votes against 14 for Collins at the National Army Museum in London over the weekend.

Third was Napoleon Bonaparte, with 12 votes, followed by Erwin Rommel with seven and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (four).

The final vote concluded a hard-fought contest launched by the museum in February, which asked the public to vote online for their top foe. From its launch on February 13th to its close on March 31st, the online voting site attracted almost 8,000 votes and more than 300,000 web hits.

The top five commanders, as determined by the online poll, then went forward to be represented at the all-day speaker event on Saturday, where guests voted for Washington as the ultimate foe.

Dr Stephen Brumwell, a specialist in 18th century North American history, said Washington scores highly as an enemy of Britain on key grounds. “The immense scale of damage he inflicts upon Britain’s army and empire – the most jarring defeat that either endured; his ability to not only provide inspirational battlefield leadership but to work with civilians who were crucial to sustain the war effort. As British officers conceded, he was a worthy opponent.”

Gabriel Doherty, history lecturer at University College Cork, had stated the case for Collins, insisting he was more than just a great military leader. “He had many different hats, and his political and administrative skills tend to be a lot more overlooked.”

The poll was created to highlight the achievements of Britain’s most celebrated enemies and to draw attention to some of the country’s lesser-known adversaries.

In assembling the shortlist, the main criterion was that each commander had to have led an army against British forces in the field of battle (which saw the exclusion of political enemies such as Adolf Hitler) and they had to fall within the museum’s remit (from the 17th century onwards).

The museum explores the impact of the British army on the story of Britain, Europe and the world, how Britain’s past has helped shape its present and and how the actions of a few can affect the futures of many.

The museum was established by royal charter to tell the story of the land forces of the crown wherever they were raised. Opened by the queen in 1960, it moved to its current site in Chelsea in 1971.

Crown’s fiercest military foes

1st: George Washington

2nd: Michael Collins

3rd: Napoleon Bonaparte

4th: Erwin Rommel

5th: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk