I didn’t want to write this post, but I felt I had to. It’s something that’s bothered me for a while, and I’m going to put it down and get it out of my system. I’ve thought about it every year as the anniversary of 911 roles around.
911 was a great horror. The idea that religion of any kind could lead men to kill so many people is appaling to me on more levels than I can count. The resulting two wars that followed sickens me at levels I can’t express. The entire affair is disgraceful and horrible.
But I’m biased. I’m irrevocably skewed in my worldview by my upbringing and experiences. I’m an American, and a fairly patriotic one. I felt the attacks of 911 as a personal affront to the well being of both my country and myself. I was personally impacted by the attack when the Venture Capitol firm that supported the company I worked for was destroyed by the attacks. Within three week I was without a job, directly because of that attack.
Above and beyond that, the two wars since then have taken friends and family far away from home to kill people. Those same people tried to, but so far haven’t succeeded in, killing my friends and family. The impact of 911 is still felt every time a soldier gets on a plane to head toward the fight.
But if I try really hard, I can remove the glasses of my background and look at things through a less filtered method. When I try, I can begin to see times in our own past when we acted in ways similar to those lunatics that flew planes into our buildings. And it makes me wonder where we are headed.
Long ago, a group of fanatics under the cover of night attacked a boat anchored at harbor in Boston. In what became a symbol of opposition to a tyrant, these men were acting with neither official recognition or direction. They stormed the ship, dressed as natives instead of wearing any kind of recognizable uniform, and attacked the source of revenue for a government they didn’t agree with. In effect, they were terrorists. I am speaking of the Boston Tea Party.
To think that this event, a symbol of our early drive toward a new country, is anything but terrorism is to remove it from its cultural context. Leaders of the day, including future leaders of our new country, did not support the action. In fact, Ben Franklin demanded that restitution to both the company impacted AND the crown be paid. The sum was some 90K pounds, a massive fortune for the fledgling economy of the “New World.”
The Crown reacted badly to this act, and increased its tyrannical hold on the colonies. This increased the resentment toward a far distant land and lead us further down the road toward war, just as the reactions of our own government after 911 lead to the war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And once there, our soldiers faced something very similar to the British Soldiers in the southern theater.
In Afghanistan our troops never faced an army of uniformed soldiers in the field. Instead, non-uniformed fighters of the Taliban squared off with a small number of our troops using loyalist militia to rapidly push the Taliban out of power. The British weren’t so lucky. The British initially took to the Southern Theater with a small number of regular soldiers and bolstered their forces with a loyalist militia in what was really more of a Civil War than a Revolutionary one.
In the south they went to battle not with uniformed soldiers of the Continental Congress, but instead with the local militias who had, to put it politely, an informal hierarchy. At times, Colonels in the Militia outnumbered privates. This is not to say that the patriot militia was ineffective. Quite the opposite. Much like the early successes of IED’s and suicide bombings, the patriot militia acted in ways completely contradictory to the rules of war of the day.
The patriots acted without “honor” (as defined at the time) and openly targeted high ranking officers. They attacked supply lines and civilian run posts. They refused to meet on the field of battle, instead favoring hit and run tactics. The British were unprepared to face such a foe, and failed to adapt to the new rules. As a result, they lost the south and then, in a more conventional way, lost the North forcing Cornwallis to give up his sword to Washington and establishing our country, as it was.
But to think that we won that war by fighting “fair” or following the “rules of war” would be incorrect. Just like our adversaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, we flatly refused to fight on the same terms as the British. We fought our war our way, and to hell with the idea Britain had on the “proper” way to fight. Are the Taliban or the Iraqi Insurgents really acting all that differently?
I’m no longer sure. Now, I’m not trying to pass a moral judgment just yet. To simplify the American Revolution down to the Boston Tea Party and how we fought is to much like a Schoolhouse Rock version of the war. It was much more, and involved more reason, concerns and decisions. Just like Al-Qaeda In Iraq, we had other groups and organizations running to aid us not out of some sense of pride or belief in our new way of life, but because we were fighting a common enemy. The French Fleet didn’t arrive in the nick of time because France loved us, but because France hated the British. Remember, many of the same men who fought with the French against the British in the Revolutionary War, fought against the French a few years earlier in the French and Indian War, including George Washington. We were bloodying the nose of a common enemy, not sharing a ideological ideal.
So I’m having a hard time with the wars we are currently engaged in. And I’m not naive. I can see some key and extrememly fundamental differences between American Revolution and Al-Qeada’s attack on 911. Putting my bacground eyeglasses back on, those differences are extremely important to me.
- Al-Qeada attacked us because we believe in a different world than they do. The Boston Tea Party attacked because they believed in a different form of government. That difference, at least to me, is massive. No one claimed a Divine Right to attack, they did so because they were angry at what they viewed as mistreatment, but not immorality. To Al-Qeada, we had to be attacked for the way we think.
- Even when provoked, the Patriots tended toward offering quarter to wounded surrendering enemies. Not always, though, but in general the American’s may not have fought with honor, but they won with honor. They also typically surrendered with honor, although there were some cases of perfidy. The Patriots did not actively target civilians, at least not for death, unless they held valid military significance. While it could be argued that the Tea Party targeted civilians, the intent was economic, not true terror. The attack on the WTC can be defined in no real Military terms, and served no military purpose except to cause terror.
These are not insignificant differences. At least to me, and my ability to sleep at night. Regardless of the how, the result of the American Revolution was “a good thing.” The result of 911, while history may prove me wrong, is not good.
So why did I write this post? Because I’m sick of the holier than thou attitude I hear all to often concerning the ongoing conflicts. I completely support our troops in every way. I can even accept, and could possibly argue, that the fights are someone just… or at least justifiable. But the idea that those we fight are somehow less than us is to ignore our own history and how we came to be. While there may be major motivational differences, the fact that we are fighting a group of people who use methods we find dishonorable and, frankly, often despicable, doesn’t make them subhuman. It makes them different. We were once looked upon with the same level of disdain by a far greater power.
So does writing this change anything for me? Not really. I still think Islamic Fundamentalism is a dangerous movement, and a far cry from the Islamic thinkers that saved the worlds knowledge during the dark ages of Europe. I still think there is no finer military that the one the United States has kept in the field now for 8 long years. I think the young men and women in that military are some of the most amazing people to ever walk the earth. And I think most of them will do what they need to do, even though they would rather be anywhere else in the world but there.
But I also think that Islamic Fundamentalism is not all of Islam. And that we need to remember that when the fighting is finally over, the only way to continue to improve the lives of the people of Islam is to befriend them, not destroy them. And that much like the post Revolutionary period (forget 1812, will ya?) meant the friendship between the British and the Americans created one of the most ethical and moral superpowers the world has ever seen. (I didn’t say perfect. And I didn’t say ethical. Just the most ethical)
So to surprise many of my friends who know me quite well and know my views on politics, I’m going to have to say that I agree with President Obama on the need to reach out to them with the hand of friendship and understanding. Of knowing that once we were on their side of the battle. And to figure out a way to lift them up into the modern world instead of continue to explode them into the past.
But I’m not saying the Obama method is the correct one.
So ultimately, have I said anything at all?