The fighting was intense, often hand-to-hand with U.S. Marines against Muslim extremists. Terrorism was commonplace with Americans killed and taken captive. Muslim militants quoted the Koran, their holy book, to justify their actions.
It’s not 2011, however. The original fight against Muslim terrorists took place in the first decades of the 19th century. Unfortunately, Americans do not know much about their own history. We live for the moment, a byproduct of modern communications technology that allows instant communication and gratification. Who cares what happened yesterday?
Unfortunately, that approach guarantees we will repeat the worst mistakes of our past. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan certainly seem to resemble Vietnam in many significant ways. Only the presence of an all-volunteer army is preventing war protests that blossomed through the 1960s.
We are also repeating what happened when the United States went to war against the Barbary pirates. Then, as now, Berber militants used the Koran to support their actions. They insisted that since their targets were non-Muslim, they could be disposed of with immunity. That was also true for anyone who supported the infidels.
Unfortunately, that’s not what the Koran says. It demands peace and calls for Muslims to leave Christians and Jews alone, identifying them as “people of the book” – the Bible. Mohammad knew full well how much indebted he was to Jews and Christians for the ideas that animated his faith. He thought of himself as the Pauline missionary to the Arab people, carrying the message from the same God worshiped by his monotheistic counterparts.
Nevertheless, some more-radical Muslims prefer direct methods of confrontation. Those who caused 9/11 were driven by the overwhelming presence of American culture that, to them, undermined their beliefs. In the current war, they are largely motivated by the desire to evict the American forces seen as invaders.
In the 1800s, Muslim pirates were driven by greed. They wanted money and found the various cargo ships plying the Mediterranean as tempting targets.
Initially, we tried placating the leaders of the four African nations involved in piracy, but treaties were largely ignored. Under President Thomas Jefferson, we went to war against them. U.S. Marines – then naval fighters, launched a series of attacks that won the admiration of the placid European nations then willing to pay tribute while squabbling among each other.
The battle against the Muslim pirates was enshrined in the Marine Hymn:
“From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea…”
Americans established several precedents by fighting the Berbers:
· We do not pay tribute or ransom. We do not negotiate with terrorists.
· We will defend our citizens anywhere in the world.
We leave after we establish our rights.
We still follow those basic concepts. Unfortunately, we seem to have no plans to leave. Of course, that’s not surprising since our government and military leaders seem to have ignored history – just like everyone else.
We could learn a lot by looking at the past. It certainly is one way to avoid continuing our mistakes into the future.
Bill Lazarus is an historian and author. His books can be found on Amazon.com, Kindle and on his website, www.williamplazarus.com.