They seemed lost and desperate. They lost control of their major strongholds. They scattered when attacked. It was said that they continued to fight only because they didn't know they had lost. Many were willing to give up life itself in the cause of ousting the occupying power.
The insurgents of Iraq? No. This is the way David Hackett Fischer describes the American Patriots in December of 1776 on the eve of Washington's great triumph at Trenton in the new book, Washington's Crossing, which I heartily recommend.
Of course I don't mean to suggest parallels between the insurgents of Iraq and the rebels of 1776. Our rebels never chopped off anybody's head or blew up innocent people.
But reading Fischer's book over the holidays gave me a strange feeling. Is it possible that their insurgents see themselves as patriots just as ours did?
One of the reasons I love history is because it gives one a chance to get outside oneself and one's own delimiting experience.
Reading Fischer I couldn't help but wonder if someday if the Iraqi insurgents win one of their historians will come along and turn their nightmare activities into a book about heroism and sacrifice?
In my book there is nothing heroic about the Iraqi insurgents. They are fighting a battle they deserve to lose. The way they are waging their struggle is appalling.
But what mighty pools of passion can they draw from! Our insurgents had just nationalism going for them. The Iraqis have both nationalism and fanatical religiosity. Nationalism alone can fire people's imagination and induce them to make enormous sacrifices in the service of causes both uplifting and despicable. Add in the fanaticism of the believer's religious zeal and you have one powerful, demonic cocktail.
This is what we are dealing with in Iraq.
The British couldn't defeat American Patriots and the Patriots had only nationalism going for them. Imagine if they felt God had directed them to rebel? (Patriots to be sure did feel that God was on their side, but they weren't fighting for God. They were fighting for the God-given rights of man, which is far different.)
Am I right to describe the Sunni fanatics as nationalists? They are in favor of the nation only if they get to control it, as they did under Saddam. But I still think it fair to describe them as nationalists.
Nathan M Williams - 1/6/2005
That Iraqi insurgents have less to fall back on if they cease fighting. I am hardly an expert on the period, but I imagine the majority of American rebels had farms or jobs to go back to if they deserted or lost. Yes, their pride would be hurt and the universal rights of man curtailed and all that, but they were hardly fueled by desperation. For many of these young, Sunni men, I imagine the future seems very bleak.