America’s First Muslim War
Our current “war on terror” is a confused mess that has little effect on Islamic terrorism, aside from the fact that it can be argued that the U.S. increased terrorism by overthrowing Ghaddafi in Libya and by arming the Islamists who ultimately became ISIS, or at least a part of ISIS. As critics have pointed out, terrorism is a tactic and you cannot war against a tactic, only against some nation or definable group that uses that tactic. Perhaps we should be at war with Islamist terrorists and clearly state it. But our current “war” is hardly our first one; we have sporadically fought the Muslims many times before.
Before our own King Hussein prolonged the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, George II had to start and fail to finish them. (This is aside from the fact that in Iraq we have put pro-Iranian Shiites in power, and our continuing efforts in Afghanistan have led to increased heroin production.) Our excuse for the First Gulf War was Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Muslim Kuwait in 1990; we pretended that he posed a credible threat to our “dear friends,” the Saudis. This led to Desert Storm in 1991, with the cease fire on 2/28/1991, leaving in power an embittered Saddam, who now began to support terrorism. Before the war, brutal tyrant though he was, he was also an effective counterweight against Iran. The Second Gulf War, or Iraq War, was fought in 2003, and we can all see how well that worked out. But prior to these misadventures, Ronald Reagan bombed Libya (this succeeded in scaring Ghaddafi “straight”) and sent U.S. naval forces into the Persian Gulf to keep the shipping lanes open. But Reagan also sent a U.S. “peace keeping” force into Lebanon in 1982, which led to the death of 241 Americans when the USMC barracks in Beirut was bombed. Heads should have rolled for that one, including Reagan’s, but, as usual, incompetent officials were not held responsible. But even these actions were not our earliest fights with Muslims.
In WWII we fought the Nazis, who were effectively allied with the Islamists, as were the Soviets after the war, but we did not directly engage the Muslims.
Following our war with Spain we fought against a Filipino independence movement, and then had to deal with the Moro Rebellion (1899-1913). The Moros were Muslims living in the southern Philippines, and this was also our first Southeast Asian war, long before Vietnam, and it lasted almost as long as our involvement in Vietnam. And the Moros continue to fight off and on against the Philippine government forces. But even this was not our first war against Muslims.
For centuries, Muslims based mostly in North Africa raided the southern and western coasts of Europe, killing all who opposed them and capturing slaves who mostly led short and painful lives thereafter, victims of overwork, starvation, poor sanitation, beatings and torture, casual murder, and rape, including homosexual rape. Over one million Europeans were enslaved by the Barbary Pirates, as these North Africans were called, from the fifteen hundreds through the early eighteen hundreds. Muslims will be Muslims. Yet the Europeans had earlier driven Muslim invaders south of the Pyrenees, out of Iberia by 1492, and back from Vienna. Now they seemingly accepted this barbarity.
But some were beginning to fight back, and, during our Revolutionary War, France was our ally and the French Navy protected our shipping. After our victory over Great Britain and the Treaty of Paris, our shipping in the Mediterranean was vulnerable, and the American ship Betsey and her crew were seized on 10/11/1784. The culprits in all of this were the independent Sultanate of Morocco, and three city states nominally a part of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire: Tripoli (in modern Libya), Tunis, and Algiers.
The U.S. signed a treaty with the Sultanate of Morocco, but the other Barbary States continued to seize our ships and sailors, holding some of them for over ten years. So in 1798 the U.S. established the Department of the Navy, and, although Congress never formally declared war on the pirate states, it authorized President Jefferson to allow the Navy to use any force necessary against the main culprit, the Pasha of Tripoli. We even had an ally: the Kingdom of Naples (Italy was not united yet). Tripoli was a formidable fortress, with 150 guns and 25,000 soldiers. The Pasha commanded substantial naval forces: 10 brigs with 10 guns each, two schooners, two galleys, and 19 gunboats. Despite some U.S. victories at sea and our blockading Barbary ports, in October 1803 Tripoli captured the Philadelphia. On 2/16/1804 U.S. Navy Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a party of Marines onto the ship and burned it. This war is commemorated in the Marine Hymn’s line “to the shores of Tripoli.”
In April and May 1805, former U.S. Army Captain and Consul William Eaton and USMC First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon led eight Marines and some 500 mercenary troops from Alexandria, Egypt, overland to capture Tripoli’s city of Derna, forcing the Pasha to release all Americans and sign a treaty with the U.S.
Nevertheless, in 1815 (the U.S. and the European powers had until then been occupied with the wars against Napoleon and what in the US we call the War of 1812) the U.S. fought the Second Barbary War, sending two naval squadrons under Commodores William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur against the Dey of Algiers, forcing him to sign a treaty. The British and Dutch later conducted more attacks on the Barbary States, effectively ending all piracy in the region.
But, as we have seen in recent decades, it did not end Islam’s fourteen hundred year war against Western Civilization — a civilization now being betrayed from within.