‘From the halls of Montezuma, To the shores of Tripoli; We will fight our country’s battles on the land as on the sea.” These opening words from the original Marines’ Hymn of the United States Marine Corps point to the long history of foreign wars, interventions and military ‘actions’ our southern neighbour has engaged in. Almost from the very inception of that republic their leaders displayed a willingness to project themselves into international affairs militarily.
Whether this bravado was originally fueled by dreams of Manifest Destiny or pure and simple defence of mercantile interests, it now seems driven also by fear. Two wars and a host of military actions in recent years have as a leitmotif the threat of terrorism. Various aggrieved fringe elements over the years have chosen this asymmetrical warfare strategy because of their inability or unwillingness to go toe-to-toe with conventionally armed state powers.
Fear accentuated by the financial distress being experience among the major economic powers has lead to billions upon billions of dollars being spent seeking security in a troubled world. Those funds often misallocated or frankly just plain wasted have further seriously weakened the fiscally challenged, ailing global hegemon, the United States. Not surprisingly this seems quite in line with the ultimate goals of its opponents.
Arguably this pursuit of security through military means by the United States began with the 1805 Battle of Derna, a North African port city now in eastern Libya. It was the first recorded overseas land battle of the United States (that is if you don’t count the 1775-76 Second Continental Congress’ authorized actions in Quebec). And, though, the timeline of the Marines’ Hymn is out of kilter, this engagement inspired the “To the shores of Tripoli” stanza. Some 42 years later General Scott’s troops took control of Mexico City, the metaphorical “halls of Montezuma”.
The Battle of Derna saw a detachment of United States Marines lead a force of Greek, Arab and Berber mercenaries recruited in Alexandria, Egypt across 800 kilometres of the Libyan Desert to attack this fortified town. Privateers and pirates from the Barbary Coast nation of Tripoli had been attacking merchant ships of the new country in the lead up to the First Barbary War. The American booty and enslaved seamen helped the Bey of Tripoli paid, in turn, for his allegiance to the Ottoman sultan.
The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary signed at Tripoli on November 4, 1796 had tried earlier to unsuccessfully resolve this issue diplomatically. Interestingly, Article 11 of this treaty reads, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
The then President of the United States of America, John Adams, didn’t see Islam as a threat. He maintained his focus on the key issue of the day, trade. The grab for more tribute by the Bey or Pasha of Tripoli in 1801, though, triggered a renewal of the conflict.
Our own Prime Minister Harper in a CBC interview this week remarked that with regard to our own security “the major threat is still Islamicism.” This thinking permeates political thought among those who benefit from heightened fear-mongering and intolerance in the United States and elsewhere.
Terrorism provides a backdrop to the media coverage on the 9/11 anniversary and the hunt for Moammar Gadhafi this week. It seems that fear rooted in ignorance continues to run rampant around these issues. Pursuit of understanding in an unstable international environment is essential to countering anxiety. Knowledge will help us keep our focus on what is truly essential for building a just, peace filled global community.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.