Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Home field advantage

This past weekend was filled with hand-wringing over the war in Iraq, fallen and captured soldiers, and guerilla warfare. This week is bringing a little more perspective and understanding of the huge undertaking in progress half-a-world away, but there’s a lingering consternation over the behavior of the Iraqi people. Why are they fighting for Saddam Hussein? Why isn’t this Kuwait Part 2 with charred trucks lining the Highway to Hell and an Iraqi army in full retreat?

Part of the answer may be summed up in an anecdote told by Civil War historian Shelby Foote:

"Early on in the war, a Union squad closed in on a single ragged Confederate. He didn't own any slaves, and he obviously didn't have much interest in the Constitution or anything else. And they asked him, What are you fighting for? And he said, 'I'm fighting because you're down here.' "

Almost none of the Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War owned slaves. They weren’t particularly keen on slavery or states rights. But they fought, to a large degree, because somebody was invading their land. (See this excellent review on the motivations of Rebel soldiers during the Civil War).

This may explain, in part, the resistance the allied forces are seeing in Iraq. Everything in the Iraqi culture has supported the idea that the Western forces are “crusaders” bent on the subjugation of the Arab world. Expelling the Iraqi army from Kuwait was easy because they did not have a nationalistic stake in the land. But now we’re on their land, their patch of Earth, and the conflict is much different. And, much as I hate to contemplate it, there might be a significant portion of the Iraqi population who think “Saddam Hussein is a bastard….but he’s our bastard and this is our country."

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