How to process the rise of ISIS: A historical perspective

The chaos that is happening now does not negate the significance of our individual contributions

How to process the rise of ISIS: A historical perspective

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Joshua Wooten/DVIDSHUB

By Joseph Miller

In the wake of a long American-backed war in Iraq, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is concerning, especially in regards to how poorly the Iraqi Army has handled the ISIS offensive. I am frustrated and worried for all the moderates who are going to undergo widespread torture and systematic ethnic cleansing at the hands of extremists on both sides the Shia/Sunni divide. But am I shocked by the rise of this new extremist organization? Not in the least. I have never carried delusional ideals about Middle Eastern stability in my lifetime.

I am saddened for the human loss that is occurring and I am concerned for Iraqi soldiers, officers and translators that I worked with, yet I don‘t believe that democracy is a clean process. I am, after all, a historian and I would urge people judging the instability in Iraq to be reminded that our own capital was burned in our first post-Constitutional war.

Iraq‘s war against ISIS should be compared to the War of 1812. America was fighting in Canada while the British were occupied with Napoleon. American French Republican leaning Democratic-Republicans were essentially backing Napoleon by attempting to capture what is now Canada. Essentially two British regiments, supplemented by a Canadian Militia that was woefully outnumbered by the US Army, held out for two years before Napoleon‘s defeat freed the British's 1814 invasion that burned Washington.

To top it all off not every state supported the war. New England militia would never serve; Federalist states traded with the British illegally, and the young state could not even raise enough soldiers to meet the demands called for by Congress. Worse, Revolutionary War officers tended to be Federalists who opposed the war and Democratic-Republicans had been replacing experienced Federalists since Jefferson‘s administration.
Robert E. Lee‘s father Henry “Light Horse” Harry Lee was beaten severely by a Democratic-Republican mob for his opposition of the war despite his exceptional service during the Revolution. No one would say that his service during the Revolution was insignificant because of that beating, so why are we questioning our own now?

When we hold the young Iraqi democracy up against the standards of what was our own juvenile state, their rapid mobilization is actually looking quite a bit superior. We shared the questionable alliances, and the same elimination of capable military officers for inexperienced leaders with connections to political leaders. So we should pause, and measure the young state against our own young state.

As an Iraq War veteran I want to stress that we have to remember that we each played a small role, but that our small role was essential. Ask yourself how many times you started a school and participated in a medical operation. Hell we started giving out small business loans in 2007, and every individual contribution you made mattered. The chaos that is happening now does not negate the significance of our individual contributions, just like the chaos and incompetent management of the War of 1812 did not negate the American Revolution.  Let it play out. I bet it will have similar results.