In January of 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca, French Morocco. The meeting lasted ten days, and produced what was later called the Casablanca Declaration.
It is remembered best for being the genesis of the Allied decision to prosecute World War II to an unconditional surrender of the Axis powers.
Not everyone was enthusiastic about that policy. It was primarily Roosevelt’s idea, Churchill claiming to be a “lieutenant” at the meeting. Stalin wasn’t there. Stalingrad was under siege and he stayed home.
One of Roosevelt’s reasons for announcing the policy was to keep Stalin from making a separate peace with Germany.
Still, there were voices both in and out of government which expressed fear that the policy would stiffen the resistance of the enemy, and eliminate any possibility of a negotiated peace.
V-E Day came when Hitler committed suicide in a bunker in Berlin. V-J Day celebrated a radio address on August 15, 1945 in which Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of the Japanese to the Allies.
Now, more that half a century later, the Japanese and German people are viewed as our friends and trading partners.
I have been musing about those things of late because of the current warfare in the Middle East. A movement known as ISIS – the Iraq and Syria Islamic State – so called, has surfaced as a powerful force in those two countries, and is viewed as determined to create an Islamic Caliphate over the entire region, usually described at the Levant, which includes Lebanon and Israel.
Technically, a caliphate, is a nation ruled by a religious authority. As a practical matter, the powers of the religious leaders and secular leaders may overlap. Iran, viewed by many as an Islamic caliphate, has a President, Hassan Rouhani, who was elected. He answers, however, to the ‘Supreme Leader’ of the country, Ali Khamenei. The Supreme leader is chosen by the Council of Experts, a group of 88 elected Islamic theologians.
The supreme leader of the ISIS or ISIL, as it is called, is a man called Baghdadi. Here is what Wikipedia says about him:
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known to his supporters as Amir al-Mu'minin, Caliph Ibrahim is emir, proclaimed as caliph, of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL is an Islamic extremist group in western Iraq and north-eastern Syria, self-described as the "Islamic State".
He was formerly known as Abu Du'a. Claiming descent from the Islamic prophet Muhammad, he is called, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Al-Husseini Al-Qurashi.
On 4 October 2011, the US State Department listed al-Baghdadi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and announced a reward of up to US$10 million for information leading to his capture or death. Only the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, merits a larger reward (US$25 million).
Baghdadi has a B.A., an M.A. and a Ph.D from the Islamic University of Baghdad. He is apparently considered to be a theologian by his followers.
So here is my quandary: The ISIS or ISIL fighters are followers of the Islamic faith. Admittedly they are extremists. We are assured that the broad generality of Muslims do not subscribe to the blood thirsty, terrorist strategy of ISIS fighters.
Still, they are believers. They have a common understanding of the origins and destiny of the human race. They all have the same view of life and death. They pray together, they fight together, they kill together.
Our President has announced that his policy is to “degrade and destroy” ISISL. I suggest that “degrade and destroy” is an objective substantially beyond “unconditional surrender.”
Short of an Islamic pogrom of massive proportions, there is simply no way to ‘destroy’ a movement which is based upon religious fervor, no matter how theologically misguided.
The Middle East has been a bloody battleground for more than 4,000 years. The Jewish scholar, Maimonides, asserted that in every war, the Jewish soldier fights for God. Muslims, Christians and Jews have slaughtered each other as far back as history is recorded in defense of their respective belief systems.
And we are going to ‘degrade and destroy’ those people?
Not likely. In the first place, we have no stomach for it. Nobody I know wants to send a son or daughter back to Iraq. We have all seen enough heart-wrenching commercials for Wounded Warriors to dull the national enthusiasm for making the world safe for democracy.
Currently, we are committing expensive airplanes, piloted by expensively trained pilots, to drop expense bombs on places where we believe the ISIL fighters are to be found.
But the Internet is replete with videos of those men shooting up neighborhoods, ducking behind and between buildings, wheeling around in cars and trucks. The idea that enough of them will gather in one place and stand still long enough to get killed is patently absurd..
Do we really want to slaughter them on their on their prayer rugs or in their Mosques? Should we respond to their atrocities by beheading Muslims on Internet videos?
In the 11th century Pope Urban II called on Christian men to mount a crusade to occupy the holy places of the Middle East. Pope Francis has issued no such call. But he and other Christian leaders are torn by the horrors and sufferings of their followers in Iraq and Syria.
Surely Francis prays every morning and night. What would Jesus do? What is the Christian response to evil, to hatred, to terrorism? Are we to turn the other cheek?
In 1634 the Iroquois, while fighting the Hurons, captured French Jesuit Jean de Brebeuf. Brébeuf endured stoning, slashing with knives, a collar of red-hot tomahawks, a “baptism” of scalding water, and burning at the stake. Because he showed no signs of pain, his heart was eaten by the Iroquois, who admired his courage.
How many years, how many wars how many murders had to occur before the descendants of those Iroquois would live in harmony with the Jesuits and enjoy the dividends of multi million dollar casinos?
It has been de rigueur to suggest that our military commitment to the Middle East is founded on the humanitarian desire to assure that Arab women are educated and freed from the virtual slavery endorsed by fundamentalist Islamists.
It used to be said that our military expeditions were actually in pursuit of winning the minds and the hearts of the people over there. If so, it was a fool’s mission. You don’t win minds and hearts with AK 47s and napalm.
And what exactly does the United States of America offer to the minds and hearts of the people in the Middle East? Hollywood? Twitter? Wall Street? Gay Marriage, The NFL?
Or can we expect them to embrace our notion of constitutional democracy when our Congress has the support of only 9% of our people?
France didn’t set out to degrade and destroy the Iroquois in 1634. Perhaps we should honor James Foley as a martyr and let the unhappy people of the Middle East fight their own battles and choose their leaders in the same bloody way their fathers, grandfathers and ancestors have been doing for so many centuries.
Winning the minds and hearts of people takes wisdom, patience and compassion. And lots of time. If our civilization is better; if our ideas of right and wrong are more enlightened than theirs, our best course is to stick to our principles. The notion of killing people because we are afraid they may want to do us harm is not only unjust, un-Christian and un-American, it is cowardly.