The quote above is attributed to a resident of Fallujah, Iraq in response to al-Qaeda’s capture of his city this week. The terror organization is dug-in and preparing to fight Iraqi government forces for control of this city. In 2004, Marines fought the bloodiest battle of the Iraqi War in Fallujah against al-Qaeda and although the Americans cleared out the insurgents, the city was devastated. Civilian confidence is not so high when it comes to the capabilities of Iraqi National forces.
I see a parallel of these current events to the tumultuous years that followed the Civil War. Imagine the quote above from an African American in Mississippi in 1876 in response to southern whites who regained political power and maneuvered around the 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments and other Civil Rights legislation: “It is sad, because we are going back to the days of the past… and now we are revisiting history.”
I wondered what the American veterans of Fallujah think when they read that Iraq has lost or is losing the very battlegrounds that their comrades gave their last full measure to defend. Click here for a 2012 Associated Press article that provides the reactions of current veterans to renewed violence in Iraq. The article quotes one veteran of the 2004 fight for Fallujah who states:
If they (Iraqis) were starting to flourish in a democratic way, it would be like ‘Mission accomplished. We went over there and it made a difference. We helped the people of Iraq. We made history.’ But we didn’t make history. We’re going to be in the history books for the bloodiest battle in Iraq. But for what?”
I am drawn to history to provide comparisons and hopefully a better understanding of the present. But I hope this current event will help me learn more about the past. Given how easy it is to learn of Iraqi War veteran reactions to the aftermath of their war, I am very interested to learn more about northern reaction to the years following the Civil War. Did they share a similar reaction to the soldier’s quote above or did they ignore African Americans and their loss of liberties? A recent blog post by Keith Harris touched on northern veteran frustration after the Civil War. Harris writes that a Department of Illinois G.A.R. Post protested against the movie, “Birth of a Nation,” which was a very popular but racist and pro-southern interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction period. I tend to focus on reasons (Depression of 1873, northern desires for internal improvements and northern efforts for medical care and veterans benefits) the North “ignored” the failures of Reconstruction. Clearly, not all northern veterans and citizens were apathetic to the re-ascension of the southern whites. This essay asserts that “although the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, also formed committees to promote its version of the war, the UCV and UDC committees were more determined, uncompromising, and persistent.” This quote insinuates that the GAR was not as motivated to fight for its version of the war, but what about the years following the war?
UPDATE: Kevin Levin has written a really interesting post,“Tension Between Union and Reconciliation”, in which he provides quotes that show the anger Massachusetts GAR members felt towards the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for accepting a Robert E. Lee portrait. It is really interesting to hear these voices of Northern veterans, especially when compared to the current events in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Do you know of source materials that could help understand northern veteran attitudes? Please pass them on if you do.