Now British forces are ending combat operations in Iraq. I always thought it was remarkable to see U.S. troops in Iraq serving alongside British units, some of whose service histories must go back to the struggle against American revolutionaries in the 1770s and 1780s. The two armies have fought together several times since 1917, of course, but the current conflict in Iraq is, to me, the most reminiscent of that first one between British redcoats and American rebels.
At that time Britain was acknowledged to be wealthiest, most technologically advanced nation in what we now call the “West,” and its people enjoyed the highest known degree of liberty. British colonists in America agreed: From 1756 to 1763 patriotic Americans had fought side-by-side with British troops to defeat the despised French and Indians and expand the British Empire. When London sought to recover some of the costs of that war by raising taxes and tightening administrative control over the colonies, the reaction from the colonists — boycotts, demonstrations, petitions, and open defiance of the laws — seemed utterly excessive. The colonists also objected to King George’s measures to protect his American Indian subjects from encroachments by white settlers. They accused the king of trying to enslave them, while they themselves held Africans in bondage. What could be more absurd? Clearly Britain was justified in sending troops to control these American insurgents — who were aided by terrorist radicals from Spain, Prussia, Bavaria, Italy, Poland — and especially France.
There was no 9/11 attack to confuse the British public with. But there was the threat of the French, Britain’s habitual enemies just across the Channel. Once the American rebels allied themselves with the hated French, the morality of the war seemed plain to many in Britain. The disciplined British soldiers who shipped out to suppress the American rebellion were told that they were vindicating not just their national interest but the cause of liberty. Washington, the principal insurgent leader, was getting help from foreign jihadists who would overthrow the legitimate governments of Europe if they got their way. Soldiers must fight in America in order that Britons could sleep safely at home. Continue reading