Most Americans, it’s fair to say, don’t know that our National Anthem has several verses beyond what we hear at sports games and solemn events. “Then conquer we must,” goes the fourth verse, “when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: in God is our trust. And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave, over the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Even fewer Americans likely know of the Islamic State’s international agenda. “Erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere,” ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi said in November 2014. “Light the earth with fire upon all the [apostate rulers], their soldiers and supporters.” Prior to the Paris attacks, there were many warning signs of the ISIS threat to the West.
Still, the Islamic State’s interest in the West has always been obvious in its terrorist flag. Inscribed with its usurpation of the Shahada — the Islamic statement of faith — the ISIS flag is constantly displayed in its murderous rampages and ensuing propaganda videos. Whether ISIS is beheading innocents, or stoning women, or burning people alive, its banner flies proudly. This tells us a great deal about the group; because military banners signify spirit in the most testing of all human endeavors: combat.
More specifically, military banners exist to remind warriors that their comrades are nearby; both in presence and purpose. Correspondingly, fluttering above its atrocities, the ISIS banner proves its fighters believe they are ordained soldiers of God.
It is crucial that we pay heed to this brutal truth, as it is the existential foundation for the ISIS agenda: a purified global empire of slavery and murder under Salafi-Jihadism.
Only in contrasting the ISIS flag with our own military banners can we illuminate the moral reality of this struggle
Yet studying the ISIS banner by itself only tells half the necessary story. Only in contrasting the ISIS flag with our own military banners can we illuminate the moral reality of this struggle. And the differences between the U.S. military banners and those of ISIS could not be more profound. Take the banner of the 1st Division, U.S. Marine Corps. In recent years, the 1st Division has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Its battle honors include the bloody (by recent operational standards) 2004 Fallujah offensives against ISIS precursor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Yet the 1st Division’s flag is with “Guadalcanal,” the division’s formative World War II battle in the Pacific Theater over 70 years ago. The testament to the past is deliberate, reminding Marines that they serve each other and a legacy. In so, the men and women of Fallujah are thus connected with those who served at Guadalcanal and vice-versa. Anyone who has a Marine relative — as I do — will attest to this truth. Even then, each battalion of the 1st Division has its own colors, which gives Marines an even tighter sense of camaraderie. These banner dynamics are echoed in the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy.
The banners of ISIS and the U.S. Armed Forces highlight a fundamental dichotomy. Where ISIS propaganda uses death and domination to recruit to its banner, the United States does the opposite. You know what’s in ISIS recruiting videos, but just watch our military’s equivalents: There’s the U.S. Army focus on defending the American way of life. There’s the U.S Air Force focus on the synergy of human skill and technology. There’s the U.S. Navy focus on guarding the innocent across vast oceans. And there’s the U.S. Marine Corps focus on confronting oppressors. Remember, these adverts are designed to inspire Americans to service under our military banners. Their messages of courage, determination, honor and sacrifice are thus telling.
Our military is not alone in its banner-born commitment to moral glory. Consider for example, that during their annual parade for the Queen, British Army units lower their colors onto the ground in devotion to country. In 2015, this honor fell to the Welsh Guards infantry regiment that suffered significant casualties during its 2009 deployment to Afghanistan. Those soldiers were proud to lower their colors — representing comrades lost and living — in a pledge of allegiance to their country.
Ultimately, my point here is pretty simple: our warriors are far superior in skill, courage, and morality. Where our warriors stand for life, ISIS stands for death. Where our warriors serve a living legacy of human freedom, ISIS seeks absolute despotism. As a final thought, consider the pledge that all USMC drill instructors make to new recruits. “I will demand of [recruits] and demonstrate by my own example, the highest standards of personal conduct, morality and professional skill.” The company training officer then gives his order: “Senior Drill Instructor, take charge of these recruits and train them to become United States Marines.” Between our banners there can be only one outcome. And one day, hopefully sooner than later, ISIS will learn its banner is only “a toxic symbol for the walking dead.”
Tom Rogan is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.