Tuesday, April 14, 2009

America's Long History with Pirates

By Douglas Kohn
Kohn@Fordham.edu

The Somalia piracy, which has progressed from a benign tumor to a malignant cancer over the last few years, has at last been dealt a blow by the US. There must be a follow up and the Navy must pummel the port city of Eyl, where the pirates are based. There is a great historical parallel for this which should be explored.

The US Navy was created by President Thomas Jefferson for the specific purpose of disrupting Islamic piracy off the coast of Africa. Certain Islamic states were called the Barbary States, which are in present day Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. The Sultanate of Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the United States after the Declaration of Independence and was also the first one then to begin to prey upon America’s seaborne trade.

It was thought for a long time that the best way to deal with these pirates was just to pay them off. At first this seemed like a good deal, until the pirates just decided that they would plunder again and extract more ransom from the American government.

The problem exploded when it came to the point that the payment to the pirates was consuming 20% of government revenue.

Finally, in 1794 Congress authorized the creation of the US Navy and its first three ships: the USS United States, USS Constellation and the USS Constitution, with three more on the way. This was done with the Barbary Pirates in mind. President Jefferson later ordered the navy to confront the Barbary Pirates in 1801.

The marines then earned their nickname ‘Leathernecks,’ because they wore leather collars to protect their necks from pirate cutlasses. In the marine hymn, the lyric ‘to the shores of Tripoli’ refers to the Barbary state of Tripoli, where the marines engaged in their first ever overseas operations. The Barbary War was fought against African Muslim pirates and this was the first time Americans ever died fighting overseas.

There is precedent for this action and these pirates will only understand force. Jefferson knew it and our leaders of today should know it.

2 comments:

Jimbo said...

"The US Navy was created by President Thomas Jefferson for the specific purpose of disrupting Islamic piracy off the coast of Africa."

No, not true.

DSKohn said...

Absolutely true. This was the original reason for the creation of the navy. It is true that there was a small naval force used during the revolution but the US Navy as it is known today, was created to stop the Barbary Pirates. The naval forces used by the Continental Army in the Revolution were not the same fighting force.