Skip to comments.Decatur's way...
Posted on 04/10/2009 7:20:41 AM PDT by pickrell
In the year 1803, the conventional wisdom in Europe was for tribute. The best and the brightest of Paris and London, seeing that European ships were being routinely seized by pirates along the Barbary Coast, with the crews of those ships then imprisoned, and often sold into slavery, reached an enlightened and sophisticated decision.
Since it proved impossible, after many attempts, to defeat the pirates, the practical solution was to pay the Algerians, the Moroccans and the other Barbary States, in order to induce them to seize fewer European ships.
What many of today don't realize, was that in addition to money- the Europeans also paid to the pirates cargoes of weapons, and even constructed ships for them! Ships, which later were used to prey on and capture yet more infidel merchant ships!
Shortly after the United States won it's independence, the young country had no blue-water navy, in large measure due to the adamant, early opposition of it's President, Thomas Jefferson. Soon enough, though, United States merchant vessels and crewmen were seized by the Barbary pirates.
Counsel was heard from the wise, advising the obvious- that since the powerful Europeans were unable to stop the pirates, what possible chance did the fledgling United States have?
And so began a period little advertised in this country where we paid tribute- ransom money- to the Barbary States. Apparently, along with Europe, the thought was as far as the pirates were concerned- "Millions for tribute, but not one penny for defense..."
It is understandable that this is not dwelt upon in history classes, yet- perhaps it should be.
Several years later, Jefferson changed policy, and sent a young Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, to do the unthinkable, incurring the vehement disapproval of the Europeans. Decatur sailed in a warship, the schooner Enterprise, one of the few then available to a newly emerging U.S. Navy.
After capturing several pirate vessels along the way, he brought war to the pirates, in their very front yards.
Many of us delighted to read of his exploits, which along with his further heroism a decade later, (with an entire squadron of U.S. warships!), in the second, the last, and the supposedly final Barbary War, put an end to piracy for all times.
It made a neat and tidy ending, and stood as an example, for those who cared to see.
For the Europeans, who until then regarded the U.S. with veiled contempt, watched dumbstruck, as a small navy of hard men, Americans, defeated and destroyed an entire industry of piracy that had kept the Europeans in shame on their kneees for many decades, paying ransom and bowing to tyrants, from Morocco to Algiers, and ending in Tripoli.
Flash forward several hundred years.
What strange irony- what deja vue, as Europe warns against the repercussions from unilateral, American cowboy action against thugs, while wondering helplessly what can be done to save themselves from the depredations of piracy?
Yet the one thing they apparently, loudly, fear the most, (and perhaps secretly crave the most), is that someone- either the Americans or the Isrealis- will remove the myriad threats which drive them now to humiliation and tribute, once again. For the thugs they have enabled over the years now extend far and wide, and pirates abound now on land and sea.
The Europeans ponder whether they can ever again respect the Americans. They should look further.
They should worry whether the Americans can ever again respect the Europeans.
While we now wonder... whether a present day Lt. Decatur would be allowed to act at all, after briefings by State Department lawyers, and with strict orders handed down from the present White House.
By this time, we all instinctively know the answer to this question. Lt. Decatur, upon his return, would be arrested and brought before a courts martial. Given the pitiful attitude of our government and its liberal adherents, he would be found guilty and jailed for the remainder of his days.
It appears to me that some practical things could be done to deny access to our ships by pirates. I wonder if their access path involves a ladder and, if so, could such be made retractable. That retrofit might cost a few thousand but would be well worth it. Barring that, a security force randomly placed on ships might be advisable. By random, I mean that every other or every third ship would have a security force placed in a random manner so that pirates would not know which ship was armed.
For more facts, and less criticism of Jefferson:
The movie opens along the coast of Brazil -- an intial fight leaves Aubrey's ship damaged and gives the faster French ship a good head start. Aubrey pursues and get down to the Cape of Good Hope (if I have that right) and runs into fierce storm. An aide tells him, "Their ship is bigger, faster, and we will never find her in the Pacific. And now this storm is tearing our ship apart! Perhaps we are exceeding our orders in running such a great risk."
The captain looks at the man and says, "My orders were to pursue him as far as Brazil. I exceeded my orders a long time ago."
And of course, in the end, Aubrey captures the French ship.
I know it's fiction, but once upon a time, military leaders were expected to use their judgment.
It is not helpful to become so enthralled with any historical figure as to lose sight of where he was wrong, and pretend such didn't exist. Jefferson was right in many ways... but he was wrong to emasculate the United States in it's early years.
He did, however, relent once it became obvious that weakness invites- nay, even demands- predation.
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