To understand piracy consult a chapter from America’s hidden history

Summary:  The Americans that fought WWI and WWII dreamt of a better world, run by laws and not greed backed by force.  After WWII the foundations were laid for global institutions to make this a reality, beginning a project taking generations to accomplish.  The Boomers have abandoned it, each year pissing on the foundation.  Preemptively invading nations (against treaties going back to Westphalia).  Torture, lifetime detention without charge or trial.  All that remains are the words, now empty rhetoric cloaking our hypocrisy.   We could make more effective use of our Navy, having them enforce the law of nations (as said in the Constitution) on the seas.  Then we might have a far better world, beyond just having fewer pirates.

Somalia provides a case study, and a caution about the future.  America’s interventionists remain silent when trawlers from developed nations rape — almost sterilize — Somalia’s fishing grounds.  When Somalia’s fishermen-turned-pirates demand ransom for sailors they, become gravel in the machinery of commerce.  Only then do our war mongers cry for action.   Let Somalia’s villages see our wrath — with their wives and children as collateral damage!  (see here for examples; giving psychopathic advice is a career asset for America’s geopolitical experts).  Much as Libyan rebels are heroes to our leaders, but oppressed Shiites in Baharain are ignored when they protest — even when their government responds with troops (aided by our Saudi allies).

We can bomb Somalia.  And bomb the next poor people who dare to strike back.  This is not justice.  Eventually some will use our technology to seek vengeance, probably on a larger scale than 9-11.  Then we’ll cry “terrorism”, adopting our now-characteristic faux morality (it’s never terrorism when we bomb civilians), and bomb again.  God only knows how and when this cycle will end.  It probably will end badly for us.

A note from the past

Another chapter from the hidden history of America.  Our amnesia makes us weaker and more easily led.  We cannot chart a path to the future if we do not clearly see the past.

Captain Thomas Tew made what amounted to a triumphal progress.  No sooner had his vessel, the eight-gun Amity, docked in his native Newport, Rhode Island, in April 1694, than the citizens of that nautical town were seized with delirium.  Tew, heretofore a man of modest reputation, was suddenly the cynosure of all eyes, lionized by the gentry in their handsome frame houses on the hill overlooking the harbor.  The shopkeepers, merchants and tavern owners down near the docks frantically elbowed one another in their haste to provide his free-spending crewmen with all the liquor, women and other necessaries demanded by mariners who had spent more than 15 months at sea.

When the people of Newport had exhausted their welcome, Tew and his family traveled to New York.  There he was feted and dined by the Royal Governor, Colonel Benjamin Fletcher, who described the captain as “what they call a very pleasant man; so that at some times when the labours of my day were over it was some divertisement as well as information to me, to hear him talk.”  Mrs. Tew and the two Tew daughters attended gala functions at the Governor’s mansion, dressed in rich silks from the Orient and glittering with diamond jewelry that the captain had brought back with him.  The Tews, in short, were the cream of East Coast society, prominent (if recently arrived) members of a colonial aristocracy of wealth and accomplishment.

Back in New port after his sojourn in New York, Captain Tew began to ready the Amity for another cruise, thereby causing a second wave of hysteria … with “servants from most places of the country running from their masters, sons from their parents,” all of them eager to join in Tew’s next cruise.  even proper young men from Newport’s most respectable families tried to sneak aboard the Amity, while preachers labored from the pulpit to restrain them with threats of the last and hellfire.

What roused the preachers’ ire — without reducing the citizens’ plaudits or society’s approval — was the source of Tew’s new-found wealth and fame:  he had captained one of the most electrifying successful cruises in the history of piracy. … Little wonder that every foot-loose young man in Newport yearned to sail with Tew.  As for being held back by conscience, they had nothing to worry about:  it was considered no sin to rob infidels.

… The leading merchants of the North American cities eagerly bankrolled the pirate captains in exchange for a share of the loot. … With royal governors, merchants and the general populace all more or less sympathetic, the rare pirate brought to trial in the colonies usually could count on a “not guilty” verdict from a jury of his peers.  …  One New York merchant, Frederick Philipse, made so much money that he became the richest man in colonial New York.

The Pirates, Time-Life Books (1978), pp 62-73

For more information about piracy

  1. All about Pirates!, 12 December 2008
  2. More about pirates: why we no longer “hang them high”, 5 January 2009
  3. A Piracy SitRep, 12 May 2009
  4. What is this “justice” that war-loving Americans speak of?, 31 December 2009
  5. More about those pirate demons in Somalia, 2 January 2009
  6. The real pirates sailing the seas, in whom we have no interest and from which we will suffer massive damage, 4 January 2010
  7. New research about pirates!, 3 March 2010

For more information see the FM reference page Naval warfare and strategy.

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