America, Europe, and the Barbary pirates—then and now

Paul Nachman writes:

You know about the Joshua London book on the Barbary Pirates and the first American encounter with Islam.I was just reading reader reviews at amazon. The first review includes these two striking paragraphs:

During the war with Tripoli, the United States began to test William Eaton’s hypothesis that fighting back and protecting the national honor and the national interest with force was the best way to end Barbary piracy. Just at the moment of triumph, however, President Thomas Jefferson wavered and settled on the side of expediency. Jefferson’s lack of resolve left American interests unguarded, and once again, American trade felt the Barbary terror. By 1816, however, the United States finally proved that William Eaton was right. This success ignited the imagination of the Old World powers to rise up against the Barbary pirates.

In late August 1816, a combined British and Dutch fleet under the command of Lord Exmouth (formerly Sir Edward Pellew) followed the example of Commodore Stephen Decatur, forcing a peace at the mouth of a cannon. This armada unleashed hell upon Algiers, destroying most of the coastal side of the city, as well as most of its navy and marina. The dey accepted all of Lord Exmouth’s demands. More than eleven hundred Christian captives were released from slavery, and the dey agreed to abolish Christian slavery in Algiers forever.

So it sounds like the British and Dutch could have taken care of business long before. Instead, they’d put up with murderous Muslim ____ until the Americans showed what could be done. One has to wonder: Why?

The one-paragraph review by Ronald Clark has some distilled wisdom:

… It should be required reading in high school—and especially for those of us who think everyone in the world will treat us with respect if only we are fair with them (or bend over far enough).

Here’s commentary by reader “Bilgemunkey” on the point about the British and Dutch:

Long before the United Stated won its independence, the Barbary Nations had established a unique relationship with the major European powers—namely that of terror, extortion, and downright piracy. Not that the likes of Tripoli and Algiers could stand long against a full-on assault from any major navy, but apparently it had been determined that a war with the Muslims would be more costly than it was worth, and so the politics of pacification won out—resulting in countless annual bribes, gifts, and “tribute” given from across Europe to the various Muslim leaders.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 22, 2006 07:33 AM | Send

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