There are many differences between Liberals and Conservatives, and frankly sometimes these differences are important to the health of Society. Traditionally, Conservatives speak for the rights of the majority and for mainstream values, while Liberals stand up for minority opinions and positions of social outcasts; both voices matter in a functioning civilization, especially in a leading culture in the world. There is, however, a limit to the range of opinions which may be held without cost. After a certain point, assuming certain things incurs a cost, even a penalty, and to some degree represents a growing threat to the society making the assumption. The present piracy problem off the coast of Somalia is an example where certain boundaries have been crossed, and conditions have changed under which effective measures may be utilized. In short, pirates are terrorists and should not be confused with common criminals, nor treated as such.
In yesterday’s discussion, some readers chose to describe the Somali pirates in distinctly gentle tones, trying to get readers to consider the lack of economic opportunity in Somalia, or the oppressive conditions in that part of the world which could induce young men to follow illicit courses of enterprise. These readers chose to portray the pirates as criminals, deserving of some punishment certainly, but also as individuals to be considered in the light of their circumstances. This is an argument seen commonly in sociology classrooms, as well as various opinion pieces on news channels. America, after all, is expected to be more restrained in the use of our force, and more considerate of the conditions and rationale of our enemies.
As you may have guessed, I regard these as specious arguments. While studying environmental influences in a life decision may be valid and useful in a forensic sense, the salient question is what to do to punish unacceptable acts and prevent their recurrence. To that question, the most effective strategy in history has been to bring overwhelming force against the perpetrator, to completely eradicate any group which acts in a manner outside tolerable boundaries. Therefore, boundaries need to be discussed here.
Suppose someone robs a business, and in that crime takes hostages. Clearly, this situation has escalated beyond common criminal behavior. Also, the situation has a series of thresholds. Weapons and their type, whether anyone has been injured, and whether anyone has been killed all factor into the way that authorities address the situation. That a crime has been committed is not in dispute; the question is the way the situation is addressed. A domestic dispute where a man holds his wife hostage with a handgun is dangerous, but on a much different level from a hostage situation involving a group of radicals using automatic weapons and bombs, who have already killed a hostage as a sign of their determination. When certain events happen, the situation irrevocably changes.
With that in mind, let’s consider the way the Royal Navy dealt with pirates. Summary execution, folks. The British, you may recall, are quite the paragon for order and respecting rights, and a long history of long court cases, but where pirates were concerned, the Brits wouldn’t mess about for a moment, it was get a rope and hang ‘em high. That’s even more striking when you consider what it did for future pirates considering surrender – why surrender if you’d be executed, anyway? The British hated piracy so much that they established a fierce rule for such acts. Regardless of what you may have seen in ’Pirates of the Caribbean’, pirates were considered the worst of the worst; even the Americans at the start of the Nineteenth Century regarded piracy as an evil to be obliterated; remember that line in the Marine Hym about the ‘shores of Tripoli’? That’s when President Jefferson sent them into Libya to rout out the pirates there. Even though relations between the U.S. and the U.K. were not nearly comfortable after the War of 1812, by 1823 American and British navies were cooperating in sweeps of Caribbean and Atlantic waters to find and destroy nests of pirates. It was that important to both nations, and it should be so today.
The argument has been made that the pirates from Somalia are just trying to survive their economic conditions. That argument ignores history – many places in the world and throughout the ages have endured deprivation and suffered from want, but their people did not turn to violent crime to support themselves. Chinese immigrants throughout history, for example, have been remarkable for both their industry and their ability to conform to local conditions. No less can be said for the Jews, who despite persecution for more than a thousand years in almost every nation where they settled, have flourished and grown everywhere. The same for Italians, the Irish, the Russians, et cetera – you don’t hear many pirates named O’Reilly or Battaglia, hmm? Come to that, the historical model for pirates is often men who have some education, ambition, and experience as sailors. Since Somalia does not have a navy or coast guard and no universities to speak of, the strongest likelihood is that the bozos carrying out these attacks are recruited by men from other parts of Africa who see the region as an enterprise zone of sorts. So, we see from this a need to address two levels of pirate activity, those who commit the direct attacks and those who plan and support them.
It comes down to making them choose life or death. That is, whenever a pirate attacks a vessel and crew, armed forces respond in force, killing anyone who resists. Those who wish to surrender will be given the opportunity to give up the identity and location of their sponsors. Refusal to do so will result in immediate execution, those few who agree will be given life sentences. The locations of the “mother ships” will be reconnoitered, and once confirmed will be destroyed without delay. Planners and organizers will be hunted down by Marines and confronted – those who resist will be killed, those who surrender will be given trial by military tribunal.
Sound harsh? That’s the idea. Piracy was nearly extirpated in the 19th century, because the message was made very clear that any pirate anywhere would be hunted down and killed, period. Make it that undesirable and no one will even think about it.
Pirates do not have civil rights. Pirates do not have a right to counsel, or a trial by jury or a plea bargain. Each and every one of them chose to commit violence on the open sea, and so brings upon himself the full fury of any authority with the backbone to defend its flag.