Friday, May 28, 2010

The Enterprise’s First Fight

No, I’m not referring to Admiral Halsey’s WWII flagship, nor to the CV-6 or the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, nor the space shuttle, nor the spaceships of Captains Kirk or Picard. I am referring to the very first U.S.S. Enterprise, which saw action over 200 years ago. In the early years of the United States of America, the biggest single expenditure of the federal government was paying money to the Barbary pirates. As any good Moslem who has read the Koran knows, almighty Allah gave the word to Mohammed 1400 years ago that Moslems have the right to capture non-Moslems and hold them for ransom. The Barbary ambassador in Paris pointed this out to Thomas Jefferson in 1785, when Jefferson was still U.S. minister to France. Almost twenty years later, when Jefferson became President, he figured he was going to have to deal with the Barbary pirates.

Having to deal with those pirates was one of the prices of American independence. The Royal Navy protected all British shipping, in an invisible subsidy to British businessmen, but the merchant sailors of any country without a navy were on their own. I’m a bit puzzled that someof the smaller powers didn’t approach the Brists and try to negotiate an insurance policy from the Royal Navy. In any event, one of the ships Jefferson ordered to the Mediterranean was the U.S.S. Enterprise, a (XXX-gun skiff?). As a ruse of war, the Enterprise was flying the Union Jack. One day, it was approached by a Barbary corsair called the Tripoli. The captain of the Enterprise asked the captain of the corsair what he was doing, and the Barbary said, “Hunting Americans.”

A few seconds later, the captain of the Tripoli found that he had indeed found some Americans. Within half an hour, of the Tripoli’s eighty-man crew, thirty were dead and another thirty were wounded. This was just the first skirmish in a campaign that lasted several years.

I see in recent events that Somalis are carrying on that great Moslem tradition of kidnapping merchant seamen for ransom. I’m honestly not sure which is the better solution: to blow them all to Kingdom Come or to negotiate a settlement that would give them the right to sell postcards, t-shirts and posed photos to the tourists on passing cruise ships.

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