Bernard Darnton gives John-boy a rest this week. Instead, he takes aim at pirates...
I used to think that if I missed the six o’clock news I wouldn’t know what was going on in the world. That’s true. But I’ve since realised that even if I do watch the six o’clock news I still won’t know what’s going on in the world.
Once you skip past the four weather reports, heroically refusing to be drawn in by the cliffhanger endings of three of them, and all the nonsense “human interest” stories about blind acupuncturists and the like, there’s barely time for any real news.
Apparently the world is being held to ransom by pirates. By “the world” they obviously mean “a handful of boats” , but hyperbole is hardly the worst crime the news media commit.
Somali pirates famously have control of a supertanker with two million barrels of oil on board and a Ukrainian freighter carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks, crates of anti-aircraft missiles, and more small arms than an octopus kindergarten.
The Horn of Africa is being patrolled by the Italian, Greek, Turkish, British, Indian, American and Russian navies. Having the Italians around probably doesn’t do much for maritime security, but even if they swap sides half way through the rest should be able to sort the problem out. However, they’re doing nothing except asking the pirates if it’s OK to supply the hijacked ships with food and water.
Saturday’s newspaper informed me that “Somali sea bandits” “appear undeterred by non-violent tactics.” I checked with Mrs Darnton, who’s a cognitive-behavioural psychologist (that’s the vaguely scientific kind rather than the pervert Freudian kind), and she told me that pirates aren’t known for their retiring wallflower personalities.
This assessment obviously isn’t based on clinical interviews of Somali pirates and so possibly crosses the line from “vaguely scientific” to “witchcraft” , but the conclusion still stands. These are people who live in a country with an average income of $600 a year and they’ve discovered how to make people drop burlap sacks containing tens of millions of dollars from the sky. A stiffly worded letter from the Secretary General isn’t going to dissuade them.
Two-hundred years ago, when America had better presidents than it does today, the US Navy was created with the express purpose of dealing with pirates. The US Navy’s first overseas engagement was in the First Barbary War. The Barbary War is sometimes called “America’s Forgotten War” – a name shared with several other conflicts. (I don’t remember which. They are the forgotten Forgotten Wars.)
At the end of the 18th century, 20 percent of America’s federal government budget was spent buying off pirates. Jefferson rightly said, “Bugger this,” and sent the newly-built US Navy and the newly-recruited US Marines off – not for the last time – to sink boats off the coast of Libya.
The switch in tactics from “pay the people who hijack our ships” to “kill the people who hijack our ships” was a resounding success. One we could emulate today. A modern carrier battle group is the most lethal collection of things that go bang ever assembled, packing more firepower than all the American wars I can remember put together.
Even if the tanker-borrowers are made of sterner stuff than the one-legged be-parroted sorts evoked by the word “pirate”, it would be nice to think that several of the world’s most powerful militaries plus the Italians could take on six guys in a skiff. If they were allowed to.
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UPDATE: Ending Piracy Should be a U.S. Government Priority says Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.