A History Lesson: Leave Us Alone, Or We Will Destroy You

by | Oct 10, 2001

America now joins ancient Greece and Rome as civilized peoples threatened not by competitors over territory or trade, but by barbarians whose only goal is our destruction. But rather than compare our situation to their unfortunate outcomes, I would like to draw a lesson from an episode in our own history. In the late 1700’s […]

America now joins ancient Greece and Rome as civilized peoples threatened not by competitors over territory or trade, but by barbarians whose only goal is our destruction. But rather than compare our situation to their unfortunate outcomes, I would like to draw a lesson from an episode in our own history.

In the late 1700’s the Barbary pirates of North Africa demanded tribute from American ships passing through their waters. Emboldened by the lack of resistance, Algerian pirates began venturing into the Atlantic for American ships to plunder and captives to ransom. America’s response was to send 26 barrels of gold and valuables in a new frigate delivered as an offering to the Dey (king) of Algiers. Our young republic had no navy to speak of, and no other action seemed possible.

Then what should have been predictable happened. The kings of Tripoli and Tunis saw us paying tribute to Algiers, and, being barbaric but not blind, demanded the same. America had a decision to make. Pay tribute to the extortionists, or take action.

In the summer of 1803 the U.S. sent Captain Edward Preble in one of her new ships, the U.S.S. Constitution, to North Africa, her barrels loaded not with gold, but with gunpowder. The consul delivered a simple ultimatum, in effect: “leave our ships alone or we will destroy you.”

After a series of battles at the shores of Tripoli the extortionists finally relented and accepted our terms. The Constitution then sailed to the other pirate cities where word had spread of the American “devils”, and not surprisingly, had little trouble obtaining satisfactory treaties.

The Constitution was a new type of ship, as fast as a frigate, but with the firepower and strong hull of a ship of the line. So strong that a British cannonball actually bounced off her in the War of 1812. Caught off-guard, our European opponents naturally had a very low opinion of this new type of vessel. But no one stopped to ask them.

Today “Old Ironsides” lies in Boston Harbor, a national treasure on Boston’s Freedom Trail. On September 11, 2001, visitors could stand on her deck and watch planes taking off from Logan airport, a stone’s throw across the harbor. Little did they know that two of those planes carried Islamic militants intent on destroying everything that both our “Constitutions” stand for.

In 1803 America did not seek, and did not need an “international consensus” to defend herself. Nor does she need it now. The time for that ended in 1998 when the Islamic Jihad, meeting openly in Tehran, and with government support, declared holy war on the U.S.. This is the same regime the administration now seeks to enlist in the coalition against terrorism. Our leaders need to realize that we have but one option left. We must deliver this ultimatum to every terrorist state: “Deliver your terrorists to us now, and end every branch of the Jihad that exists in your country. Hunt them down and destroy them, because with or without your help, we will. Reject them and their ideology publicly in law and in action. If you comply, we will leave your government intact. If not, the blood of Americans is on your hands, and you will meet the same destruction you delivered on us.” Anything short of this will be taken by our enemies as proof of America’s cowardice and as a license to exterminate us.

In 2001, as in 1803, America has a decision to make. To confront our enemies or to “turn the other cheek”. Do we defend ourselves, or allow ourselves to be picked off building by building, city by city, until we are no longer able defend ourselves? The states that sponsor terrorism must be destroyed just as we destroyed the Barbary pirates. International and highbrow opinion may frown on ultimatums, but they also frowned on the American Revolution, and on Old Ironsides.

Footnote: due to security restrictions, The U.S.S. Constitution has been closed to visitors since Sept. 11, 2001.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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