Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Talk like a pirate

One of the issues that I wondered about when a practicing historian was why the Barbary pirates kept going so long after their ships were outmoded by the bigger-gunned sailing ships of the European powers, not actually getting taken out until the new-on-the-scene Americans did it ("to the shores of Tripoli...")

Having since then read more Aubrey & Maturin I suppose I did underestimate the advantages of the galley in Mediterranean warfare, but what I actually found out was that it was in fact straightforwardly economic. Yes, England, France, and Holland could each individually have blown away the Bey of Algiers and his kind, but that would cost them money and provide an equal advantage to all. How much more economically potent to make a treaty - even, if necessary, pay some kind of subsidy - so that your ships were not attacked but everyone else's were? In practice, since the French and the Dutch were doing the same, only Greek and Italian ships were subject to piracy, meaning that the ships of the great powers had an enormous advantage in the otherwise locally dominated Mediterranean coastal shipping business.

The trouble with Somalia, of course, is that there's nobody to make a treaty with or buy off or pay tolls to.



JH said...

So the Bey of Algiers, and his pirates, were more like Queen Elizabeth I and her seadogs? Or the Mafia.

The Somalians are more like individual enterpreneurs, though they presumably have connections to warlords.

Why did the Americans decide it was better to deal with them directly and forcibly rather than pay protection money?

Chris said...

I'm mildly surprised that JH, a small government man to his bootheels, doesn't see the obvious answer to why the Americans intervened - it gave Thomas Jefferson an excuse to dump his promise never to build America a big-government high-taxing boondoggle-inviting patronage-providing big navy. Great PR for bloated bureaucracy and a typical exercise in left-wing hypocrisy! Come on, that's a sitter.

JH said...

Thomas Jefferson was left-wing?

Chris said...

Ah, the left/right division of history. I was referring to what I took to be a current division rather than a historical division, based if anything on the observation that rightists tend to think more highly of Washington and leftists more highly of Jefferson - but on reflection, that's probably an impression gained from my very much younger days when folk like Howard Fast were comparing the American revolution with the Bolshevik revolution, and there have been shifts since. In very much particular, the people quoting Jefferson on bloody revolution do seem to shift depending on who's in power: yesterday, for example, it was the (teehee) teabaggers -
"It’s about our founding fathers who in 1773 threw a little party called the Boston tea party. And fought against tyranny and oppressive taxes, does that sound familiar? We’re continuing that revolution right here in Austin, TX today. Thomas Jefferson once said that the tree of liberty will be fed with the blood of tyrants and patriots. You are the patriots."
There's absolutely no Australian equivalent to the founding fathers, of course, I think because we have virtually no historical consciousness going back beyond the boomers' uni days. Our actual federationists weren't up to the Jefferson and Hamilton standard, true, but they weren't nullities and their opinions are probably as relevant. We just couldn't give a shit, perhaps because they themselves operated in an atmosphere of colonial cringe where they were seen as a sideshow. Also, of course, because the American example was seen to have been validated by explosive growth to world power; if the inland sea had existed and our population was now 200 million Deakin would probably rank higher.

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