Monday, December 15, 2014

The Shores of Tripoli

You have probably heard the Marine Corps Hymn sung many times. Its first verse is...

From the Halls of Montezuma,To the Shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country's battles In the air, on land and sea;

First to fight for right and freedom And to keep our honor clean;

We are proud to claim the title of United States Marine.

Montezuma refers to the Marines storming into the castle at Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War. This was the same battle that a young Army officer named Ulysses S. Grant distinguished himself in war not long after he graduated from the United States Military Academy.

What about the Shores of Tripoli? What is that about?

Most Americans are unaware that over two hundred years ago we were also dealing with a threat from radical Islam. In fact, President Thomas Jefferson refused to sit back and let the Islamists threaten our interests. He sent our Navy and Marines to confront them and teach then a lesson they would not soon forget. These days it appears that we are not the only ones who have forgotten the history lesson.

Let's go back in time to learn a little history of the United States of America and our previous interactions with Muslim terrorists.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Muslim pirates were terrorizing large swaths of the Mediterranean Sea.

These Barbary Pirates (so named because they hailed from the Muslim nations of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco and Algiers along the Barbary Coast) attacked every ship in sight and held the crews for exorbitant ransoms. The captured crews were held in barbaric conditions and sent letters home pleading that payments be sent for their release.

Before the United States won its independence Great Britain, and later France, provided protection to the American merchant ships sailing in the Mediterranean. Beginning in 1784 the United States was on its own as France stopped protecting U.S. ships from the Muslim pirates.

The initial strategy of the United States in dealing with the Muslim pirates was one of appeasement similar to what many European countries were doing at the time. It was deemed prudent to pay bribes to the Islamists rather than engaging them in war. After all, we had just finished a long war with the British and no one had much appetite to go to war again.

In July of 1785 two U.S schooners off the Barbary Coast were captured and the crews held for ransom. Other ships were soon also captured and Thomas Jefferson (the U.S. Minister to France) and John Adams (the U.S Minister to Great Britain) were dispatched in an attempt to negotiate with the Muslims.

Jefferson and Adams argued that the United States was not at war with Tripoli, or the other Barbary Coast nations, so in what way had the U.S provoked the Muslims?

This is how Jefferson explained the position of the Muslims in a letter to John Jay shortly after a meeting he had with the Ambassador of Tripoli.

"The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman [Muslim] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise."

Despite this stunning statement about pre-meditated violence against non-Muslim nations, and against the counsel of both George Washington and Jefferson who believed that paying extortion would merely provoke demands for more money, the U.S. Congress agreed to pay "tribute" to the Muslim nations in order to keep the peace.

Over the next 15 years the United States paid the Muslims millions of dollars in bribes to secure safe passage for American ships or the release of American crews that had been captured.

By 1800, when Jefferson was elected President, the total amount of bribes and ransom being paid to the Muslim nations was as high as 20% of the U.S. budget according to some reports I have seen.

In 1801 President Thomas Jefferson was in no mood to continue with the status quo. Shortly after he was sworn in he had received a demand from Tripoli for an immediate payment of $225,000 and a continuing payment of $25,000 per year in perpetuity to keep U.S. ships safe. He refused the demand and made plans to "effect peace through the medium of war". His actions as President seemed to be consistent with what he wrote in a letter in 1786 to the President of Yale College on the best way to deal with the Muslim extortion.

"From what I learn from the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of their money, it will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them."

Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco and Algiers soon declared war on the United States and Jefferson convinced Congress to fund a naval force to confront the Muslims.

The war against the Muslim nations (referred to today as the First Barbary War) lasted four years. The turning point of the war occurred in the Battle of Derna in April-May, 1805. This is how the battle is described in Wikipedia.

Ex-consul William Eaton, a former Army captain who used the title of "general", and US Marine Corps First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon led a force of eight U.S. Marines, 500 mercenaries—Greeks from Crete, Arabs, and Berbers—on a march across the desert from Alexandria, Egypt to assault and to capture the Tripolitan city of Derna. This was the first time in history the United States flag was raised in victory on foreign soil. The action is memorialized in a line of the Marines' Hymn—"the shores of Tripoli"

Soon after that victory, Tripoli signed a peace treaty but the Barbary pirates once again resumed their attacks when the United States was preoccupied with the War of 1812. At the conclusion of that conflict the United States embarked on a Second Barbary War in 1815 that ended the threat for good for almost two hundred years.

You might also be interested to know that the Barbary Wars against the Muslims also gave rise to the Marines being called "Leathernecks." This is because Marines of that day fighting the Islamists wore a leather neck collar that improved their military bearing by forcing the chin high which also had the added benefit of protecting one's neck from sword blows by Muslim pirates.

As we see reports of ISIS beheadings, attacks on Canada's parliament, hostages behind held in a Sydney cafe and a man running down a NYC street with a hatchet in hand attacking a policeman, we ask what is going on?

We ask why are we seeing these barbaric actions?

We ask what has happened to civilized society?

We are asking the same questions that Thomas Jefferson asked.

Nothing much seems to have changed in 200 years.

"Those that don't know history are doomed to repeat it".
                                                                 -Edmund Burke

You now know history you may not have known before about the Shores of Tripoli.

If you have any doubts about the accuracy of these facts please refer to:

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