Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At the turn of the nineteenth century across North Africa Islamic caliphates based their economies on piracy. Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Tripoli (now Libya) employed pirates to capture the cargoes of merchantmen from Christian countries, and to enslave their crews. Please note that there is one more Islamic country in North Africa. Why wasn’t Egypt employed in piracy? Because it was occupied by France. Therein lies a valuable lesson about the Islamic world. Washington and Adams dithered on the issue, preferring to pay tribute and ransom rather than sending the debt ridden fledgling nation to war. Jefferson, however, wanted a permanent and honorable solution. He established the Navy and sent the Marines to quell the disturbance in the Mediterranean. A protracted struggle ensued that culminated in an epic march out of Egypt by a slapped-together mercenary army led by ten Americans including an audacious General named Eaton, whose bold plan was to overthrow the dey of Tripoli. After the stunning capture of the city of Derne, an American diplomat, searching for self-serving glory, negotiated a treaty—including more tribute—that brought the war to a premature end. Naturally the duplicitous Arab reneged on the treaty, and the Second Barbary War had to be fought in 1815. Herein lies a second valuable lesson regarding the Islamic world.
Brian Kilmeade peppers Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates with poignant quotations, such as: “Money is their God and Mahomet their prophet.” Another is, “All nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.” “We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever.” Before Jefferson took action the federal government paid the Barbary States an amount equal to one eighth of the government’s annual expenditures. It seems to this reader that in two hundred years the United States, indeed all of Christendom, could see Islamists for what they are, and recognize the solution to the problem.
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