The war in which we are engaged, against Islamist terrorists, is not by any means the first war we have successfully waged against terror, or against Islamists. And the kidnapping of Britain’s sailors (broken link, active March 27, 2007) is not the first time Islamists have captured Europeans on the high seas. When our country was still young, under Thomas Jefferson the third president, we paid tribute, as did all European countries whose merchant ships sailed the Mediterranean Sea, to the Barbary States of northern Africa. Northern Africa had been home to pirates who preyed upon European shipping since the Vandals settled there during the collapse of the Roman Empire. Of course, by the time Thomas Jefferson was president, all the pirates of the Barbary States were Muslim, and had been for a very long time.
In 1800, one of our brave naval officers, William Bainbridge, was sent to carry the agreed tribute to the dey, or ruler, of Algiers. While Bainbridge was in the harbor, directly under the guns of the fortress, the dey suddenly ordered him to transport his ambassador to Constantinople, while flying the Algerine flag at the American ship’s masthead. Bainbridge refused, saying that the Americans were not the dey’s slaves. But the pirate haughtily answered, “You pay me tribute, by which you become my slaves, and therefore I have a right to order you as I think proper.”
As the guns of the fort were pointed straight at him, and resistance would bring about the destruction of his ship and slavery for his crew, Bainbridge had no choice but to obey. But as soon as he was out of gunshot, and long before he had lost sight of Algiers, he ordered the dey’s flag hauled down and again hoisted our stars and stripes.
Of course, Bainbridge was very indignant at the way his country had been treated. … While still in Constantinople, Bainbridge wrote home, saying “I hope I shall never again be sent to Algiers with tribute unless I am authorized to deliver it from the mouth of our cannon.” The insulting and treacherous behavior of Algiers and the other Barbary States roused the anger of our countrymen. But Jefferson once remarked that what had happened proved the truth of Franklin’s famous words, “If you make yourself a sheep, the wolves will eat you;” and declared that no more tribute should be paid.
We did not pay any more tribute, and we severely crippled Mediterranean piracy, by forcing the Barbary States to respect us or pay the consequences. I fear the problem today is that too many of us are not indignant at the way our country was treated on 9-11, and too many of us think that making ourselves sheep is the best plan of action. Why we possibly think that, I have no idea; human nature has not changed so much in two hundred years. The wolves will not lie down with the lambs until the reign of the Prince of Peace, and if we expect it to happen in this era of the world’s history, we are deluding ourselves.