TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI…
Sound familiar? It’s a line from the Marine Corp Hymn. And it has a lot to do with what went on in the news this week that led to a very happy ending on Easter Sunday! If you aren’t familiar with Tripoli and it’s place in American history. You’re in for some interesting trivia.
As the Somali pirates were preparing to board his ship, Captain Richard Phillips ordered his crew into a secured room. Then, he offered up himself as a living sacrifice to the terrorists that hungrily were waiting to devour.
I don’t know about you, but if I was in a room of people, and I knew we were in eminent danger, and there was no way out, I don’t know that I would think to first get them all out of harms way, and then hand myself over to the horrific unknown.
Many Americans may not be aware that America’s very first foreign war — undeclared but authorized by Congress — was waged by President Thomas Jefferson against the Barbary pirates. (If you don’t know where the Barbary Coast is, it’s the Northern Coast of Africa: now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. And the capitol city of Libya? Tripoli!)
As early as the late 1700s, Europe wasn’t having much success keeping order in the seas, and Islamic piracy became big business in the Mediterranean and along the African Coast. Despite “tribute” payments to the “governments” in Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Morocco by the British, French and new American governments, merchant mariners were at risk of being taken hostage for ransom and having their ships and cargoes sunk or stolen.
Hmmmm. Sound familiar? It does to the crew of the merchant ship “Alabama” from the Maersk line!
By the time of Jefferson’s inauguration, in 1801, American ransoms and “tributes” (due to piracy) amounted to more than $1 million per year — back then! Jefferson promised to end the payments and ordered the U.S. Navy to protect American-flagged merchant vessels. This initiated a naval campaign against Tripoli. It almost worked.
Although Jefferson had sworn “not 1 cent for tribute” in the “First Barbary War” we paid out $60,000 in ransom for the 300 or so American citizens being held by Tripoli. Jefferson and Congress gave in and paid up…because of the value they placed on American lives.
In February 1804, in a scene that looks a lot like what three Navy seals pulled off yesterday, a U.S. Navy Lt. (Stephen Decatur) slipped unnoticed aboard and destroyed a captured American ship, – and saved the members of the ship’s imprisoned crew! (kinda of like Bourne Identity?)
A year later, a small group of U.S. Marines pulled off an amazing land mission and forced the surrender of the Tripolitan leader. Thus the line “to the shores of Tripoli” from the “Marines’ Hymn.”
But back to Captain Phillips. He valued life. So much so, that he gave up his own to save the lives of his crew. And how cool is it that it happened on Easter?
Life for life.