Why are the pirates getting away with it?
For several years now I have been trying to work out what has gone out of kilter in Britain. And I have to admit I don’t get it all. If it is something political, it is not like anything taught in any political science course I know of.
There are innumerable instances of this peculiar dysfunction (death wish?) such as councils sending juvenile delinquents on Caribbean holidays while brave Gurkha ex-soldiers are allowed to starve to death on barren Nepalese hilltops, but the British attitude to piracy seems a good example of what is happening.
It is certainly true that a lot of other countries are not much better, or even worse, but in this matter Britain seems a particularly egregious example of impotence and paralysis, given its proud history as principal guardian of the freedom of the seas.
Civilized countries have fought pirates at sea, with no messing about, for as far back as history can be traced. Julius Caesar was captured by pirates as a young man. While waiting to be ransomed he became quite friendly with his captors and joked that after his release he would return and crucify them all. Or at least the pirates, who did not know Caesar well, thought he was joking…
Britain, having given rise to the Elizabethan buccaneers, then led the world in stamping piracy out. One of the worst British pirates, Henry Morgan, was knighted and made governor of Jamaica. Knowing all the tricks of the trade he gradually rounded up and hanged many of his former colleagues. The notorious Edward Teach (“Blackbeard”) met his end at the hands of Lieutenant Robert Maynard, RN, who, after an epic cutlass duel sailed into port with Teach’s head swinging from his bowsprit. A couple of female pirates of the same era got off on what was known as a “belly plea” (they were pregnant).
Methods of execution varied. A large letter “E” painted on a wall at the Thames marks Execution Dock, where, it is said, pirates were chained to drown by having three tides pass over them. Their corpses were then covered in pitch and hung in iron cages on prominent headlands as a hint to other mariners to keep to the straight and narrow.
With considerable effort and sacrifice Britain took the lead in abolishing slave-trading and at the same time also took the lead in sweeping away piracy, holding pirates to be the common enemies of all mankind. Many a Victorian British sailor cut his teeth on anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean.
By the late 19th century piracy at sea had all but disappeared. As Kipling put it, 19th century ships could sail without fear:
Ye have smoked the hives of the Laccadives as we burn the lice in a bunk,
We tack not now for a Gallang prow or a plunging Pei-ho junk;
After a brief outbreak at the end of the Napoleonic wars, by the late 19th century, with its complacent assurance in the advance of civilization, pirates has become nostalgic and comic figures, with their (partly apocryphal) plank-walking, eye-patches and peg-legs, a sure sign that their day in the real world was considered done.
In the Australian children’s classic, Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding, the disillusioned sailorman Bill Barnacle lamented:
So one fine day I sails away,
A pirate for to be.
But I found there was never a pirate left
On the coast of Caribee,
For pirates go, but their next of kin
Are merchant captains hard as sin,
And merchant mates, as hard as nails
Aboard of every ship that sails …
Or as John Masefield put it:
Alas, the quiddling pirates and the pretty pranks they played
Have all been put a stop to by the naughty Board of Trade;
The schooners and their merry crews are laid away to rest,
A little south of sunset, in the Islands of the Blest …
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online