The Somali pirate “crisis” has triggered many of the responses one would expect. People are angry, demanding action and often violence against pirates. Even the usually peaceful — some might even say Christ-like — President Obama didn’t put a stop to the siege against the pirates, and now he has pirate blood on his well-manicured hands. And Americans are happy about this! Perhaps all the anger is because we think we’ve been victimized, like the pirates just randomly decided to try and loot our ships and take our people hostage for ransom. But there is nothing random about this. It’s time to stop and really ask ourselves the hard question: Why do they plunder us?
The arrogant, simplistic answer is, “Well, that’s just what pirates do. They plunder booty.” That’s not a real answer though; we need to dig deeper and see their motivations. We need to see that our own actions are a part of it. Now, I’m not one of those “blame America first” people (though America is pretty much at fault for everything bad that happens lately), but there is a lot we could do better to give the pirates more options than the anger they feel for us and use against us. Put yourself in a pirate’s boots; what would you say if you looked upon American culture and its attitudes towards pirates? You’d probably say, “Arr!” or “Shiver me timbers!” because what else would there be to say?
In America, pirates are an extremely marginalized and stereotyped group. They are often used as mascots for sports teams and seafood restaurants and cast as stupid, mindless villains in movies. The respected actor Johnny Depp has apparently made it his mission in life to portray pirates as nothing more than objects of ridicule. All this, and there is pretty much no effort on our part to understand or support pirates. How many leaders in America even recognize the holiest of pirate holidays — September nineteenth, International Talk Like a Pirate Day? None I can think of.
So, for a change, let’s really look at pirates. You may just see how they are the victims in all of this. That may seem ridiculous to you. After all, aren’t they the ones taking hostages? But ransoming hostages is just how they make their living. Do you get angry at an IRS agent or a lawyer for just doing his job? The issue is why pirates find pillaging and plundering their only options.
It’s not going very far out on a limb to say that pirates suffer from low self-esteem. They often have inferior prosthetics, such as hooks and peg legs, and that alone makes them feel disconnected from “normal” people. Then there is the scurvy and the inevitable depression that comes with it. Throw in the addiction to rum, and it’s obvious to anyone that we have individuals in severe need of help. Just look at a pirate’s choice of a pet: the parrot. It’s an aloof animal that does nothing but repeat the pirate’s own words in a mocking tone. If that were not enough of a cry for help, there is also their habit of burying treasure. It’s like they don’t even feel they are worthy of the fruits of their plundering and murder and thus deny it for themselves.
Is it any wonder that our ignoring of the pirates’ pain has led to our current situation? With no help offered them, eventually these chickens were going to come home to roost in their crow’s nests. Yet we have the gall to act surprised when they attack us and try and seize our booty. And how do we ultimately respond? We send Navy Seals after them, giving them yet another humiliating defeat — much like they suffered at the hands of ninjas back in the day. For people who already have such poor opinions of themselves, you tell me whether that will help or hurt things in the end.
So what’s the real solution? Instead of harming the pirates, we need to learn to work with them. All they want is to take people hostage and get ransom money to feed their pirate families. This is money we can easily afford, so what is the problem? Hostage-taking does delay a shipping schedule, but that’s something we can easily work around. Maybe we can devise a system to instantly wire pirates the ransom money as soon as they board, allowing them to leave victorious and with little delay. That allows them to keep feeling like they are in control while minimizing the harm to us. We can also develop a program to teach pirates necessary 21st century skills that will help move them from piracy on the high seas to the more modern and less violent software piracy. Finally, we can start using “pirate” as a term of respect instead of mockery. That way, they can maybe see us not just as targets for plunder but perhaps also as friends.
If we really want to stop the problem of piracy, we need to help the pirates. That, or we could develop a special sniper bullet that would cause a person’s head to explode, because if a pirate saw his buddy’s head explode, he’d probably drop piracy right then and there. One or the other.