Then there was one pirate

There are emerging new details on the rescue of Captain Phillips . According to the Washington Post, the Captain was freed after Navy SEALs shot down three pirates on the lifeboat, which was being towed by the destroyer Bainbridge. The fourth pirate was aboard the destroyer negotiating.

Vice Adm. William E Gortney, commander of U.S. Fifth Fleet, said U.S. military snipers opened fire on the pirates within seconds after an on-scene commander determined that Phillips' life was in "imminent danger" because one of the pirates was aiming an AK-47 at the captain's back. President Obama had issued a standing order that the military was to act if the captain's life was in immediate danger, Gortney said. The U.S. military snipers were positioned aboard the Bainbridge, which was towing the 18-foot lifeboat holding three of the pirates and Phillips about 25 to 30 yards away. A fourth pirate was on board the Bainbridge as part of ongoing negotiations, Gortney said.

Gortney said U.S. Navy SEALs were involved in the rescue effort, but he did not know which snipers took the shots that killed the pirates. Phillips, who was tied up in the small lifeboat, was within feet of the pirates when they were shot. In addition to carrying AK-47s, the pirates were armed with small caliber pistols, he said.

The Navy SEALs have been in other recent news. Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor of a dramatic battle in Afghanistan in 2005, came home from surgery to find his pet labrador killed. A number of dogs had been killed around the neighborhood by a group which seemed to get a kick out of it. But this time they came to the wrong door.

“I could tell she tried to get away because there was a blood trail,” Luttrell recalled in a phone interview Wednesday. “When I saw she was dead, the only thing that popped into my head was, ‘I’ve got to take these guys out.’ ”

Shrouded in darkness, Luttrell, who’d just been released from the hospital after another round of surgery, crawled under a fence, skirted a ditch and sneaked up on four strangers in a sedan who apparently killed the dog on a whim. Luttrell said they were oblivious as he raised a 9 mm pistol from about 25 yards away and had one of them dead to rights.

But as the car pulled away, he didn’t fire.

Instead, he scrambled back to his pickup and launched what became a wild 40-mile chase that reached speeds of over 100 mph and crossed three counties.

“I did everything right; I didn’t do anything wrong,” he told the Houston Chronicle of the April 1 incident. “Make sure everyone knows they cold-bloodily murdered.”

Luttrell stayed on the line with a 911 emergency operator as he tried to catch the car, which was just a bit too fast for his four-door truck to overtake.

“I told them, ‘You need to get somebody out here because if I catch them I’m going to kill them,’ ” Luttrell recalled telling the operator.

The cops subsequently told the public not to try this at home. "There are at least five area dog killings in recent months that could be linked to the case, said Texas Ranger Steven Jeter. 'It could have been worse for both parties involved,' he said. 'I wouldn’t advocate to the general public to do what he has done — to follow them at that rate of speed.'"

The dog incident illustrates the difference between a pirate and a sailor. Both are capable of violence. The sailor in this case was arguably capable of generating many times more raw violence than the punks who had shot his dog. Perhaps more than the punks could ever imagine. But the key distinction is that the sailor was under regular discipline and command; and his capacity for violence is under control. Even his agitation had to remain still while it was under inspection. But in the case of pirates the capacity for violence is unbridled or whimsically used for personal entertainment. It's a difference whose importance is sometimes forgotten.

When governments tell its hard men to do things in the dark because its publics have become squeamish, it cedes the one thing that separates sailor from pirate: the authority of the King's Justice. Pirates must first of all be met with political courage, without which the brave men of both the merchant and US navies will be deprived of their strongest defense.