Piratical Thoughts

Pirates (the word peiraô is Greek for 'to try' or 'make the attempt') were common in the ancient world. They appear everywhere from Hellenistic novels to stories about Pompey's clean-up of the Cilician robbers. Some random thoughts.

1) Hit ‘em where they are. If we review  how the Romans, Venetians, British, and Americans dealt with piracy, then we arrive at the same conclusion: forces go ashore and destroy docks, ships, and houses of the pirate community—and soon leave. There is no  reason to nation-build in Somalia, only to blast apart pirates on the water; and when they strike, tit-for-tat simply to bomb or send a missile at their point of return on land.

2) A larger malady. Pirates are always a symptom of international instability and global inability or unwillingness to stamp them out. At present we are at a dangerous juncture. The US, in the “post-American” world that Obama is trying to articulate abroad through apologetics and promises of mulitpolarity, cannot or won’t exercise unilateral leadership. And under postmodern notions of morality, and in the present climate of “We’re not George Bush’s Guantanamo-renditions-wiretapping-preemptive America,” it makes it hard, if we are to remain saintly, to do much of anything at all, except the occasional heroic efforts that we just witnessed to free hostages.

Moreover, there is a whiff in the air that the pirates have some connection, remote or not, with Islamic terrorism, or maybe it is that they are seen as 1990s-style Somali victims in need of understanding, or bad memories from the Blackhawk Down days.  In any case, bombing the crap out of them if they don’t quit is apparently provocatively Neanderthal—while letting the clueless ship or yacht that falls into their clutches is, well, a higher code of moral restaint. The pirates ("We are not afraid of America"), of course, all know this.

 3) Pirates are nice guys. In the last thirty years in the academic world, several theses have been published romanticizing pirates, in the manner they are celebrated in popular Disneyland-like culture—misunderstood jolly fellas, prone to a little excess from time to time.

For the deskbound academic who does not work on a ocean-going container ship, history’s pirate can be a Robin-Hood redistributionist who takes from the mercantile class and spreads booty to the poor; or he is anarchist who defies the bourgeoisie norms of an oppressive society; or he is a sexual libertine—a cross-dresser, a sexually ambiguous Steppenwolf, a polymorphously perverse rebel, who has said no to the straightjacket of heterosexual norms; or he is an egalitarian who constructs an alternate “pirate community” that is without racial, gender, and class bias. There are all sorts of noble Jewish, black, and female pirates in academic discourse, far better folk that the British navy that tried to stamp them out.