Pirates, Real And Phony

I live in New Orleans where there are regular pirate festivals with all kinds of drunken tourists dressed in expensive pirate drag wandering about before going to work on Monday wherever they came from.

New Orleans used to have real pirates and they were supposed to have helped the United States beat the British in the war of 1812, though the details remain obscure and there were doubtlessly some unsavory deals known only to historians.

The point is that we've made a fetish out of cut-throats in our culture and we've endlessly turned murderers into romantic figures, from land-pirates like Jesse James, to sea-pirates like the beloved Captain Hook and his comedic heir, Johnny Depp.

So there's automatic public sympathy for the type, but this time I have to dissent.

The Somali pirates are desperately poor people who live in a lawless country and who have figured out the low-tech way to loot some of our mighty flotillas. So far, that's sort of admirable, but the real pirates are a sad human story: the kid we have in custody is a victim of his circumstances that we haven't done anything to alleviate.

It's easy enough to send a warship named ironically and coincidentally the Bainbridge, to kill a few desperate outlaws armed with machine guns, but why is it so hard to do some actually helpful humanitarian work in Somalia, so that young kids won't have to commit suicide?

The pirates themselves are no less impressed by the romantic myth than their Western sympathizers, because they've all seen the same movies (pirated, of course), and they want to be part of the legend if they don't die of hunger first.

Sure, shipping must be protected, but when Thomas Jefferson went after the pirates, it was a much simpler world: power, no matter what its stated foundations, had to be used in defense of commerce.

Today we know that power can be used to root out the causes of evil, too.

One day we will surely romanticize terrorists, too, because they are, after all, a few against many, and their willingness to die for something will look very entertainment-appetizing.

I don't look forward to it, but meanwhile, let's drop the symmetries and coincidences with a time long past, and the identification of real bandits with costume parties, and rethink the Barbary Coast of Somalia as a human-ready for our mighty resources that should include some food along with missile-launchers.

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