Thomas Jefferson And The Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger
As someone who is familiar with the author’s writing and very interested in piracy , this audiobook was definitely of interest to me. Admittedly, despite my interest in piracy, I must say that the Tripoli conflict was not something I was familiar with except for a couple of the more memorable moments of it like Decatur’s raid on the USS Philadelphia to prevent it from being used against the Americans. There is no question, though, that the authors are wishing to view this conflict between the United States and militant Islamic states as relevant for contemporary times, and even those who have different political worldviews from the author would do well to pay attention to the point the authors are making about the need for America to be willing to use force against those who would seek to prey on American trading interests and disrespect the United States as well as demand tribute for temporary peace. This is a book that speaks out strongly against the appeasement aspects of American diplomacy that have been present from the beginning of the American republic.
In terms of its contents, this book covers in a chronological fashion the beginning of America’s problem with the Barbary pirates during the time of the Articles of Confederation. At the beginning there is a great deal of focus on the Dey of Algiers, who held many American merchantmen captive and demanded an exorbitant ransom for them, while the later part of the book focuses on the war with Tunis. The story is pretty compelling, even though blockade duty does not sound that interesting. Suffice it to say that there were enough ship actions, enough political wrangling back home, and even enough intriguing diplomatic and military matters, including a dramatic Marine-led raid on Derne whose success was spoiled by a treacherous diplomat who betrayed the American war effort in exchange for another temporary peace. Anyone listening to this tape or reading the book would come to the idea that the authors have a pretty strong stance against Muslim demands and a rather ferocious belief in America’s need to protect its dignity abroad. Likewise, the authors make it clear that the problems the United States has with militant Islam are by no means new ones but are problems that have gone on since the beginning of the American republic.
There are some parts of this book that are rather eerily relevant. Without discussing the Arab Spring or the problems with Libyan Islamists or other contemporary terrorists or the Somali pirates, this book makes it plain that the authors view the Tripoli War and the early problems the USA had with the Barbary states (including Morocco) were problems that have contemporary resonance. The authors manage to turn Thomas Jefferson–by no means a warrior president–into a bold and daring leader, seeking to show a more bumptious side to Jeffersonian democracy than one is used to reading. Whether or not this is an accurate or fair-minded view, it certainly is a striking one. The authors give some very colorful descriptions of life in captivity for captured sailors and merchant mariners as well as some vivid accounts of what it was like to engage in blockade duty for an impatient republic who switched out commanders every year or two in the midst of active operations, which does not seem like the best way to manage a war effort. Whether or not you appreciate this work will depend in large part on your views of contemporary political Islam and its malign effect on geopolitics.
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