Piracy On The High Seas (At Issue), edited by Noah Berlatsky
As is often the case in this series and related series published by Greenhaven Press, the greatest strength of the book is simultaneously its greatest weakness. On the plus side, this book has a diverse set of views and perspectives, and when one has that kind of diversity at least some of the views are going to be sound and deeply interesting to read and thought-provoking to consider. On the other hand, though, the sheer diversity of opinions also means that plenty of opinions here are simply ridiculous, and the reader has to be prepared for both. While the presence of good opinions keeps a book like this from being rated too badly, the presence of wackadoodle opinions on the part of some prevents this book from being as good as it could be. Diversity has its benefits and disadvantages. Of course, a book like this is generally way for the reader to tell what their own perspectives and opinions are when it comes to piracy and how it should be dealt with. In addition, it is fascinating to see just how narrow and particular some of these opinions are, and the way that leftist talking points get demolished by facts and evidence, as is generally the case.
This book is just over 100 pages and is divided into fourteen smaller essays that provide particular perspectives on the issue of contemporary piracy on the high seas. The book begins with three essays on piracy in Southeast Asia that discuss the need to coordinate among locals (1), its supposed economic causes (2), and the importance of discreet American aid (3). After that someone discusses the history of piracy to provide lessons about Somali piracy (4), the need for the international community to take action (5), and the question of the efficacy of local fleets (6) or the Indian navy (7). Some people urge the creation of military courts to deal with piracy (8), others say it is a job for the Coast Guard (9), some claim the fight needs to fought mainly or first on the land (10), some claim that the piracy is due to illegal fishing (11), while others discuss the difference between pirates and terrorists based on political motive or the lack thereof (12). The book ends with essays that discuss what states can do about piracy (13) or the possibility that the threat is exaggerated (14), after which there are organizations, a bibliography, and an index.
In reading a book like this, it is helpful to examine the dialectic that comes between the points of view. For example, the desire on the part of writers on the left to justify pirates as just being fishermen was countered by discussions of who the pirates really were in detail. Claims that the Somali pirates were based out of Somaliliand was corrected by later information that pointed out that the pirates were based out of Puntland, and there was a further discussion about the hostility to the pirates by Al-Shabab and the relationship between the pirates and the grifters in charge of the provisional government supported by Western nations who apparently wanted to increase their grift through ransom. And so it goes, with one essay even claiming that the piracy threat is overstated and another that is mainly focused on encouraging India to get involved with the anti-piracy task force, something that eventually happened. It is fascinating to see how many different agendas one can find with the same narrow subject, even if one is only talking about piracy in a couple areas around the world and not the larger history of the subject. We bring to debates our own perspectives and agendas and often look narrowly at how the subject relates to those, and that is certainly the case here.