Piracy and Terrorism

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From Thomas B. Hunter’s “The Growing Threat of Modern Piracy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 125 no. 1 (July 1999), 72-74. From The Mariners’ Museum Library Collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Recent posts have concentrated heavily on pirates from the late 17th and early 18th century, but what about the pirates nowadays? Thankfully, some happy news awaits us in that sector. Throughout the year, pirate attacks off of the failed state of Somalia have decreased sharply as a coalition of nations patrol the waterways and merchant ships arm their crews. In addition to these seaborne measures, Somalia’s southwestern neighbor Kenya has recently invaded the areas close to their mutual border in retaliation for constant border transgressions and the kidnapping of tourists in Kenya. The Kenyan military brought the fight to the pirates, destroying pirate strongholds like the one at Kismayo and driving them out of southwestern Somalia. Unfortunately, many of these pirates are also affiliated with a local terrorist branch of Al-Qaeda called Al Shabaab. These terrorists are now bombing Kenyan civilians as revenge for their setbacks.

Events like those described above bring to mind the very real connection between piracy and terrorism that has existed since time immemorial. Terrorism, broadly defined as the use of terror as a coercive measure, can be seen in the fearsome countenance and actions of our favorite pirates of old, like Blackbeard. Blackbeard is famous for lighting candles or furls of weak gunpowder in his beard to create a hellish visage, and when pirates attacked ships or towns they often raped, murdered and stole everything they could get their hands on. So too today, pirates rape murder and rob the hapless victims they come across on the high seas. Piracy has decreased off the coast of Somalia, but the terror attacks in Kenya show that it is still a very real problem and not likely to go away for a long time to come.   Read more

Pirate Stories

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This is what a 286-year-old book looks like. If you take care of it. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Library blog. While perusing the Library stacks in search of an interesting volume on piracy, I discovered a khaki leather-bound book titled “History of the Pyrates” by Capt. Charles Johnston. Based on the condition of the volume, I expected it to date from the 1920s. Imagine my surprise when I opened the cover and discovered it was printed a full 200 years earlier, in 1726! This book tells the tales of all the traditional pirates of the Caribbean: Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackam, Mary Read & Anne Bonny, and Black Bart Roberts. Written less than 10 years after the last of these great pirates was defeated, this book provides a remarkable firsthand glimpse at exactly how British society saw these famous buccaneers.

First and foremost, a noticeable difference between this book and more modern works is the use of the long “s” in some cases. While the language is otherwise perfectly readable, the long “s” usage can nevertheless be distracting. On the bright side, it is particularly invigorating to read an account of Blackbeard’s defeat less than a decade after it took place in the language of the time. Historically, Lt. Maynard and his sloop Jane engaged Blackbeard’s sloop Adventure in hand to hand combat off the coast of Ocracoke, North Carolina, during which Blackbeard was slain and the pirates killed or captured. In Johnston’s History, a fellow British sloop arrived as reinforcements after Blackbeard died and helped capture the remaining pirates. To quote Johnston, “The Sloop Ranger came up, and attack’d the Men that remain’d in Black-beard’s Sloop, with equal Bravery, till they likewise cry’d for Quarters.” (p. 84).   Read more