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November 27, 2006

The Pirate Coast

Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805
Richard Zacks – ISBN – 9781401308490

This is a too comprehensive elaboration of the United States first over-seas intervention: the “take down” of the Barbary Pirates. For hundreds of years these Muslim raiders had been the scourge of Mediterranean shipping, extracting bribes from all of the countries of Europe to “permit” safe passage of their vessels. Under the aegis of England the U.S. had been spared, but as a free nation the Pirates began to attack American vessels, capturing them and their crews and demanding “tribute.”

The frigate USS Philadelphia was captured and its crew of 300+ was enslaved (which event authored the old saw: “Millions for defense, but not a Cent for tribute.”) Unhappy—but not altogether unwilling—to pay ransom for ship and crew, Jefferson agreed to a raid on the Libyan port of Tripoli. Here Stephen Decatur (Jr.) distinguished himself by leading an attack crew into the harbor, capturing the ship and burning it, in the process doing damage to the port and other ships. The event was accomplished with no casualties and was considered one of the most daring of undertakings of the era. It enshrined Decatur forever as an authentic American hero.

Since the crew was not freed another plan was advanced, encouraged by William Eaton, an intensely patriotic American citizen. He undertook to rally (and pay) many who had independent quarrels with the Tripolitans. His “army” included Muslims and Christians, Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Italians, Maltese, Marmelukes, Tripolitans and even a Tyrolean, plus 8 U.S. Marines; hundreds in all, with 400 hundred of horses and 105 camels. They eventually crossed 500+ miles of desert from Egypt to Tripoli to unseat the ruling Pasha (this, without a map!—a feat not accomplished for over 1000 years)

And this is where the difficult arises. Zacks reviews every detail of the undertaking, missing only “potty breaks” by the warriors. He does, of course, give a detailed discussion of construction of latrines. Every quarrel, every rainstorm, every quest for water . . . it’s all there. It rapidly becomes a tiresome book crammed with far too much detail. And since it is dense, it is difficult to skim. Frankly, while I was very much looking forward to it, I finally gave up half way thru. It is impossible to scan the tome for fear of overlooking some important detail in the endeavor, and equally impossible to consider wading thru it for information.

Guess I’ll have to read about the Marines trip “to the shores of Tripoli” in some other format.

For those interested in a day by day exposition of events, down to the finest of detail, this is such a book. For others more interested in just what happened, a dedicated editor could have encouraged and developed a much better book.

Posted by respeto at November 27, 2006 12:10 PM