Jewish World Review July 12, 2011 / 10 Tamuz, 5771
To the Shores of Tripoli
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | There is a dusty corner of a graveyard in oft-besieged Tripoli that is American soil, made so only the way the dead do. Eight American sailors lie there. Five others are buried in the little, white-walled Protestant cemetery a mile away. All were members of a daring raid during the First Barbary War against the pirate realm of a pasha long accustomed to collecting ransom from British and French ships who dared sail within his reach. But the still young American republic would prove different.
As the pasha's extortionate demands increased, so did American resistance. These 13 sailors were among the early casualties of the war that would result; they were all part of a raiding party launched against the pasha's stronghold. Our contemporary SEALs are not the first
Here was the mission impossible in September of 1804: Blow up the fortress in Tripoli harbor. But the raiders never made it to their target. Spotted at sea, their little ketch loaded with deadly explosives would be hit -- and none would survive. When the bodies washed ashore, the pasha fed them to the dogs; what remained was dumped into a mass grave. There they lie, waiting to be brought home. And they will be. The time for that is fast approaching, like the end of Moammar Gadhafi's bloody reign. The names change; the pashas don't.
Much like the conflict formerly known as the War on Terror -- what is it now, Overseas Contingency Operations? -- the war against the Barbary pirates was full of triumph and tragedy, stunning victories and demoralizing reverses.
The most celebrated American feat of the war was a young naval lieutenant's managing to sink the captured USS Philadelphia, which had been moored in Tripoli's well-fortified harbor. Lt.
The pasha still needed to be dealt with in decisive terms, but a new and indecisive American administration wouldn't undertake anything so bold. Enter a
Obstinate, irritable, sensitive to the slightest insult to his honor, or to his country's, he was accustomed to going his own way against the odds. He had served as a sergeant in the Revolutionary War at only 19, and then pursued an education in the classics at
Talk about the advantages of a broad liberal education:
Appointed consul to
In a letter to a friend,
General Eaton was left to strike out on his own in 1804, pausing in
To quote one historian, the redoubtable
There was no "sort of" about it.
It's hard to think of any term but miraculous for the highly improbable series of cliffhanger victories General Eaton and his motliest of crews proceeded to pull off. Till the pasha of Tripoli decided that making peace with the infidels -- without being expressly paid for it this time -- was better than risking his throne and head.
But for only the shortest of times. Because then, beginning a long American tradition, our diplomats bargained away the fruits of war for a fragile peace. The pasha of Tripoli wound up being paid
Once again, a force advances upon Tripoli to overthrow a minor but bloody tyrant. They say history repeats itself, but, please, let's not repeat the sad end of General Eaton's valiant campaign, shall we? On to the shores of Tripoli. Our dead await.
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