Sunday, June 03, 2007

Terrorists of Yester Year

After watching POTC 3 for the second time it occurred to me that pirates of the 18th and 19th centuries might be a close analog to contemporary terrorists. They were rouge bandits, acting in only very loose collaboration with one another, but collectively posing a severe threat to both commercial and passenger vessels. Pirates were known for being ruthless, having no dignity for human life and showing little compassion (although much of that perception is, no doubt, exaggerated). Yet, the pirate threat was all but eradicated in the 20th century. How? If I had more time I might try to look into the historical and political dimensions of the pirate threat, and how it was eventually quashed.


Josh M. said...

One difference is that terrorists are fighting for some higher purpose, while pirates mostly fought for monetary profits, although there is some overlap in the sense of pirates that received official licenses to attack the enemies of a specific nation.

The fall of piracy can probably be attributed to the strengthening of nations to the point that they were better able to defend their territorial waters; to wit, among the primary bastions of modern piracy is the coast of the Horn of Africa, in the vicinity of such powers as Somalia

Alternatively, perhaps it could be attributed to the undemocratization of the production of the tools of the trade (e.g., fast, strong ships and good cannons), antiparallel to the democratization of weaponry that abetted the rise of modern terrorism.

The reverse of these two reasons can also explain the prevalence of electronic piracy over the internet.

Zev said...

There is a fair amount of literature which discounts the role of religion in Middle Eastern terrorism. E.g. see Robert Pape's "Dying to Win". The economic and social benefits should not be discarded as important motives for belonging to terrorists networks.

Josh M. said...

I skimmed through Pape's book one Shabbos afternoon. By higher purpose, I intended to include nationalism. The social aspects merely explain the appeal of the group to its followers; I'm not sure that there's any group which was formed solely for social benefits (e.g., to give its leaders power kicks). If modern terrorist activity is ever done for economic benefit, it is usually subsidiary to a more ideological goal, e.g., robbing a bank to purchase weapons to use in a nationalist struggle.

Zev said...

Toche re: Pape. My point is simply this: the difficulty in fighting terrorism, as I see it, lies primarily in its organizational structure and only secondarily in its motivation.

While religious sentiments oscillate over time, the pursuit of financial security has a greater longevity than any particular brand of religion or politics. As I see it, piracy was far more tricky to uproot simply because the motivation is innate. My hope would be that by addressing both problems from a social-organizational standpoint, some conclusions might be drawn as how best to combat a non-localized menace.

Yehuda said...

I believe the pirate threat was wiped out in the 19th century when America systematically killed all the pirates they could find and engaged in foreign wars in North Africa (the source of many of the pirates). For the latter point, I recommend Michael Oren's new book, Power Faith and Fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Truth is that as strange as this might sound, pirating is still a problem. It has just become more high tech, with groups of "pirates" boarding oil tankers and taking them over.