Glenn Beck’s new book, “Miracles and Massacres,” is about helping people connect with the true, untold history of America. In Chapter Four, Glenn tells the story of the First Barbary War, America’s first overseas military operation and first encounter with Islamic jihadists, the lessons of which echo to this very day.
You've heard the Marines' Hymn all your life. You know the tune and you probably know the lyrics by heart: “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli...”
You know that Marines are called “leathernecks” and you’ve seen the long, curved sword their officers wear --- a sword with a hilt that looks distinctly Ottoman in its design.
But if you're like a lot of people, you might not know where any of these things come from. And that’s a shame -- because it’s one of the greatest stories ever told.
When we gained our independence, the young United States lost something as well. As British colonists, our merchant ships had enjoyed the protection of the empire's powerful Navy --- protection that included safe passage from the ruthless Barbary Pirates. But after the revolution, that shield was gone, and we were on our own.
The Barbary Pirates would attack and board our defensless ships, stealing cargo and taking the crews hostage until we paid their ransoms. These were acts of war, of course, but wars are expensive and the country was sick of fighting. Almost no one in power wanted another conflict, especially one so far from our shores.
Fortunately, there was another option on the table.
The pirates promised that if we paid enough money in tribute they would leave our ships alone. This wasn't diplomacy, it was extortion. Tony Soprano would have been proud because no matter what we paid, the attacks continued, and the next year – surprise, surprise – the price always went up.
When Thomas Jefferson became president he’d had finally had enough. After decades of tribute, the payment in 1801 had amounted to a full 20 percent of America’s annual budget. (for perspective, 20 percent of our 2013 federal budget would be $760 billion dollars...)
And so Jefferson sent our troops to the shores of Tripoli.
What happened next is one of the most thrilling war stories of all time. U.S. soldiers held as slaves in dirty prisons, beaten and tortured daily. A nighttime mission to burn a captured ship. Bloody fights with Islamic radicals in the desert. It’s an adventure that Britain's Admiral Lord Nelson called, quote, “the most bold and daring act of the age.”
The full story is in the book and it’s well worth your time to read – but it’s important to know that the Barbary Wars changed America forever: our Marine Corp became permanent … our Navy became a force to be reckoned with … and we learned lessons that stayed with us for decades to come. Lessons about finishing what we started; about the price we're willing to pay for both war and peace; and lessons about the hazards of trying to appease the corrupt, the radical, or the evil.
Sadly...it seems that some of those lessons are now being forgotten.