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America's War With Certain Islamic States:

In the conflict resistless, each toil they endured,
     'Till their foes fled dismayed from the war's desolation:
And pale beamed the Crescent, its splendor obscured
     By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.
Where each radiant star gleamed a meteor of war,
And the turbaned heads bowed to its terrible glare,
Now, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.
This, it turns out, is the third stanza of a Francis Scott Key poem that Key ultimately reworked into the Star-Spangled Banner. Thanks to Michael Oren's fascinating Power, Faith, and Fantasy, which alerted me to this.

The chapter on America's war against the Barbary pirates is particularly interesting. Among other things, it reveals that Key's victory song in 1805 was premature: The 1805 victory involved a payment of $60,000 for the release of American sailors held captive by Tripoli, and was followed by continuing captures of American ships by Algerian corsairs, the enslavelement of the ships' crews, and payments by America for the crews' release.

Only in 1815, after the end of the War of 1812 with Britain, did the American navy decisively defeat the corsairs. "So concluded more than three decades of struggle between United States and North Africa. The pirates of Barbary who had captured a total of thirty-five American vessels and seven hundred sailors, and who had threatened America's survival and tarnished its pride, were crushed."

The book also notes that, though the conflict with the Barbary States was sometimes cast a Christendom/Islam conflict, and led to an exacerbation of hostility against Islam (which was already considerable, given that the late 1700s and early 1800s weren't exactly an ecumenical era), it didn't seem to have much of a long-term effect into the 1800s: America ended up having relatively good relations with the Ottoman Empire, for instance, throughout much of the 1800s, partly because it — unlike the European powers — had no territorial ambitions in the area.

Eliza (mail):
Christopher Hitchens has an interesting article in City Journal on the Barbary Wars. Oren is one of his sources, and not the only one who couldn't resist that Francis Scott Key quote. Hitchens uses it as well, though of course not without denouncing it as jingoistic doggerel. (And yet, he goes on to admit a preference for Kipling, a man whose name is a by-word for jingoistic doggerel, so perhaps he shouldn't cast stones.)

But what I found interesting is the following conjecture:


[Thomas Jefferson] went with John Adams to wait upon Tripoli's ambassador to London in March 1785. When they inquired by what right the Barbary states preyed upon American shipping, enslaving both crews and passengers, America's two foremost envoys were informed that "it was written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise." ...

Ambassador Abd Al-Rahman did not fail to mention the size of his own commission, if America chose to pay the protection money demanded as an alternative to piracy....

It seems likely that Jefferson decided from that moment on that he would make war upon the Barbary kingdoms as soon as he commanded American forces.


He goes on to make the case that Jefferson flimflamed the country into a war he had been plotting for years. Hitchens may be a pompous ass but he has a very subtle mind.
5.8.2007 6:25pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
In Kipling's defense, his poetry is on balance far subtler than at least the particular Key poem I quoted. (Plus I wouldn't call it doggerel, but that's of course a pretty subjective esthetic judgment.)
5.8.2007 6:36pm
Mark Field (mail):
I guess the fact that I love Kipling's poetry shows that politics and aesthetics don't always go hand in hand.
5.8.2007 7:40pm
Eliza (mail):
You're right of course, and I don't mean to disparage Kipling--I'm actually a total sucker for him. What I mean to say is he is reviled by all the soi-disant arbiters of taste. For all the people who "matter," i.e., the academy, his name is mud.

Here's how I learned that: My first semester in college I had an English professor who, I came to learn, was fairly typical of the breed. We were discussing the military--I don't remember the exact context--but I was deploring dirty hippies "makin' mock o' uniforms that guard them while they sleep." Naturally, the woman went ballistic. She ran over to me and screamed, screamed, in my face: I was a racist and so was Kipling; Kipling was a war-loving gutter patriot and so was I, blah, blah, blah. I was 17 and she scared me to death. I just sort of shriveled up in my seat and the hid from her the rest of the semester. And like I said, hers is the accepted view.

Apropos of nothing, what do you think of Kipling's poem If? I'm no Bush lover, but it reminds me very strongly of his presidency--from 9/11 and his stratospheric approval ratings, to Afghanistan, to the grim situation today in Iraq--or at least how he must see it himself:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream -- and not make dreams your master;
If you can think --and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If Iraq can never be salvaged I think history will say his downfall was because he allowed "dreams to be his master."
5.8.2007 9:05pm
WHOI Jacket:
Kipling is double-plus ungood.
5.8.2007 10:26pm
W.D.:
Just be glad we don't have to sing that stanza at baseball games!
5.8.2007 11:19pm
JB:
Kipling is interesting. I've had long arguments about Dane Geld, which is perfectly apt for the War on Terror but perfectly unapt for the War in Iraq.

The problem with jingoistic doggerel is that it's too broadly applicable. Just because it seems to fit doesn't mean it provides useful analysis.
5.8.2007 11:28pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
It wasn't the American navy, which was extinct by 1815, that put down the Barbary pirates but the Royal Navy, in 1816.

Unable to pound down the defenses of Algiers from the sea, Lord Exmouth shelled the civilian part of the city, then set it afire. The dey decided the jig was up, surrendered all his prisoners and vowed to behave. The other Barbary despots gave up without a shot.

There's a lesson in there somewhere.
5.9.2007 1:09am
Fub:
Eugene Volokh wrote:
The chapter on America's war against the Barbary pirates is particularly interesting. Among other things, it reveals that Key's victory song in 1805 was premature: The 1805 victory involved a payment of $60,000 for the release of American sailors held captive by Tripoli, and was followed by continuing captures of American ships by Algerian corsairs, the enslavelement of the ships' crews, and payments by America for the crews' release.
1804 was not without some victories against the Tripolitan pirates, including the destruction of the Philadelphia, which Tripoli had captured. The ketch Intrepid (captured from Tripolitan pirates as the Mastico) was involved in 2 attacks against Tripoli, the burning of the Philadelphia and a second less successful but certainly spectacular attack. The Intrepid was outfitted as a "fire ship", essentially a floating bomb, and disguised as a civilian vessel.

I believe this is the memorial to those lost in those raids: SOMERS, CALDWELL, DECATUR, WADSWORTH, DORSEY, ISRAEL.
5.9.2007 1:17am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
It's easy to label people "pirates", whether Tripoli then or Somalia now. But I've heard some plausible discussion that what's really going on is that this was the local coast guard
(privatized in the Somali case.) If you want to travel through the waters of a Somali tribe, you need to arrange passage first, and if you don't, expect to be prepared to repel boarders.
If I remember right, Francis Scott Key was one of the lawyers for Gideon Olsmsted, an American pirate whose capture of a British ship resulted in a long running conflict between the federal courts and the state of Pennsylvania.
Unable to pound down the defenses of Algiers from the sea, Lord Exmouth shelled the civilian part of the city, then set it afire.
There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Terrorism works?
5.9.2007 10:12am
Colin (mail):
Eliza,

I'm dubious that a professor actually screamed in your face that you were a racist, but I guess I can't actually contradict your anecdote. I am entirely certain, however, that it's not true that "[f]or all the people who 'matter,' i.e., the academy, his name is mud." As an undergraduate and as a law student (at a different university) auditing an undergraduate poetry course, I've had professors teach Kipling as a positive example of both style (like Poe, his strong and rigid rhyme schemes are a sharp contrast to later poets) and the social relevance of poetry. No one ever screamed, or called him a racist, or threw blood on us if we admired his work.
5.9.2007 11:17am
Harry Eagar (mail):
I'll bet you've heard some discussion of that, aardvark, there are a lot of apologists for terrorism out there: On one side of the pond, cheese-eating surrender monkeys; on the other pasteurized process cheese food product eating surrender monkeys.
5.9.2007 1:35pm
Aleks:
How exactly did the Barbary Pirates threaten America's survival? Were they capable of mounting an invasion of North America? Somehow I don't think so.
5.9.2007 2:31pm
Eliza (mail):
Well Colin, I've given a somewhat abridged account of the exchange, but I assure you it happened. The Persian Gulf War had the woman all wound up and she spent half the class railing against our baby-slaying military and blood-for-oil patriarchy. As I said, I expressed a contrary view and capped it off with that Kipling line I remembered from high school.

What I didn't count on was that by doing so I was basically offering myself as a stand-in for George H.W. Bush and his bloody-booted warmongerers. So she rushed over and started shouting about White Man's Burden and wasn't it fitting I would quote that racist Kipling in support of this racist imperialist war and so on. I stammered a couple of words in the poet's defense, and that's when she took my head off.

Which makes me wonder, in that poetry class your auditing, exactly what does your teacher say about the positive "social relevance" of White Man's Burden?
5.9.2007 2:37pm
Colin (mail):
That it was socially relevant. His work is a positive example of how poetry can connect to politics, current events, etc. Academics, despite being Stalinist hatemongers who despise all conservative thinking as well as "our baby-slaying military and blood-for-oil patriarchy," are generally able and willing to recognize that sort of thing. Whether they agree with the perspective advanced in that work is an entirely separate matter, unless you want tenure, in which case you've got to really get in those right-wingers' faces and scream your heart out. Because if you read VC comments for a week, you'll get the idea that the only thing that happens in universities is ranting left-wing indoctrination.

Even if your anecdote is true, and again I'm extremely skeptical that a professor would scream at a student like that, it hardly supports the point were trying to make with it earlier: "What I mean to say is he is reviled by all the soi-disant arbiters of taste. For all the people who 'matter,' i.e., the academy, his name is mud." Academics in my experience do respect Kipling, even if we assume that they disagree with him. I won't ask you to credit my anecdotes, since I don't credit yours. A touch of Googling shows Kipling on syllabi and in several universities' special collections.

If you want to tell your story, then tell your story. If you want to argue that academics "revile" Kipling for political reasons, show us some freaking evidence. Your paper-thin stereotyping is all fire and fury, and no substance at all.
5.9.2007 3:10pm
Eliza (mail):
Google "Kipling" and "racist" and you'll have all the freaking evidence you need. There are of course many people over the years who have argued that the charges of racism are reductive and unfair, but that's the dominant view, and if you continue with your studies you'll become aware of it.

This article from the Telegraph pretty neatly sums up the history of the matter. Entitled "At last, Kipling is saved from the ravages of political correctness," the author celebrates a new book that aims to rehabilitate Kipling's reputation and save him "from the taunts of 'racist' and 'fascist' that have followed him down the decades in countless polytechnic Eng Lit seminars and Left-liberal literary drawing rooms."

The piece includes some things I had never heard, like George Orwell's declaration that "during five literary generations every enlightened person has despised him" as "morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting". But it also seems to suggest that things are looking up for Kipling, and I'm very glad of that.

Good luck in school.
5.9.2007 4:41pm
Colin (mail):
I'm not sure why you think I'm still in school, or why you think criticism of Kipling's politics supports your assertion that he "is reviled by all the soi-disant arbiters of taste," or that "[f]or all the people who 'matter,' i.e., the academy, his name is mud." As I said at least twice, criticism of Kipling's politics or social perspective does not equate to reviling his poetry, which is regularly taught as a positive example of relevant poetry. Separating out the content of his beliefs from his expression really isn't that hard, or that controversial. The short version is that "Kipling had racist views" is not the same as reviling him as a matter of taste, or making his name "mud." You got in a good dig at those socialist liberal academecians, though, so mission accomplished.
5.9.2007 5:07pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Aleks said, 'How exactly did the Barbary Pirates threaten America's survival? Were they capable of mounting an invasion of North America? Somehow I don't think so.'

I'll bet you think you have a point, but I'm damned if I can guess what it is.
5.9.2007 6:46pm
Aleks:
Re: I'll bet you think you have a point, but I'm damned if I can guess what it is.

Apparently this is the response one gets from someone who has made an unsupportable statement and cannot think of a good answer when it is questioned.
5.10.2007 6:10pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
You wanted an answer to a question about a situation never posed. Nobody ever said the Barbary states were going to invade North America.

They were kidnapping, robbing, raping and murdering American citizens and non-Americans under American jurisdiction.
5.10.2007 9:26pm