Friday, April 1, 2011

The Shores of Tripoli

If you attend any "patriotic" events here is the States, you have heard the "Marine's Hymn." This is the song that starts with

From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli ....

The "Halls of Montezuma" is obviously in reference to the Mexican-American War where the US took Texas from Mexico. But the reference to the "shores of Tripoli" has always been a mystery to me. Why the heck were the 18th and 19th century military involved with Libya? That sounds more like a modern headline than something that Jefferson had to deal with.

Apparently, this is in reference to one of our lesser known wars, the First Barbary War. Libya at the time didn't exist as a nation. Tripoli was loosely governed by the Ottoman Empire. The Barbary pirates (on the northern coast of Africa) were notorious for hijacking ships on the Mediterranean Sea. They demanded $225,000.00 ransom from President Jefferson in 1801, an annual fee that they expected as like a toll to use the Mediterranean. Prior to Jefferson's presidency we had been paying $83,000 which was still a lot of money at the time. The war lasted four years and the end results was that the US would pay $65,000.00 annually.

I put the word patriotic in quotes above because I challenge the current use of this word. All too often patriotism is tied to war and the military. I reject this. I find this to be sad and a little sickening. When I think of the things that I like about about the US ... our military history does not come to mind. What comes to mind is our spirit of independence and innovation. It would really please me if I went to a "patriotic" event and people were reading Whitman and Twain or singing Bob Dylan and Paul Simon songs. If only when we celebrated patriotism, we'd celebrate the inventiveness of Thomas Edison, Steve Wozniak, Woody Allen or Elias Howe. There are so many other things to celebrate about this country other than our military might.

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