Pirates…..AARGH….but it’s no Joke

Somali Pirates in the Indian Ocean

Until recently most people in the west, particularly the US have thought of Piracy as anomaly of the distant past and rather romantic, (in the persona’s of Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Johnny Depp, etc.)  However piracy has existed (in one form or another) ever since people took to the Sea, and it has taken place in every place where you have craft carrying any form of wealth.  There are many places where it has been rare or almost unknown, but there are other places it has been the norm and not the exception.  The Horn of Africa is one of those hotbeds.  Today you hear most news of Pirates coming out of that part of the world but in reality Piracy of various sorts is common in many places.

This article on TheStrategyPage  is one of the best ones I’ve read dealing with the ‘Somali’ piracy from an economic strategic standing. If you change some of the words and places you could turn that article into one written by Spanish author talking about the Caribbean, or a Roman author discussing the Saxon Shore.

Piracy in general is very hard to stamp out unless the ‘host’ country controls its coastline and wants to suppress piracy.  In fact it may have been easier to suppress it in times past because the tools of the trade were costly and conspicuous (fast ships and big crews and/or heavy weapons.)  Also piracy on any scale is not a lone wolf occupation, you have to be able to convert your booty into ready cash and that takes a pretty sophisticated network.

Another sad throwback that you should note in the article is the rather cold-blooded off-hand comment about the pirates butchering the crews of the smaller African or Arabian vessels they capture.  This was the norm in most times and places, and accounts for the harsh justice dealt out to captured pirates. it was assumed that the pirates had murdered a lot of people before they were captured, or would have if they had gone uncaught.

Piracy has been with us for such a long time because it is not one phenomenon.  At the small-scale end a pirate can be a starving fishermen who has bad catch and reacts violently to a rivals good luck; at the other end of the scale they can be rich nobles or merchants given carte blanche to attack the enemies of their sovereign in undeclared war.  Piracy around the Horn of Africa today (as is typical of most objectionable human activities) is fomented/supported by a mix of elements, with poverty and geopolitics key among them.

One comment I’ve received in writing sci-fi is the frequent reference to space piracy.  Some have found it unlikely that piracy will emerge in space, that the technology is too expensive and the environment too dangerous to make it worthwhile, etc.  But we all forget how vast and dangerous the sea was to our ancestors, and that ships, even craft we would call boats, were once the epitome of technology.  Unfortunately (at the personal level at least) when we establish a complex civilization in space there will be pirates and they will be as bloody handed as they have ever been. 

Yes I am a pessimist in that I do not think that humans or human societies can be perfected in the way that some have dreamed of.  You can perhaps program piracy out of future-sapien and its Utopia but I would argue that the people would not be human as we are human, and that the Utopia would not be a society/civilization as we have today.  And I would expect such a Utopia to be fragile and/or more utterly ruthless than the most bloody handed pirate.

Piracy is a human activity and as long as there are creatures that are human there will be pirates.

Pirates AARGH!!!

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One thought on “Pirates…..AARGH….but it’s no Joke

  1. I definitely agree that piracy as a form of robbery goes with you where ever you take human populations that are not strickly (think brutally) controlled. Normal civil societies keep it at the margins (i.e. how many US college graduates could even locate the Horn of Africa on a world map and let’s not even go to asking HS graduates, that would be embarrasing.) and as civil society grows it will force it further to the margins, but elimination would be pipe dream.

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