During the last fifteen years of this period the United States became inevitably embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars that were ravaging Europe. During America’s quasi-war with France in the late 1790s, and again during the First Barbary War in the early nineteenth century, Great Britain viewed the fledgling United States as an ally, either because we were fighting the same enemy – France – or because Britain and her overseas colonies desperately wanted to buy what America had to sell. Aside from exchanging private recognition signals with American warships and escorting American merchantmen through pirate-infested waters, the Royal Navy opened its bases in the West Indies and the Mediterranean to American naval vessels.
|Admiral Horatio Nelson|
One such occasion (in the recently published A Call to Arms) is in November of 1803 prior to a grand fete hosted by Sir Alexander Ball, the British governor of Malta, at the island’s magnificent San Anton Palace. Adm. Horatio Lord Nelson, commander in chief of British forces in the Mediterranean, and Captain Richard Cutler, USN, are meeting in private before the gala affair begins. With them in the small but comfortably appointed room are Captain Jeremy Hardcastle, RN, Richard’s brother-n-law and Nelson’s life-long friend, and Agreen Crabtree, Richard’s first officer in USS Portsmouth. A story that Jeremy has to relate to Richard and Agreen follows an account by Agreen regarding an earlier encounter between Portsmouth and a Tripolitan corsair. After the corsair captain strikes his colors and surrenders his ship, he orders his gun crews to open fire on the American frigate as she is lowering away her boats, an act of cowardice and dishonor that kills a number of defenseless American sailors. Captain Cutler immediately orders all sail clapped on and chases after the corsair, fleeing for her life toward the safety of Tunis. Portsmouth overtakes the corsair and reduces her to matchwood.
What Jeremy Hardcastle has to relate is historically accurate in detail, as is the gist of Nelson’s response to Agreen’s comment. (Note: also historically accurate is the treachery of the corsair captain.)
We should listen carefully to what Nelson has to say.
“It started right here off Malta,” Jeremy explained. “For no apparent reason two Algerian corsairs attacked one of our sloops of war. The sloop managed to escape into Grand Harbor, and a frigate was dispatched to hunt down the two corsairs and sink them. Which she did. The dey of Algiers, a chap named Mustapha, was so enraged he ordered British citizens in Algiers imprisoned and their property confiscated. When Horatio learned of that, he led Victory and a squadron of seven frigates from Toulon to Algiers and immediately started bombarding the city. Within an hour, the dey sent out a boat to the flagship under a white flag. Horatio paid it no mind. He kept the guns hot until the outer wall of Algiers had collapsed and fires were burning within the city. Finally, the dey had himself rowed out to the flagship, pleading to Horatio and Allah for mercy. I can’t speak for Allah, but Horatio agreed on the condition that he release British citizens from prison, restore their possessions, and compensate them for their trouble. And on the condition that Mustapha promise never again to impugn England’s honor. Thus far, he has acted the angelic school boy, bowing and scraping before a stern school master. Is that a fair summation, Horatio?”Putting aside for the moment the politically correct world in which we live, had the State Department heeded Nelson’s words more diligently, would the four Americans killed during the terrorist attack on Benghazi last September be alive today?
“I daresay it is,” Nelson responded.
“And I daresay the dey learned a hard lesson that day,” Agreen added, setting off a round of chuckles.
“I agree with you, Agreen,” Nelson said gravely,” and I am not trying to be witty in saying that. Mustapha learned the same lesson as your corsair captain. And those with Western minds must learn it as well: that the only thing these Arab despots seem to understand is brute force. That is the only anecdote to their tactics. They use diplomacy as either a tool to get what they want or as a delaying tactic. That is one reason I would not have an Arab in my fleet, except as a prisoner.”
I simply pose the question.