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.
On Sept. 11, 2001, most Americans saw the barbaric consequences of Islamic jihadism for the first time. A holy war was brought to U.S. soil, and the country retaliated by declaring war on a tactic: terror (later renamed “man-caused disasters”), carried out against Islamic jihadists (later renamed simply “violent extremists”), by groups like Al-Qaeda and dozens of other militant Islamic supremacist organizations (later referred to as “allies”).
Sept. 11, however, was far from the first time the U.S. has dealt with acts of terror committed by Islamic militants. In Glenn Beck’s novelized story of the first Barbary War, America’s earliest known encounter with jihadists is told through the eyes of four men: Thomas Jefferson, William Ray, William Eaton and Stephen Decatur.
The story covers the entire arc of America’s interaction with Muslim pirates off the Barbary Coast, from Thomas Jefferson’s first meeting, as Ambassador to France in 1785, with Tripoli’s envoy, through his presidency, and all the way to 1815, some thirty years later, when James Madison finally defeated the Barbary forces.
Jefferson’s first meeting, covered in his correspondence with John Jay, proved most telling as he recounted what the Tripoli envoy told him about his people’s belligerence against Americans:
“The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet; that it was written in their Koran; that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners; that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Mussulman who was slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
[sharequote align="left"]The story of the First Barbary War is...a story about Thomas Jefferson’s willful blindness[/sharequote]
The story of the First Barbary War is really, at least at the start, a story about Thomas Jefferson’s willful blindness toward this threat. It is a painful recounting of America’s policy of benign neglect, in which the Islamic Barbary pirates attacked America’s trade ships, plundering them and taking those who survived, like William Ray, prisoner. These men were subjected to hard physical labor, inhumane living conditions and near-daily beatings and torture.
But it is also a story about heroes. After years of paying tribute equal to 20 percent of American Gross Domestic Product to the Pasha of Tripoli, and after losing the American consulate in Tripoli to his forces, William Eaton, an Army officer and the Consul to Tunis, stirred Jefferson to action, convincing him to send in a force to save our people.
Stephen Decatur was another hero. His courage in attacking the pirates and blowing up the U.S. warship they had seized and renamed The Gift of Allah in that city’s harbor was a key to our success.
There are many striking parallels between the lessons of the First Barbary War and current events, especially in the wake of the disastrous deal with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, a man that some in the West have deluded themselves into believing is a “moderate.” More broadly, America’s support for the destabilizing “democratic” overthrow of secular dictators throughout the Middle East in favor of Islamic regimes can also be viewed through the lens of the Barbary Wars.
Thomas Jefferson, believing that the U.S. should avoid foreign entanglements, and governing a war-weary nation mired in debt, chose a policy of appeasement. In doing so, he allowed American ships to be attacked while also failing to build a military force sufficient to overpower the pirates. As a result, a substantial portion of our federal budget (the equivalent of about $760 billion a year in today’s terms) was paid as tribute to the criminal Barbary leaders.
[sharequote align="right"]Jefferson chose to accept a peace treaty that only set the stage for ever greater ransoms[/sharequote]
While men like William Ray languished in Tripoli as slaves, and soldiers like William Eaton were forced to pull together ragtag armies comprised of European and Arab mercenaries, Jefferson did not force regime change. Instead of replacing the Pasha with a reliable puppet, Jefferson chose to accept a peace treaty that only set the stage for ever greater ransoms to be paid in the future. In other words, rewarding our enemies for their bellicose actions via a negotiated peace predictably led to even worse actions later.
[sharequote align="center"]Our leaders...fail to understand the fundamental goals, strategies and motivations of our enemies[/sharequote]
This view is not meant to pillory Jefferson, one of the greatest of all the founding fathers and a stalwart defender of liberty, but rather to highlight the fact that even Jefferson was unable to see these Islamist radicals for what they really were. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking continues to afflict American minds today. Like Jefferson, our leaders often fail to understand the fundamental goals, strategies and motivations of our enemies, Islamic ones included. Whether out of naiveté, political correctness or opportunism, too many people are unwilling to honestly assess our enemies and form a strategy to counter them. We instead seem to believe, in spite of history, logic, words and actions to the contrary, that “roadmaps to peace” will somehow be adhered to.
In the years following Jefferson’s presidency the raids on our merchant ships off the Barbary Coast continued. “Diplomacy” did not work. Since both parties were not actually seeking “peace” the “concessions” offered by the U.S. proved to be beneficial for only one side.
[sharequote align="center"]Madison recognized his enemy for what they were, and he pursued a policy of “peace through strength”[/sharequote]
James Madison (Image Source: Library of Congress (Gilbert Stuart))
It was only steadfast and resolute force in 1815 under James Madison, thirty years after Jefferson’s first encounter with the Barbary jihadists that ultimately ended the charade and freed hundreds of U.S. citizens. Madison recognized his enemy for what they were, and he pursued a policy of “peace through strength,” parking a massive armada of ships in the port of Tripoli that threatened to level the city.
After the capture of thirty-five American ships and seven hundred American hostages, the United States’ thirty year war with the Barbary pirates was finally over. Not because we forced the peace, but because we finally understood that real, lasting peace can sometimes only come through force.
To read the full, riveting account of the Barbary Wars, along with 11 other epic and untold stories from American history, check out Glenn Beck’s new book, “Miracles and Massacres.” You can find story summaries, excerpts and audio samples by visiting here.
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