Most Americans probably think the
Islamic terrorists declared war on the United States Sept. 11, 2001.
Actually, it started a long time before - right from the birth of the
nation. In 1784, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin
were commissioned by the first Congress to assemble in Paris to see
about marketing U.S. products in Europe. Jefferson quickly surmised
that the biggest challenge facing U.S. merchant ships were those
referred to euphemistically as "Barbary pirates."
They weren't "pirates" at all in the traditional sense, Jefferson
noticed. They didn't drink and chase women, and they really weren't out
to strike it rich. Instead, their motivation was strictly religious.
They bought and sold slaves, to be sure. They looted ships. But they
used their booty to buy guns, ships, cannon and ammunition. Like those
we call "terrorists" today, they saw themselves engaged in jihad and
called themselves "mujahiddin."
Why did these 18th-century terrorists represent such a grave threat to
U.S. merchant ships? With independence from Great Britain, the former
colonists lost the protection of the greatest navy in the world. The
U.S. had no navy - not a single warship. Jefferson inquired of his
European hosts how they dealt with the problem. He was stunned to find
out that France and England both paid tribute to the fiends - who
would, in turn, use the money to expand their own armada, buy more
weaponry, hijack more commercial ships, enslave more innocent civilians
and demand greater ransom. This didn't make sense to Jefferson. He
recognized the purchase of peace from the Muslims only worked
temporarily. They would always find an excuse to break an agreement,
blame the Europeans and demand higher tribute.
A Very Different Policy
After three months researching the history of militant
Islam, he came up with a very different policy to deal with the
terrorists. But he didn't get to implement it until years later. As the
first secretary of state, Jefferson urged the building of a navy to
rescue American hostages held in North Africa and to deter future
attacks on U.S. ships. In 1792, he commissioned John Paul Jones to go
to Algiers under the guise of diplomatic negotiations, but with the
real intent of sizing up a future target of a naval attack.
Jefferson was ready to retire a year later when what could only be
described as "America's first Sept. 11" happened. America was struck
with its first mega-terror attack by jihadists. In the fall of 1793,
the Algerians seized 11 U.S. merchant ships and enslaved more than 100
Americans. When word of the attack reached New York, the stock market
crashed. Voyages were canceled in every major port. Seamen were thrown
out of work. Ship suppliers went out of business. What Sept. 11 did to
the U.S. economy in 2001, the mass shipjacking of 1793 did to the
fledgling U.S. economy in that year.
Accordingly, it took the U.S. Congress only four months to decide to
build a fleet of warships. But even then, Congress didn't choose war as
Jefferson prescribed. Instead, while building what would become the
U.S. Navy, Congress sent diplomats to reason with the Algerians. The
U.S. ended up paying close to $1 million and giving the pasha of
Algiers a new warship, "The Crescent," to win release of 85 surviving
It wasn't until 1801, under the presidency of Jefferson, that the U.S.
engaged in what became a four-year war against Tripoli. And it wasn't
until 1830, when France occupied Algiers, and later Tunisia and
Morocco, that the terrorism on the high seas finally ended. France
didn't leave North Africa until 1962 - and it quickly became a major
base of terrorism once again.
What's the moral of the story?
Appeasement never works. Jefferson saw it. Sept. 11
was hardly the beginning. The war in which we fight today is the
longest conflict in human history. It's time to learn from history, not
repeat its mistakes.