Johnny Depp and Disney's blustery Long John Silver, or the erudite Captain Hook have defined "pirates" for us. Romanticized through the fog of time, pirates of 200 years ago - who became famous, Capone-style (Blackbeard and Captain Kidd come to mind) - were free spirits who had big old swords, eye patches, a limb or two missing, and a parrot. They roamed the Caribbean, and brazenly flew the Jolly Roger. Like early in-your-face Hell's Angels, daring you to challenge them, they went about robbing decent merchant ships of their swag, and burying and digging up buried treasure.
Now we come to the pirates of Somalia. Through them we can see the power, and the terror, real pirates obviously wreaked on those real decent pliers of the high seas hundreds of years ago. Such a scourge it was in 1803 that then President Jefferson had to go deal with the scofflaws of Tripoli, the Barbary Pirates.
Pirates were desperate characters in 1790, as these are in 2009. Willie Sutton, a famous bank robber, said, when asked why he robbed banks, "that's where the money is". And since Wells Fargo hasn't opened a branch in Mogadishu, the resourceful bunch - apparently well organized - set out for where it is, in the form of ransom. How they do it with their tiny boats and big guns, I'm not sure, but apparently these gnats have managed to take down the great beasts who plod through the waves.
They hassled Japanese, Italian, and German ships, to name a few. But now they are messing with Uncle Sam.
The recent stand off in the Indian Ocean, wherein an American ship's captain generously gave himself up as a hostage so that his crew and ship would be set free, is not just an isolated act of kidnapping.
It is possibly a view into a sordid future - the end game of Bushenomics that forces desperate people to do desperate things.
But it's also the obvious power individuals have against the most powerful military in the world. An American warship - warship! - were sent to hover around the lifeboat upon which the captain was held captive. Certainly a more vigorous conservative approach would have been to merely blow them out of the water, sacrificing the captain for the greater good. And as we go to press, Navy seals were able to take advantage of the captain's daring - he jumped over board for a second time- kill the bewildered captors, and rescue Captain Phillips. But nevertheless, the larger point has already been made.
Our entire Defense Department budget is not large enough to flick away these desperate characters - who either know, or don't particularly care - that our value of human life is their leverage.
But the bigger point is human desperation is an awesome force. And when it comes to feeding, protecting, or housing ones family - the same strength with which a terrified little mom can lift a car off a child - comes into play.
The pirates are staring down the Power, and for a long enough time to make the point, they remained standing - or at least floating.
There are a number of things to think about here, for example, would it not be prudent to, say, FEED these people? And help them to feed themselves. To school them so they might find if not prosperity, survival in relatively pleasant circumstances? That is what Al Qaeda does when it isn't plotting with airplanes. They build schools. They provide medical care and housing. Unfortunately, they also recruit and propagandize. But we can do the same damn thing! (In a bit of an irony, the American ship in question apparently was bringing aid to Somalia; perhaps the pirates hadn't gotten the news).
The other thing to think about is, how far away are we from American pirating, of sorts? Already we've seen a rather famous security camera video of some pathetic guy pulling a big-ass gun on a 7-11 clerk. The robber had his daughter in tow, perhaps playing to the clerk, or the camera, and underscoring that he was not particularly a robber. He was just a desperate father.
These times may see more of this sort of thing, and the Somalia pirates might underscore the fact that brute strength is not necessarily going to work in the long run. As little Joey warned his hero, "Shane, there's too many!" There's indeed buried treasure in this story - in the form of wisdom, and warning of the consequences of greed, and the insensitivity to the less fortunate among us not just in Somalia, or other bleak outposts around the world, but right here, in the land of Katrina.
by Robert Illes
Robert Illes is an Emmy winning television writer and producer, currently developing series for Nickelodeon and TV Land. He is an LA native, and a graduate of USC, who lived in Sherman Oaks for 23 years before escaping to Santa Monica (but visits a lot). A member of Valley Democrats United, Bob is also an AirAmericaRadio freak, active in the Writers Guild mentor program, as well as the Democratic party, and is constantly Bush bashing, fighting for verifiable voting procedures, and fighting against Jerry's Deli showing Fox News on their overhead TVs. What's the matter with those people!?
Internet radio show "Funny is Money" starring Bob Illes is now on nightly at 7 PM Pacific time www.shokusradio.com CHECK IT OUT!
Reprinted with permission from the Valley Democrats United newsletter, Margie Murray, Editor, where the article first appeared.