Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Shazaam, Thar' Be Pirates!

During my middle and high school days re-runs of Gomer Pyle, U.M.C, used to come on television at least once a day in the afternoon or early evening on Channel 17, WTBS. I would usually have the television on during my homework time (don’t tell my students) and Gomer, Andy Griffith, Bud and Kitten from Father Knows Best and, of course, the Beaver could be heard in the background as I rewrote my American History notes (compulsive behavior), struggled through Algebra problems, or quizzed myself concerning biology terms.

Gomer Pyle was the best. Sargent Carter was a scream and Lou Ann Poovey was the perfect girl for Gomer. Just the name alone was priceless. If I remember correctly Gomer broke the news to Andy Griffith concerning his enlistment into the Marines by walking into Andy’s office singing the Marine Battle Anthem at the top of his lungs while he marched around the jail.

In the same Gomerish corny style I begin a lesson in the same way.

I usually wait until everyone is “kind of” settled (today’s classrooms are rarely entirely silent), and I walk out into the hall, compose myself, and walk back into the room singing much like my friend Gomer Pyle used to:

From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.

While I sing and march around the room at the top of my lungs I try hard not to look at the kids because they look hilarious. Some are embarrassed for me and for themselves, some smile, and some laugh.

Our flag’s unfurled to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in ev’ry clime and place
Where we could take a gun
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes;
You will find us always on the job—
The United States Marines.

By the end of the second stanza studens are getting into it with me as I point to the television screen which can double as my computer monitor. They begin to sing along with the lyrics I have posted there.

Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.

We all have a glorious finish and students cajole me into singing again from the beginning. We do!

After things calm down I pose the following questions:

What do pirates, Gomer Pyle, a coastal region of Africa, and the United States have in common?

What American war followed the American Revolution?

While you are thinking (I’m giving you sufficient wait time) I’ll go on…

To get students in the correct mind set I ask them, “What is the war we are currently fighting?”

Even at nine years old students are fairly savy about what is going on in the world. Many tell me we are fighting a war with Iraq, and I tell them kind of but not really. Others mention terrorism…a smattering of them even say the television catch-phrase “war on terror”….others add the word “terrorism”. I tell these smartees they win my bingo award for the day.

I then ask, “When did terrorism start?”

We have a lively discussion where students determine the definition of terrorism and we decide that based on the definition terrorism has been around for a long time. I tell students as the year goes on we are going to to have many examples of terrorism and they need to attempt to identify examples of it as we discuss the settlement of our country.

Do you know the answers to my questions yet? Pirates, Gomer Pyle aka the Marines, a coastal region of Africa, and the United States all have the Barbary Coast Wars in common. Following the American Revolution our country was involved in the Barbary Coast Wars. Both of the Barbary wars were seperated by the War of 1812. Terrorism played a huge part in these conflicts.

We begin our look at the Barbary Coast War by looking at the map. I ask students to find Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli. In 1800, these areas often acted independently but were controlled by a larger government called the Ottoman Empire. Gangs of thugs and pirates controlled these areas with an iron hand.

This area of the Mediterranean had been problematic to the British and French for some time. In fact, these self-proclaimed privateers had been in business since the times of the Crusades. These nefarious characters were immortalized in literature such as Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Cervantes of Don Quixote fame had been taken hostage himself in Algiers for a time.

Through numerous diplomatic efforts and ransom British ships had maintained safe passage through the Barbary Coast. American ships had enjoyed the safety net of British diplomacy until our ties were severed with them at the end of the American Revolution.

Suddenly, American ships were fair game to the Barbary Coast pirates. It would appear that Congress anticipated problems because they allocated monies in 1784 for the payment of tribute to pirates. Think about that for moment and it kind of makes your stomach turn. We were just going to give in? An actual plan to be taken advantage of….

In similar fashion to today events there were politicians who vehemently spoke out against paying tribute to pirates to keep from having American ships, crews, and freight taken. When Thomas Jefferson was ambassodor to France he spoke out stating that the payment of ransom would only lead to more attacks. George Washington is known to have sided with Jefferson as well. In fact, in a letter to Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale University, Jefferson wrote: “it will be more easy to raise ships as a means to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them.” Unfortunately Congress at the time was more concerned with domestic matters and did not deal with the problem head-on.

Jefferson finally got his chance to make a difference when he was inaugurated in 1801. Almost immediately the Barbary state of Tripoli demanded $225,000. When Jefferson refused to pay tribute the Pasha of Tripoli declared war against the United States though there were no formal declarations. Actually the Pasha’s statement of war was to have the U.S. consolate’s flag pole cut down.

The United States never actually declared war on the Barbary States but the did authorize the President to sieze all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli “and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.”

This conflict is a who’s who of American ship names. The group of frigates that were sent to the Mediterranean included ships with names like Intrepid, Philadelphia, Constitution, Constellation, Chesapeake, Argus, and Syren.

Highlights of the Barbary conflict include the 1803 blockade of Barbary ports and hit and run raids against Barbary cities headed up by Commodore Edward Preble. It was at this time the USS Philadelphia ran aground and her crew and captain were taken captive. A group of sailors led by Lieutinant Stephen Decatur, Jr. managed get to the ship and set it on fire. The thought was a burned out hull would not be a bargaining chip for the pirates.

Finally, Tripoli was attacked outright on July 14, 1804. At one point Captain Richard Somers and the crew of the USS Intrepid entered the harbor at Tripoli packed from top to bottom with explosives. An accident or enemy fire ignited the explosives with all hands lost.

The actual lyrics “from the shores of Tripoli” come from the Battle of Derna where Americans attacked over land with the assistance of Arab, Greek, and Berber mercenaries.

A treaty ended the first go round with the Barbary pirates in June, 1805. Unfortunately the capture of the city of Derna was not used as a bargaining chip and many felt the treaty was too flimsy. Afterall, we agreed to exchange prisoners with the Barbary States but we also gave them $60,000. I know, it didn’t make sense to my students as well. Seems like the argument regarding ransom versus tribute started way back then.

Soon we had other problems on the high seas as America became embroiled in conflicts between Britain and France which ultimately led to the War of 1812. Naturally the Barbary States did not hesitate to take advantage of the US while their attentions were diverted elsewhere. American began paying tribute/ransom once again.

After the War of 1812, American sailors led by Stephen Decatur, Jr. and William Bainbridge began to use pirate tactics themselves. It worked during the American Revolution to fight like Native Americans, didn’t it? During our attacks hundreds of prisoners were taken and in order to secure their release the pirates had to agree the United States was released from tribute obligations in perpetuity and secured a payment of $10,000 in reparations for damages.

Things were not finally over until a nine hour bombardment by the British weakened Algiers which eventually became a French colony in 1830. Tunis fell to the French in 1881 while Tunis became an Italian colony in 1835. Europe maintained a strong hold over the Barbary States well into the Twentieth Century.

Gee…history is amazing. All of this led to Gomer Pyle.

Well……..surprise, surprise, surprise!


Dan Edwards said...

Hey, I just bought a new book about the US campaign against the Barbary pirates....Richard Zacks, "The Pirate Coast", Hyperion Publishers, 2005 (paperback edition). Haven't had time to read it yet, but it is up towards the huge tower/pile of books in waiting to be read.

Fun post! Do you have a video of your vocal rendition of the Marine Corp anthem that you could share with us ?

Ed Darrell said...

You mean, history can be interesting?

Great idea. I'd love to see you do it.

EHT said...

Guys, it's hard enough to be a goof ball in front of kids let alone allow esteemed colleagues to snicker at me. No, no video is available.

Anonymous said...

Some would say that the War of 1812 was about state sponsored terrorism, what with the kidnappings of American sailors and all.

EHT said...

I would agree Mike. I would agree.

It's amazing to think how many people wanted to get in our face back then.....about as many that want to get in our face now.

TurbineGuy said...

elementaryhistoryteacher, wow I wish you were my kids teacher. I am truly impressed.

p.s. Even though I am in the Air Force, I have always liked the Marine Corps song better. My Grandfather who was on Iwo Jima during WWII always gets all teary eyed.

Anonymous said...

Dear elementaryhistoryteacher,

I enjoyed your story, but it seems to me that there is a big difference between the pirates back then and the terrorists of today. The pirates simply wanted our money and that was all there was to it. If we paid them they left us alone. The terrorists don't seem to care that much about our money, they just want to kill us.

EHT said...

Rory, I really appreciate that!

Steven, I will agree that Barbary pirates were out for money and did not have the capability to bring their fight to us. Perhaps I should have added a follow up lesson I have regarding an in depth look at different kinds of terrorism that has taken place since the McKinley assassination. However, the Barbary pirates did not only demand tribute for the safe passage of military ships but civilian trade was disrupted as well. An element of terrorism is to inflict terror on the citizens of a government not just the government itself. Also the Barbary pirates kidnapped military and private citizens. This is a key connection my nine year old students make as they have seen a parade of military and private citizens paraded before the cameras within recent years. Most of my students, as young as they are, are simply outraged the new government would have not only set aside money in anticipation of ransom having to be paid, but paid it as well. Let's not forget the type of currency found by the boxful in Iraq. Let's not forget the currency of choice for the majority of Muslim terrorists----it's the U.S. dollar. They care about our money....very much.

Anonymous said...

Dear elementaryhistoryteacher,

I understand what you are saying, but I think that it is important to make a distinction between the motives of the pirates and the motives of the Muslim terrorists, who have openly said that their goal is to kill Americans. The pirates just wanted to take our money. Thank you for responding.

Anonymous said...

By the way, elementaryhistoryteacher, I found myself humming "The Halls of Montezuma" for a couple of hours after I read your blog this morning.

EHT said...

I love the song, but it can appear in your head in the most inopportune moments. I usually can't sing it at church (during the Fourth of July or close to Veterans Day) without thinking of Gomer marching around and singing it in a not so Jim Neighbors voice.

I do understand your point. Yes, the fact that Muslim terrorists want to kill us is a major difference, and believe me, my students understand this. This is the one thing they bring to me as prior knowledge. I realize this since I usually take a survey to see what they already know or think about 9-11 and events since then.

Anonymous said...

Thought anyone who would read through this blog and all the comments might be interested in the following video of a talk on Jefferson and the Barbary War:


Anonymous said...

Thought anyone who would read through this blog and all the comments might be interested in the following video of a talk on Jefferson and the Barbary War: