Thursday, December 08, 2005

"Millions For Defense, Not One Cent For Tribute"

This just in:

The "tribute" referred to was the millions paid in the 18th century, shortly after independence, to ransom American hostages - now lacking the protection of the British Navy - from the Barbary pirates of the Ottoman Empire.

This tribute was a substantial proportion of federal revenues at the time. President Jefferson didn't want to pay it and sent the little U.S. fleet and its Marines into action. Together with Arab allies and foreign mercenaries, U.S. forces reached "the shores of Tripoli" and subdued its pasha into peace. This task was repeated under President Monroe a decade later, and this time piracy was ended permanently.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It certainly does. The motto is attributed to Representative Robert Goodloe Harper in 1798, so this 1841 "NOT ONE CENT" - actually a token that circulated as a sort of currency - commemorates the accomplishments of the two previous generations. These naval actions were controversial two centuries ago, but at least Congress understood the need for flexibility by commanders in distant theaters, and the importance of the country's image abroad:

...In operations at such a distance, it becomes necessary to leave much to the discretion of the agents employed, but events may still turn up beyond the limits of that discretion. Unable in such a case to consult his government, a zealous citizen will act as he believes that would direct him, were it apprised of the circumstances, and will take on himself the responsibility. In all these cases the purity and patriotism of the motives should shield the agent from blame, and even secure a sanction where the error is not too injurious....

A nation, by establishing a character of liberality and magnanimity, gains in the friendship and respect of others more than the worth of mere money.
[President Thomas Jefferson, Special Message to the House and Senate, January 13, 1806.]

In the present age of our hyper-critical media always on the attack against any Administration that actually defends America's interests, I believe that an effective way to counter its disruptive influence - Jim Hoagland in today's Washington Post actually cites image and not substance as threatening - is the presence of American soldiers and diplomats abroad, and the reputation they establish for themselves and their country.

Update 12/15/05: Mightier Than the Pen

It appears this former reporter thinks so as well:

I happened to meet a Marine Corps colonel who'd just come back from Iraq. He gave me a no-nonsense assessment of what was happening there, but what got to me most was his description of how the Marines behaved and how they looked after each other in a hostile world. That struck me as a metaphor for how America should be in the world at large...

...I decided to do my first physical training and see what happened...I met a Marine...and started training with him. Pretty soon I filled out the application...

In a way, I see the Marines as a microcosm of America at its best. Their focus isn't on weapons and tactics, but on leadership. That's the whole point of the Marines.

Update, 1/6/06

A related, Mudville-inspired post here.

Note, 2/13/07: Attention university students! Apparently this is a popular post for college essays and mid-term papers. I suggest you reference it correctly.

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