The United States Marine Corps celebrated its 240th birthday on Tuesday, November 10th. Each year Marines gather in small, informal groups, or in more formal social affairs to raise a glass in honor of their beloved Corps. Sunday afternoon, Isaura and I were privileged to join the members of the local Marine Corps League at Vito’s Ristorante in Modesto for a commemorative luncheon. Each time I attend such a gathering I am reminded of why I firmly believe in the old phrase, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
Make no mistake! I loved my years as a Navy officer serving as a chaplain. I would not trade those twenty-five years of ministry to the men and women of the sea services for anything. But having been a Marine is something that is in your blood. It never leaves you. Whether it was the arduous training, or standing fire watch, or the boredom of guard duty at some remote location, or the terrors of combat, all go toward the making of a Marine.
One of the areas the Marine Corps excels in is their own history. This history of the storied icons and leaders of the Corps throughout its history is part of what we celebrate each November 10th. We honor those who have gone before us from private to general – all are Marines. And every one of us jealously covets the title, Marine. Once earned, it can never be taken away.
So, I was watching FOX News the other night as they were discussing Brian Kilmeade’s latest book, written in collaboration with Don Yaeger, “Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates.” I was intrigued because every Marine knows about the Barbary Pirates, and particularly, Lt. Presley O’Bannon.
Here’s the historical setting: Muslim pirates of the Barbary Coast attack ships at sea. Their purpose in doing this is to steal the goods on board. They also kill the sailors of the captured vessel, or press them into forced labor on Muslim ships, and in the process requiring them to become Muslims, if they want to live, or simply sell them as slaves.
These pirates operated in the Mediterranean Sea, harassing merchant ships, and even naval ships of the European countries as far away as England that dared sail the sea lanes of the Mediterranean. It was also common practice for these Muslim pirates to raid towns and villages along the shores of the Mediterranean, raping and pillaging, making off with men who would be sold into slavery, and women who would be forced to marry Muslim men or be sold into slavery, and children who would be placed in Muslim families or be sold into slavery.
When did these Barbary Pirates roam the waters of the Mediterranean? The latter part of the 18th Century and early 19th Century. The Barbary Coast was made up of the North African states of Tunis, Morocco, Algiers, and Tripoli (Libya). Often these raids on foreign shipping would bring about demands for ransom of the ship and its crew. Then the Muslim rulers of the Barbary Coast would demand tribute from weaker nations to be paid to them by any country using the Mediterranean waters. This racket went on far too long. Most countries paid the tribute since they were not interested in expending men and ships in fighting a war against these Muslim pirates.
If this has a familiar ring to it, then you’ve obviously been paying attention to what is going on in our world. You see, nothing is new. The same tactics are still being used today with certain modifications. The pirates have relocated to the East African shore of Somalia. The rampage of Europe where raping and pillaging is taking place is occurring within the borders of all European nations, many of which are in dire straits of losing their identity to the overwhelming flood of Muslims forcing their way into these Western countries.
While America was still under the rule of England, our ships were protected by the tribute the English Crown paid these Muslim pirate states. However, once we declared our independence from the British monarchy, any merchant ships flying the American flag were fair game. Presidents Washington and Adams reluctantly followed the practice of paying tribute simply because we did not have a Navy capable of protecting our merchant ships so far removed from our shores.
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, also continued the practice of paying off these Muslim bullies. However, the damage being done to our ships and crews continued. Jefferson decided enough was enough, and the United States pushed back. The American flag was desecrated by the Muslims in Tripoli. This prompted President Jefferson to take decisive military action. He appealed to European nations to assist him, but none would join forces with the United States.
A navy ship with a contingent of Marines aboard sailed to Tripoli in 1805 laying siege to the port city where the Marines forced the potentate of Tripoli to see the error of his ways. The Marines were led by Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon. For his personal bravery and the bravery of his Marines, O’Bannon was presented with the Mameluke sword, which is yet worn by Marine officers to this day.
So, the United States earned the respect of these North African Muslim states. The question for us today is: Will we have the courage to once again confront these murderous thugs who care nothing for our values and freedoms? Or will we acquiesce by surrendering some of those freedoms if only the bad guys would leave us alone.
These bad guys had no intention of leaving us alone more than two centuries ago, and they have no intention of leaving us alone today.
What will the United States do, I wonder?