Bullies Redux

There were three kinds of boys in Junior High School.

First were the bullies. This group had probably grown up quicker than their peers and normally came from homes where toughness was considered not only a virtue but a valued commodity. Second were the “hangers on”. These boys weren’t quite as big or strong as the bullies but for some reason they fit into a category that the bullies very often used for their purposes. This group had  one goal in life. They did not want to belong to the third group: “The Victims”.

The victims were guys whom nature had not been kind to. They were often shorter, maybe less inclined to athletics, and in most cases more adapted to a broader base of interests. While being more thoughtful and better aligned towards self improvement, they were also frequent targets of the bully attacks. In order to avoid the chest thumping or other forms of showing dominance, tribute could often be offered. These tributes were often in the form of money or food but in any case, they were sometimes successful and sometimes led to further increase in tributes.

For anyone who has never been bullied by a group of peers, you have missed one of life’s defining moments.

The fear of being intimidated soon leads to shame at not having the resources or “inner strength” to make it stop. Over time, that shame leads to one of two things: you either find the way to make it stop or you turn inward in a way that helps you maintain some kind of dignity. For some people this can become a lifelong pattern. For others, a completely different effect results. Learning to overcome superior odds becomes a trademark behavior and serves that person well.

(I have found it rather ironic in life to discover that most of the kids who were victimized end up in upper level management or are the guys who invent and create the largest innovations of their day. The best part is when the bully ends up working for one of them.)

When the United States was very young, the new country struggled to define itself as a power.

The Revolutionary War at sea was spectacular in the outcomes it produced but the size of the Navy was enhanced and supported by the enemies of the British. We had many brave men but we had few ships or support organizations. After independence was gained, the country became inwardly focused and the idea of a standing Navy was certainly in doubt. Navies cost money and money was always something the new country struggled to provide.

From the time of the beginning of the American Republic in 1776 to the final Barbary War of 1815, the fledgling country dealt with bulling on a large scale perpetrated by the four Barbary Powers of North Africa – Tunis, Algiers, Morocco, and Tripoli. Because of America’s weakness, these petty tyrants demanded and received millions of dollars in tributes. The great indignity was that during the same time payment were being made and increased, the capture of vessels continued. Hundreds of sailors were held hostage, enslaved to foreign lands and killed. The cost to shipping for the new found Republic was also a detriment to growth. The country knew from the start that the exchange of commerce was vital to its life blood.

Many in Congress however felt that the traditional payment to the “Deys” was the best option.

Algiers in 1800

In 1790, Thomas Jefferson (who was George Washington’s Secretary of State) recommended declaring war on the pirates. The Senate rejected the call and instead earmarked an additional $140,000 for ransom payments (in addition to the amount already designated for tributes). For ten more years, the attacks continued while the tributes were increasingly demanded at higher amounts.

In September 1800, William Bainbridge sailed the frigate George Washington into the Mediterranean. It was the first visit of a US Navy man of war to the area but it was a tribute paying visit for the Dey of Algiers.


After delivering the tribute, an event painful to the memory of US Naval history occurred. The Dey commandeered the George Washington to send a special ambassador and many gifts to the Sultan of Turkey. The American Consul, General Richard O’Brien made an official entry to record the event for history:

“We went on board; the Turkish flag was hoisted at the main of the United States ship, and was saluted with seven guns as customary. Painful is the detail, but it contains a narrative of facts. To the truth thereof, witness my hand and seal of office, at Algiers, this ninth day of October, 1800”


Captain Bainbridge wrote at the time to a friend:

“The Dey of Algiers, soon after my arrival, made a demand that the United States’ Ship, George Washington, should carry an Ambassador to Constantinople with presents … Every effort was made by me to evade this demand but it availed nothing. The light in which the chief of this regency looks upon the people of the United States may be inferred by his style of expression. He remarked to me. “You pay me tribute, by which you become my slaves;I have therefore a right to order you as I may think proper.” The unpleasant situation in which I am placed must convince you that I have no alternative left but compliance, or a renewal of hostilities against our commerce. The loss of the frigate and the fear of slavery for myself and crew were the least circumstances to be apprehended, but I know our valuable commerce in these seas would fall a sacrifice to the corsairs of this power of this power, as we have no cruisers to protect it…

I hope I may never again be sent to Algiers with tribute unless I am authorized to deliver it from the mouth of our cannon…”

Ships at war

As an American Bluejacket, I can think of no greater disgrace than to have the flag of a foreign potentate flying from the mast where my colors should be. As an American citizen, I can think of no greater threat to peace and security than loss of freedom of the seas.

In the world we live in today, we are once again confronted with forces that would interdict freedom of the seas


. The eastern coast of Africa needs constant monitoring since pirates are free to sail from countries which have no love for us. The specter of  an Iranian naval presence grows larger each year and their ability to create nuclear weapons will only make the situation more complicated. Even the so called “Arab Spring” will bring new challenges as radical Muslim influences will change the dynamics in several of the key strategic choke points around the world.

The lessons learned throughout history are that there will always be people who are bullies and they will always try and take advantage of those who display weakness. I can think of nothing that displays weakness more than having a “sophisticated” leadership[ that feels that terrorists’ can be negotiated with and sworn enemies will be swayed by apologies and promises of new relations. These foolish policies are the result of inexperienced and naïve men and women who have no understanding of the eternal threats we face. Nothing has really changed in the years since the spread of radical Islam in the centuries before.

A perfect example of the type of conflict was recorded in the following:

January 1785: The Dauphin and the Maria are captured by Algerians, their 21 crewmen chained and paraded before jeering crowds on their way to the Algerian leader, or Dey, who reportedly spits on them and says, “Now I have got you, you Christian dogs, you shall eat stones.”

Weakness invites attack.

The only true safety is through strength of our purpose and a strong defense. Weak messages, paying tribute, and attempting to placate the bullies have always led to more bullying. I would rather we stop paying our “tributes” and reinforce our Navy a hundred fold than live one day subject to another petty tyrant. Diplomacy only works when you have an equal or greater amount of strength.

If the United States is to survive, true leaders must emerge and strengthen their will against the siren call of false security.

Mister Mac

3 thoughts on “Bullies Redux

    1. Thanks NEO… its been an interesting few days at TLS… the story about becoming a submariner has kind of exploded. Can’t say as I know why. At first I thought it was some kind of anomaly but I have also been getting a lot of emails and comments. I hope you are doing well. Waiting for winter to end here in Pennsylvania

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