Sunday, April 19, 2009


Swirling around within the recent Pirates of the Indian Ocean ride is a notion I thought I'd explore a bit. It has to do with something that seems so basic to me that I stopped thinking about it long ago: The right to defend yourself.

We don't live in a civilized world. We still have pointed teeth, and there still is a need for them, alas. But in the more -- relatively speaking -- civilized portions of our planet, the laws recognize the idea that, if somebody attacks you with the intent of causing you harm, even unto death, why, you are allowed to try and stop them.

What a novel concept this seems to be to some people.

Legally, ethically, morally, the basis of common law rests upon the idea that unjustified initiation of force is wrong. Now, there are a million and one arguments about what constitutes "justified," and these depend on whose ox is being gored. Or who is doing the goring. But in the end, all power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and I'm not speaking metaphorically. Governments maybe be elected democratically, but that's a voluntary agreement.

In the land of sheep, the wolf is king. Unless, of course, the sheep have guns or knives and the wherewithal to use them ...

I hear, in the ongoing walla about the pirates, the rationalization that, well, you know, people have been dumping radioactive shit into their waters and treating the country bad and all, so somehow this makes it okay for them to sally forth and rip off the non-third world countries rich enough to own ships.

There's a term for this. Let me see if I can nail it down precisely ... oh, yeah ...


Of course, one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist, that's always been the way of it and likely will continue to be be so, but if you are merchant marine sailor listening to machine gun fire rattling against the hull plates of your ship, you might be excused for taking the small picture view. These guys aren't freedom fighters, no Ragnar Danneskjöld, they are armed robbers, thugs at best.

The notion of self-defense is that, unlike the missionary about to be boiled in the cannibal's pot who says, "Bless you, my child, you are but a product of your environment," you have the right to jump out of the kettle and haul ass, and anybody trying to stick a fork in you as you do deserves anything he gets to cause him to cease and desist.

If you don't embrace that basic belief, you can't learn self-defense that will do you any good. You can have the biggest gun in town, and if you won't shoot it come the need, it might as well be a canoe anchor.

Yeah, yeah, you aren't allowed to bend down and cut the villain's throat once he drops his fork and goes fetal, the law only permits sufficient force to stop his attack. But being the guy in the pot, you are the fellow who must determine that on-site, and -- despite what anybody has to say about it otherwise -- it is better to have to explain it to a jury than having somebody discover your wedding ring in a pile of scat. If you are one of those people who would, you know, rather be alive and than dead, that is. Run if you can, always. If you can't, do what you need to survive.

Not that complex a theory, is it?

I am perfectly copacetic with the notion that few U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers sailing in the waters off Somolia should light up assorted pirate craft as soon as they fire a BB at a merchant ship, send them to see Davy Jones, and AMF. Like the death-penalty, it might not deter other pirates from trying again, but it certainly would deter that particular bunch of ne'er-do-wells real good. There is a time for the speak softly part, and a time for the big stick.

I'd guess that they'd run out of pirates before the Navy ran out of ammo.

And to all those folks who say, Well, it's not that simple, I say, Yeah, it is.

The idea that a mugger wants my wallet isn't surprising. The notion that I don't have to give it to him ought not to be. And if I have the means and mind-set to keep my ass intact, why, I believe I will give it the old college try.

You are a child of the universe. You have a right to be here. If you aren't willing to defend that right, who else will?


Worg said...

It's interesting that I didn't hear a peep of this nature when European megatrawlers rolled up on the Somalian coast and started raping their fisheries. The same goes for the rest of the African coast.

Perhaps people just didn't give a fuck until an indirect symbol of US authority was very slightly besmirched.

Then all of a sudden it's a terrible catastrophe and "Lick your blood off of our jackboots!"

The bottom line is that they are going to do what they are going to do, and that's responsibility, but we ARE our brothers' keepers and with all of our technological power comes some responsibility of our own that we've abdicated time and again in the name of money.

jks9199 said...

You've got two points going. The first is the general issue of defending yourself. To me, we've got a lot of people with attitudes that are the result of a pretty high standard of living and of civilization. We're insulated from the harsher realities of life; my steak dinner comes from the grocery store, not the cattle on the back forty. "Bad people" live "over there"; nobody admits to living in a questionable neighborhood. Disputes (supposedly) are solved by lawyers and talking, not throwing down in the street. (Yes, there are plenty of exceptions. And they are generally the folks who absolutely WILL defend themselves, and not need some sort of justification for it.)

These folks are sheep. And, like sheep, their reactions when it hits the fan are to run, or freeze. Fighting is a distant last resort.

But they ARE people, not critters. They can learn different, and many will if exposed to the right stimulus. Some end up kind of like someone's toy custom-bred lap dog, that'll nip but won't do serious harm, and are only minimally recognizable as being related to wolves. Some will reawaken their wolves...

The pirates are another issue. You said it before; they're seeing piracy on the high seas as easy money. Make it cost 'em their lives a few times, and they'll find an easier way to make money. I think we've got every justification to demand that the UN support strong action against them. And any nation that dares to provide them succor. And to act unilaterally if the UN continues to sit it out...

Of course, that sort of thinking might be why nobody's asking me to be Secretary of State or Ambassador to Greater Freedonia.

Steve Perry said...

Sorry, but you can't justify murderous piracy against somebody who had nothing to do with dropping fishing nets into the local waters.

Hey, you're a white guy, and a white guy once spat at me, so it's okay to take you out?

Not in my world.

And these guys aren't doing it for any reason except big bucks, so how does that make them any different from the techno-boys?

Thieves are thieves, and while you have a valid point about rich guys getting away with stuff that poor ones don't, some guy swabbing decks on a freighter doesn't owe his life to a pirate looking for a big pay off.

You can't have it both ways, and the rationalization doesn't cover it.

Dojo Rat said...

Clearly an example of why we should help prevent "failed states".
Let's hope Pakistan isn't next, they have nukes...

Anonymous said...

The foreign fishing and garbage dumping wouldn't be a straw man if the Somali pirates were attacking foreign fishermen and garbage dumpers.

What you said.

Dan Gambiera said...

It's the difference between responsibility and blame, Steve.

When we don't do anything to keep the predatory fishing factories out of Somali waters we will - and have - driven a lot of former fishermen to starvation or piracy. It really is as simple as that. It doesn't mean we need to stop sinking pirate ships. But we have to understand that we helped create the situation. Want to do something cost-effective to reduce their numbers? Do something about the conditions that encourage them.

Similarly, the policy of malign neglect, adventurism and Ethiopian carte blanche has helped perpetuate the chaotic conditions within the country. If you want - once again - to keep the number of pirates down it will take more than sending in the Marines and ensuring Conoco's oil leases. It will require encouraging the existence of a government and some sort of basic legal framework in Somalia.

Naval operations are expensive. The permanent occupation of the country is insane. The Zero Solution - get rid of the Somali population - is bound to get you talked about. At some point you need to address the causes in a sane fashion if you want to keep your costs down and your ships sailing. A purely military solution will just bankrupt you, not unlike what's happening in Afghanistan.

Dan Gambiera said...

Just in case I wasn't clear. None of this means that ship crews can't or shouldn't defend themselves. It doesn't mean that we should let pirates go. It just means that we have to be able to read a balance sheet and not get stuck on the most expensive way of dealing with the problem.

Steve Perry said...

Being our brother's keeper has limits. Yes, as Spidey says, with great power comes great responsibility, but there are bounds there, too. "We" didn't stop the fishing boats from going in, so it is our fault there are pirates? Has anybody demonstrate that the pirates are, in fact, ex-fishermen who moved into another line of work?

Let's say you get laid off your job and can't find another one because the Wall Streeters and the banks gut-punched the economy. But the feds didn't step in and protect your job, so that would give you leave to rob banks?

The line of causality breaks down here. If you are an adult and the clerk at the 7-Eleven sells you a six pack of beer, is he then required to drop by your house and make sure you drink responsibly? If you quaff 'em all and decide to go for a drive and squash several neighbors, does that make it Budweiser's fault?

I don't see it as quite that simple. Nobody died and left the United States the world's policeman and Dutch uncle.

You take care of your own family first, then the neighbors and then the village. Since the U.S. has, for the last eight years, been doing a shitty job on that front, that's where it should go first.