Friday, June 27, 2008

The Pirate Coast

On a business trip to Indiana quite a while ago, my coworker eager to show me how well his Garmin works, asked me to name any place I wanted to go one evening as we were looking to kill time before heading to our motel room. I told him I wanted to find a bookstore. Well the Garmin did indeed find a couple bookstores that had already closed doors or were out of businesses but my coworker was a man on a mission. So I found myself at about twenty to ten in the evening and twenty minutes before closing, in front of a largely lit up Borders bookstore. We went in.

These big box stores have racks upon racks of fictitious works, self help books, maps, travel guides, music, computer games, hobby books, etc. but if you want to find a non-fiction book, you are relegated to two small sections, autobiographies and history. I chose the latter and headed over to it. As I was perusing the small shelf containing the non-fiction history books, one in particular caught my eye. On the cover it had a picture of a scimitar and some gold coins with the word Pirate printed in gold letters. I picked it up and saw that it was The Pirate Coast by Richard Zacks. I was intrigued as I haven't read much on the subject or pirates and so running out of time, I paid for the book and left with my impatiently waiting coworker who hates books.

It ended up on my shelf unread for a time and then I pulled it out when my mother-in-law came only to get about one or two pages read at a whack before heading off to do some chore. Needless to say, it took me awhile to get started. But immediately I was caught up in the story that was not at all what I expected. It starts off with Yussif Karamanli, second in line to the throne of Bashaw, killing his older brother and sending his younger brother Hamet into exile. Soon a shipload of American sailors got stuck on the middle of a reef out in the harbor of Tripoli and end up Barbary slaves. Thus the star of the book William Eaton enters the story.

William Eaton is a disgraced former consul to nearby Tunis and he seeks to regain his name and get some money to repay some a debt that never got repaid by our government. So with President Jefferson's blessing, he sets off with a small fledgling group of marines on the nations first foreign covert operations mission to track down exiled brother Hamet Karamanli and overtake his older brother Yussif, now the Bashaw of Tripoli and take his throne. His journey takes him through the middle of a war going on in Egypt and requires a trek through the deserts of north Africa that almost kills Eaton and his men numerous times as he leads a ragtag army of a handful of Christian soldiers and a group of rebellious Muslims. They end their march by sacking the second largest city of Derna. It was the first time the American flag had been planted on foreign soil.

But victory was short lived. Eaton and Hamet's small army was surrounded by the army of those loyal to the Bashaw of Tripoli and a stalemate began. Eaton held off the attacking army while waiting for reinforcements to arrive when they were supposed to have already been there. Little did he know that Jefferson had authorized a plan B that called for a man by the name of Tobias Lear to negotiate with the Bashaw directly and pay him off for the release of the American soldier slaves who by this time had been so for almost eighteen months. Lear appears to be a spineless individual and caves in on almost every demand of the Bashaw and signs a peace treaty that releases the soldiers for a large sum of money. Eaton is told to desert Hamet and Derna and leave in the dead of the night. Eaton ends up taking Hamet with him and dropping him off to spend the remainder of his life in Exile before heading back to America to get the support for Hamet that he felt Hamet deserved and was promised.

Eaton gets on Jefferson's bad side by not lying about the outcome (financial payoff) of the war with Tripoli and thus sets off a four-year battle of the legislature for Eaton to get reimbursed for his expenses and to get support for Hamet whom he felt had been used as an "instrument" and then deserted. Eaton eventually gets both but becomes a drunk in doing so and dies at the early age of 47. But Eaton left behind a legacy that is still strong today. He turned a ragtag bunch of drunks into the modern day Marine Corp who still honor him today with their Marines' Hymn. Here is the first verse:

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.

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