we looked at Thomas Jefferson's invasion of Libya (then called Tripoli). Sick and tired of pirate attacks on U.S. merchants, Jefferson (unlike Washington or Adams) decided to use force against the north Africans. Unfortunately, Jefferson put the wrong guy in charge of the fight. The U.S. warships that sailed in 1802 were lead by the woefully incompetent Capt. Richard Morris. Morris treated the war like a vacation, taking along his wife and young son for the ride. Before reaching the nations of North Africa (then called "The Barbary States"), Morris dropped anchor for leisurely visits at nearly every vacation port in the Mediterranean. Once he arrived in Tunis, he was instantly kidnapped by the enemy. When he was finally ransomed, Morris thought the US should continue to pay the extortion money, rather than fight the north Africans. Jefferson was furious.
The president summarily fired Morris and sent another group of ships. This time, one of the US ships ran aground in the Tripoli harbor, and 300 more Americans surrendered and were enslaved. Jefferson sighed—and sent still another squadron of ships. By now—1804—half the U.S. fleet had been deployed to punish North Africa, and slowly the tide began to turn.
Thanks to the leadership of Lieutenant Stephen Decator, the US Navy’s beefed-up force extracted favorable terms from The Barbary States—including an end to pirating and a release of American slaves. By 1815, the Barbary war was over—at least for the United States.
The French were still embroiled in negotiations with the Barbary states as late as 1827, when a leader from Algiers smacked a French diplomat with the handle of his fan. (While it might seem a bit prissy to have a fan to waft away the vapors, keeping cool was always a challenge in North Africa.) No one was physically hurt, but the French were enormously insulted. They assembled a fleet, landed 37,000 troops, and took over the country. Algiers would be under French control for the next 132 years. They didn’t leave until 1962. All because of a slap.
Keep that in mind next time you think about insulting a Frenchman.
Labels: In the news