Piracy is Just One Symptom of Society’s Chronic Sickness

I have to admit that I am as pleased as anyone about the way America responded to the recent attack by pirates off the coast of Africa. I share the sentiments of bloggers and other commentators who have exulted in the way U.S. Navy snipers “took out” three of the pirates who were holding Capt. Richard Phillips hostage. That will show ’em! Don’t mess with the U.S.! And so on.

piratesI even fantasize about U.S. drones laying waste entire villages and ports in Somalia, leaving grisly heaps of charred corpses in their wake. But I know that I am merely indulging my primeval blood lust. It’s the Cain in me that’s responsible for such thoughts. The saner side of me recognizes the sadness of the situation and laments the blood letting. Those were three human beings who were shot dead. Oh, I am sure they deserved it. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape and you don’t fire on a U.S. Navy ship – not if you plan to go on living. But on reflection I recognize that the pirates are as much victims as criminals. The resurgence of piracy is just one ripple effect of callous international policies that have resulted in widespread global poverty, degradation and anarchy.

The 21st century pirates are nothing like the sword-wielding swashbucklers romanticized by Hollywood. They are ragged Somali fishermen armed with rocket launchers, GPS systems and satellite phones (photo above shows Somali pirates held by police). This new breed of pirate was spawned by the breakdown of government in Somalia, a failed state with a long coastline. When the water was fished out by commercial vessels from developed countries, local fishermen lost the traditional way of sustaining their meager existence. So some of them resorted to piracy. As usually happens, this kind of lucrative lawlessness attracted the attention of international criminals who have taken over the operation and organized it into a thriving industry. Investors put up the money for weapons and equipment and get a share of the ransom. The rest of the ransom is divided among the village leaders and the pirates.

The beneficiaries of this industry include politically powerful arms dealers, and the proceeds of the piracy industry enrich economies in the developed world. That might be one reason the international community has been so slow to launch an offensive against the pirates. Don’t you find it curious that everyone knows where the pirates are based yet no one has retaliated for their attacks by striking at their bases?

Of course, wiping out the pirates’ bases would not solve the larger problem. People must eat to live, and when they have no food they will resort to any available means to get it. Too many of the world’s 6.7 billion people are deprived of the necessities of life by unfair and oppressive economic policies. The inevitable result is violence and bloodshed, which will only grow worse unless the international community wakes up to the fact that our resources must be shared in a more equitable manner.