Beware! There Be Pirates Ahead!

There were many good panels at LSA 2007 in Berlin. One presentation by Salvatore Poier of the University of Milan focused on the nature of the term piracy. The project examines the term as it was used in what the author calls the Golden Age of Piracy. Part of the claim is that the term shifts over time sometimes applying to a practice where those with few options created societies with relatively flat structures and had a certain respect to periods where the term has less favorable views. The word’s etymological roots are in Greek and the term stems from the word for to try or essay. In addition, I happen to be reading Paul Woodruff’s On Justice, Power, and Human Nature, a translation of Selections from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, and recall that Thucydides presents a view of pirates that may be of interest. Assuming Woodruff’ translation is correct, it presents an interesting perspective for the term. It was not insulting and had some respect but became a practice to be eliminated as society changed. Here’s a quote:

In ancient times, you see, the Greeks had turned to piracy as soon as they began to travel more in ships from one place to another, and so had the foreigners who lived on the mainland shore or on the islands.  Their most powerful leaders aimed at their own profit, but also hoped to support the weak; and so they fell upon cities that had no walls or were made up of settlements.  They raided these places and made most of their living from that.  Such actions were nothing to be ashamed of then, but carried with them a certain glory, as we may learn from some of the mainlanders for whom this is still an honor, even today, if done nobly.  The same point is proved by the ancient poets, who show that anyone who sails by, anywhere, is asked the same question–“are you a pirate?”–and that those who are asked are not insulted, while those who want to know or not reproachful.

Thucydides, a la Woodruff, details that Minos established a navy as a way to establish colonies and eliminate piracy which threatened his base of wealth. Put differently, it seems that when one group concentrates wealth and power, that which is in the way will be called by or given a negative characterization. This idea reminds me of some of Peter Yu’s presentation at LSA regarding the different postures of industrialized and developing countries depending on interests at stake and their place regarding such interests. In addition, some of Maggie Chon’s work regarding intellectual property and development involves these issues as well.

All of which is not to say that there is no such thing as theft but that apparently the idea that context and one’s position in a power structure will determine whether an act is sanctioned or not seems to be quite old. In short, Thucydides points out that pirates were common and though a threat not seen in a purely negative light. But once stable, wealth generating societies arise, eliminating pirates (which Woodruff translates as evil-doers in this part of Thucydides text) allowed for the further consolidation of wealth and a cycle began– one which also led to weathly cities “bring[ing] weaker ones under their rule or “subjugat[ion].” According to Woodruff these parts of the history show Thucydides’ interest in the importance of sea-power and economics and demonstrates the concept of eikos “what could be reasonably expected in the circumstances.”

Cross-posted at Concurring Opinions.

One thought on “Beware! There Be Pirates Ahead!

  1. HAVE ABOUT THE MISSING SHIP REEF AZANIA
    SATURDAY, JULY 21, 2007
    Ships Still Missing, Somali Pirates Suspected
    A St. Vincent and Grenadines- flagged cargo ship has been missing for three weeks and despite rescue efforts, it still has not been found.[1] Andrew Mwangura, director of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers Assistance Program, said the MV Reef Azania vanished 20 days ago after leaving Dubai carrying tons of general cargo for delivery in Seychelles and Zanzibar.[2] Mwangura said the ship owners have not located the vessel which had 12 crew members — eight Tanzanians and four Indians — onboard.[3]

    “The MV Reef Azania left Dubai 20 days ago and was to deliver cargo to Seychelles and then to Zanzibar but no one knows where the sailors are……[we] don’t know where the vessel went missing but intense efforts were underway to establish the fate of the missing ship,” said Mwangura.[4]If it is confirmed that the MV Reef Azania was seized by Somali pirates, it would bring the number of foreign vessels held off Somali Coast to five on the year, making this coastline one of the world’s most dangerous.[5]

    Four ships are currently held by Somali pirates — two from South Korea, one from Denmark and one from China’s Taiwan province, while two others are reportedly missing off the coast of Somalia.[6] More than ten ships had been hijacked off the coast of Somalia since this year.[7]

    The surge in piracy in the waters off the Somali coast, one of Africa’s longest and one of the world’s most dangerous, has sparked off global outcry with the United Nations calling for international action to combat Somalia’s “plague of piracy,” saying it threatened vital aid deliveries to some 1 million people.[8]

    Under 18 U.S.C. § 1651, whoever commits the crime of piracy, as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life. Piracy is one of the handful of crimes for which Universal Jurisdiction is available.[9]

    Federal criminal defense attorney Douglas McNabb has previously discussed, at length, the transnational crime of piracy at sea in his blog, here. And more specifically we have discussed Somali pirates, here.

    here. Labels: Piracy
    posted by McNabb Associates, P.C. @ 12:02 PM

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