It was late in morning on Friday October 25, 1793 when John Foss knew that his life was about to change.
As a sailor working on board a commercial vessel en route to southern Spain, Foss was near the end of his three-month voyage, somewhere off the coast of Portugal.
But some time after breakfast that Friday morning, Foss’s ship was taken by surprise by Algerian pirates; before anyone knew what was happening, the pirates had managed to board Foss’s ship, brandished their weapons, and taken all the American sailors captive.
Foss and his shipmates then spent the next several years in “the most abject slavery” in Algeria; and he later wrote a short book about his experiences, detailing the labor, torture, and punishment that he endured in captivity.
Foss’s story was all too familiar in the late 1700s; similar, brazen attacks by pirates in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean had been going on for more than a century, and many former captives who had managed to escape wrote about the hardship they endured as slaves.
(Many of the former captives also became vehement abolitionists in the US and spoke out against slavery in America.)
The numbers are staggering; some historians estimate that more than 1 million Christians were taken as slaves by North African pirates, almost as a sort of jihad being waged by fanatical Islamists of the Barbary States against Europeans and Americans.
In today’s parlance we would refer to the Barbary States as “state sponsors of terrorism”. And it was clear they were motivated equally by hate as they were by money.
Foss wrote in his book, for example, that his captors beat and ridiculed their Christian slaves for “disregarding the true doctrine of God’s last and greatest prophet, Mohammed”.
This was what global terrorism looked like in the early 1790s.
The US was a brand new country at the time and didn’t even have a Navy when John Foss was captured in 1793.
So at first, the fledgling US government tried to solve this piracy crisis by paying ‘tribute’ to the Barbary States in North Africa… essentially bribing them to leave US vessels alone.
But the tribute payments had become so large that they eventually took up roughly 20% of the entire US federal budget.
And bribing the pirates didn’t really do any good; terrorists, like bullies, thugs, and organized criminals, only respect strength. And bribing them made America look weak… so the pirates continued to raid American vessels even while taking the US government’s money.
But finally the US government put its foot down.
When Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, the pasha (ruler) of Tripolitana in modern-day Libya demanded a gift of $225,000. This was roughly 3% of federal tax revenue back then, worth roughly $150 billion today.
Jefferson had campaigned in part on fighting back against the terrorists. And when he refused to make the payment, Tripolitana declared war on the United States on May 10, 1801.
The Berbers assumed they would easily defeat the United States. But America’s brand new Navy and Marine Corps fought incredibly well. And after four debilitating years of war, the pasha finally capitulated and signed a peace treaty in 1805.
But adversary nations don’t simply vanish into the night. Quite often they wait patiently for another opportunity to strike. And less than a decade later they saw their chance.
With the US distracted by the War of 1812 and European powers busy fighting Napoleon on their own soil, Barbary pirates once again returned to raiding vessels in the North Atlantic.
At first the US prioritized the War of 1812 and focused all of its resources on defeating Britain. But literally two weeks after winning that war, America turned its full attention back to the terrorist states and sent a massive fleet to North Africa.
The Berbers were so terrified at the sight of America’s navy that they surrendered almost immediately, and the entire ‘conflict’ lasted a mere three days.
Every single American captive was returned. Over 1,000 Christian slaves were freed. And the US even had some of its tribute money returned.
More importantly, the United States had gained esteem and reputation around the world. Foreign nations quickly learned to not test American resolve… or the US military.
This is how America won the first ‘War on Terror’. And it’s one of the most obvious lessons from history: dominant powers are respected and feared.
At the peak of their power, the entire world knew not to mess with the Romans. Or the Mongols. Or Alexander the Great.
Weakness, on the other hand, is taken advantage of. And we’ve been watching this happen in the United States for the past several years.
America’s reputation for strength and invincibility is rapidly fading. Adversary nations no longer have any sense of fear or dread. And they know there are virtually zero consequences for their aggression.
The world has witnessed the humiliating US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The complete lack of response from the US government against repeated Chinese and Russian cyberattacks. And the implementation of ultra-woke policies, diversity and inclusion offices, and drag queen recruiters in the US military.
They can see that military recruiting numbers are at record lows, that mission readiness is at historically low levels, and that major weapons systems are quickly becoming obsolete.
More importantly, they see bizarre language and signaling, like when Joe Biden suggested a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine would be OK. Or when the US government talks tough (like threatening “consequential action”) but then does absolutely nothing.
They see the US government showing weakness in negotiation, like when America traded its #1 highest value Russian prisoner (arms dealer Viktor Bout) in exchange for a WNBA player. Or when the US gave Iran billions of dollars in exchange for a handful of Iranian-American hostages.
The US government is sending a very clear signal to the world: America has no stomach to fight, no willingness to suffer. So if you kidnap and ransom our citizens, we will shower you with free money.
These same displays of weakness carry on at home as well.
The border is a complete mess and the federal government does nothing.
Local governments willingly put criminals on the streets. Politicians literally make campaign promises that they will release criminals onto the streets, and voters actually put them in office.
Both the media and political classes cover up for violent protesters, describing those who loot, riot, and burn as “mostly peaceful”. Naturally they don’t bother prosecuting such criminality, and instead justify it as activism.
Yet those who take matters into their own hands to maintain order and peace are the ones who end up being prosecuted. It’s truly mind boggling.
Then there are the once-hallowed institutions who condemn pro-Israel supporters while protecting those who support the murder of babies at the hands of Hamas terrorists.
Adversary nations and terrorist groups see all of this. And they are completely emboldened by it.
Now there have been attacks on US military sites in the Middle East. Yet the Defense Department’s response has been paltry at best. Instead the Biden Administration is pleading with Israel to delay its own counterattack into Gaza.
They’re not interested in kicking anyone’s ass, demonstrating American resolve, or proving that the United States is still a powerful nation to be feared and respected.
Instead they’re stressing about how to get more humanitarian supplies into Gaza.
This is the way of the West now. They think that kindness and understanding will win the day. They simply don’t understand that their adversaries only respect strength… and view kindness as weakness.
Now, if we’re being honest, this trend is probably going to get worse, i.e. more conflict, more attacks, more adversaries. I highly doubt that all of these bad people will suddenly change their minds and embrace peace and stability. And I doubt even more than our expert class will suddenly grow a pair.
And as frustrating as this is to watch, you and I cannot change the trajectory of the West. The best we can do is prepare for obvious risks, put ourselves in a position of strength, and hope that things improve.
I’ve written extensively that one of those steps is to consider having another place to go… having a second residency or even a second passport in a foreign country where you can go with your family if the need ever arises.
In a world where the expert class keeps taking a wrecking ball to western civilization, it is completely sensible to consider having this option. And I believe it a critical part of a Plan B.
This strategy is a lot more sensible than waiting for the experts to find their brains and their backbone.