When one stops and contemplates world events, it is easy to descend into a downward spiral of depression and seriously consider digging an underground shelter and hold up there until all the craziness stops. Watching the evening news or reading up on current events on the Internet will lead us to pop a few antacid tablets. War on terrorism, war on drugs, border security, airport security, school shootings, political upheaval, presidential debates, cultural degradation; the list never ends. Do we not live in the worst of times?
At times like these, a little perspective is healthy. Consider our country in 1801 when we were faced with our first declared war against the Barbary States. The Barbary States were four quasi-independent entities in North Africa belonging to the Ottoman Empire, which for centuries sponsored piracy in the Mediterranean. The Barbary pirates seized ships, raided towns, held people for ransom, ran a slave trade and demanded tribute from European powers in exchange for safe passage for shipping. Once the United States gained its independence, it lost the protection of the British Empire. American shipping fell prey to the Barbary pirates. The United States began to pay tribute to the Barbary States and paid up to $1 million per year.
In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson put an end to the practice of paying tribute to the Barbary States. Thus began the First Barbary War (1801-1805), and Jefferson dispatched the fledgling U.S. Navy to the Mediterranean to protect American shipping. In 1803, the USS Philadelphia was captured intact by the pirates of Tripoli and the crew held hostage. The United States laid a naval blockade on Tripoli and commissioned William Eaton to lead an invasion of the city. By 1805, Eaton, along with eight Marines and a small mercenary army, captured the town of Derna, leading to peace negotiations and an end to the war.
The Barbary Wars can help us gain a healthy perspective to our present Global War on Terrorism. Consider the obstacles faced by our young nation 200 years ago as it stood alone against 19th century terrorism with a government not yet 20 years old, no standing Army or Navy, and no allies. Yet the United States prevailed and ended the scourge of the Barbary pirates. As Eaton and those eight Marines made history at Tripoli, we in the military today continue to make history; let us always take comfort in the One who controls history. Though we live in uncertain times, and there are many in the world who intend to do us harm, let us respond as King David of old did in similar circumstances when he wrote in Psalm 31:14, 15 “But I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.” No matter how bad times are, our times are assured in His hands.