I spend so much time on this blog correcting faulty language usage that I sometimes think I should be paid as an online dictionary. The latest Somali pirate crisis gives me yet another opportunity to point out that words have meaning.
First of all, I want to say congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in rescuing Captain Phillips. Job well done!
Now, on to that pesky language problem again.
I've seen a number of people trying to justify the actions of these pirates, calling them the Coast Guard for a nation with no government and no other form of national self defense. The Somali people have a legitimate complaint in the way their waters have been illegally treated by many foreign parties and they have a right to defend their territory from such actions. Having a legitimate complaint, however, does not justify any and every possible action that one might take to remedy the complaint. A wrong action remains a wrong action. In fact, it can become an even worse action because it removes attention from the legitimate complaint and focuses it on the bad behavior.
The distinction here stems from the same childish, self-centered mentalities that are the cornerstone of most criminal behavior. "I want it so you are wrong to stop me from having it." Witness the pirate response, threatening retaliation against the American "aggression". Just making such a statement requires a willful dismissal of the fact that the Somali pirates initiated the aggression and the Americans only responded. Witness the number of people who are trying to claim that pirates are a coast guard, a claim they would never accept if the pirates' tactics were turned on them.
A coast guard defends a nation's water ways against illegal or hostile activities. A coast guard does not indiscriminately attack and kidnap innocent bystanders! When the Somali fishermen banded together to try to stop foreign ships from committing illegal activities in their waters, they were completely within their rights and in the right. At that point, they could easily be called a coast guard and even deserved credit and praise for taking it upon themselves to defend themselves. When they branched out to kidnapping for ransom, they stopped being right and stopped being in any way justified or justifiable.
Many of you know that I am a writer of fiction as well as blogs like this. After the events of 9-11, I was troubled by a lot of what was happening and a lot of what was being said, but I could not find a way to put my troubles into satisfying words. So I created a fictional character to put them into words for me. Many of you who read my fiction have expressed to me that he is my most-loved character, so there is no need to go into too much detail here. I bring it up only because one of the most troubling issues I felt a need to answer then applies perfectly to this situation as well:
"You’re slavers! You trade other people’s lives for your goals. Whatever wrongs were committed against you don’t even matter anymore; you’ve buried them so deeply under your own crimes. You’re everything evil that happens to good ideas when they’re carried by weak people. You’re weak because you let it make you the same monster you’re fighting. Or maybe you were already the monster and just needed an excuse."
As short as it is, I believe that is the only speech I have ever put into the mouth of one of my characters, but it was a speech that expressed my frustration with the debate as it stood and it is a speech that still expresses my frustration with the debate as it stands.
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." It is probably the best known and most used quote from Friedrich Nietzsche but I sincerely wish that more people who claim to fight monsters would pay attention to what it means. Monsters must be fought, but creating new monsters in the process helps no one.