[This article was first published in 2013 on a website that has since gone defunct.]
What is it about pirates? Why are people so attracted to them? Why is today, September 19, celebrated by some people as talk-like-a-pirate-day?
In the past, pirates held no attraction for me, as I believed they were mere robbers of the sea. I was not interested in thievery, I was not interested in treasure, and I had no desire to talk like Long John Silver from Treasure Island.
But in the past two years, as I became immersed in the life story of Jean Laffite, I think I came across the real reason people are so interested in pirates. Pirates live by their own rules, often form their own governments and offer an alternative way to mete out justice. Many of the people that we think of as pirates today – people like Jean Laffite – were actually privateers. They performed as private navies, doing the work that real naval officers would not do, for a fraction of the cost.
Laffite’s real crime before the battle of New Orleans was tax evasion. He and his brother Pierre came to Louisiana as smugglers. They got around the Embargo Act which outlawed all international trade. They were importers of goods people wanted, but could not get. When the Embargo was lifted, they avoided customs, and brought ashore goods to be purchased by the citizens of New Orleans. Everybody was grateful for what they did – except two groups: merchants who sold for a higher cost and the United States government’s Revenue Service.
Now, supposedly, the Revenue Service was collecting taxes so that it could finance the United States Navy in the War of 1812. But when the British came to recruit Laffite, he gave all the information about the British to the local authorities who turned it over to the U.S, Navy. And the Navy went on the attack – not against the British – but against Laffite’s Baratarian privateers. They cared more about tax evasion than an invading army. They looted the stores with all the goods belonging to the Laffites and sold them for profit. Commodore Patterson and his men took privateering ships that could have been used for the national defense and sold them for money to line their own pockets.
When despite all this, Laffite saved the United States from the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the goods the Navy confiscated from him were never returned. So, I ask you, who is the real pirate here?
People say that pirates – real pirates – are bad and they are against them, but that they enjoy putting on costumes and saying “Aargh” for a day. Just for fun. Doesn’t mean anything. But the real attraction of “pirates” is the one we seldom acknowledge – that they are a welcome alternative to the tyrannical governments that rob us every day of our hard earned cash – not in order to fight an invasive enemy – but just to line their own pockets.
Copyright 2013 Aya Katz