Posted by: Lister | August 7, 2009

Richard Sommers

An article by John Feffer via TomDispatch:

It was September 4, 1804. The United States was at war with the Barbary pirates along the North African coast. The U.S. Navy was desperate to penetrate the enemy defenses. Commodore Edward Preble, who headed up the Third Mediterranean Squadron, chose an unusual stratagem: sending a booby-trapped U.S.S. Intrepid into the bay at Tripoli, one of the Barbary states of the Ottoman empire, to blow up as many of the enemy’s ships as possible. U.S. sailors packed 10,000 pounds of gunpowder into the boat along with 150 shells.

When Lieutenant Richard Sommers, who commanded the vessel, addressed his crew on the eve of the mission, a midshipman recorded his words:

“‘No man need accompany him, who had not come to the resolution to blow himself up, rather than be captured; and that such was fully his own determination!’ Three cheers was the only reply. The gallant crew rose, as a single man, with the resolution yielding up their lives, sooner than surrender to their enemies: while each stepped forth, and begged as a favor, that he might be permitted to apply the match!”

The crew of the boat then guided the Intrepid into the bay at night. So as not to be captured and lose so much valuable gunpowder to the enemy, they chose to blow themselves up with the boat. The explosion didn’t do much damage — at most, one Tripolitan ship went down — but the crew was killed just as surely as the two men who plowed a ship piled high with explosives into the U.S.S. Cole in the Gulf of Aden nearly 200 years later.

I haven’t checked that quote, but a book is cited. Wiki has an article on Richard Somers.

Feffer’s article gives some stats, starting via Ami Pedahzur.

Suicide bombers, in other words, have targeted civilians, military installations, non-military sites of great significance, and political leaders. In suicide attacks, Hezbollah, Tamil Tiger, and Chechen suicide bombers have generally focused on military and police targets: 88%, 71%, and 61% of the time, respectively. Hamas, on the other hand, has largely targeted civilians (74% of the time).

[…] According to researcher Daniel Byman, the drones kill 10 civilians for every suspected militant.

[…] We have our suicide bombers — we call them heroes. We have our culture of indoctrination — we call it basic training. We kill civilians — we call it collateral damage.

[…We] have been indoctrinated to view the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a legitimate military target and September 11th as a heinous crime against humanity. We have been trained to see acts like the attack in Tripoli as American heroism and the U.S.S. Cole attack as rank barbarism.

I’m not sure the fictional references to “I am Legend” etc, were useful. But a good article, anyway.

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