There is a scene that sticks in my head from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. As Captain Jack Sparrow is entering harbor, he passes a skeleton hanging in a cage from a cliff. The cage has a note warning pirates that a similar fate awaits them in harbor. The impression is that the skeleton once belonged to a pirate that was left in the cage as a warning to other pirates. The harbor Johnny Depp's character is heading towards apparently takes a pretty dark view on piracy.
And why shouldn't they? Movies and books have romanticized the pirate world, but there is a reason words like bloodthirsty and cut throat accompany pirates. Real life pirates, both in the Caribbean and off the coast of Africa, are bad guys. They are true parasites on the world. They steal the lifeblood of the rest of the world. As Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal points out, "Pirates, said Cicero, were hostis humani generis – enemies of the human race – to be dealt with accordingly by the captors. Tellingly, Cicero's notion of piracy vanished in the Middle Ages…" Pirates weren't extinct, but they were close. Now they seem to be reemerging. Many of us have read about the supertanker captured by pirates. Did you know that while that story has been unfolding, pirates have captured nine vessels? Did you know that pirates have attacked 80 vessels this year?
The two articles mentioned above point to one reason for their return: our failure to deal with them in the manner they deserve. In today's world, we have an aversion to severely punishing people, even if their own actions have warranted that punishment. Like terrorists, today's governments are unsure how to handle pirates. Do we give them Constitutional rights? Do we detain them until an impartial jury can be assembled? What happens if they are captured? Do they get Geneva Convention protection? According to the United Nations, if a military vessel suspects another ship might be a pirate ship, it is to first send over a boarding party to discover the true intent of said Black Pearl. Gone are the days of placing a shot across her bow.
But perhaps that is the problem with our society and with pirates, terrorists, and others. We are uncertain how to deal with problems that demand a quick resolution. Some people act with such malice that they deserve no protection from international bodies. Pirates and terrorists play on our fear, and would destroy any society they could lay their hands on. Cicero, and Mr. Stephens have it right: Hang them!