I was all about pirates when I was a little kid. They were all the rage. My daddy bought me a set of books when I was real small called Children's Classics. "Treasure Island" was one of my favorites from that collection and I loved reading all about Long John Silver and Captain Flint and Jim Hawkins. Disney brought Barrie's creation, "Peter Pan," to life through animation around that time, too, and I secretly admired Captain Hook.
Plus I read a lot of stories about Blackbeard the pirate and was amazed to learn that he actually might have hidden his stolen plunder along what would become the Georgia coast.
The pirate culture was pretty appealing to a young boy. What 6-year-old lad wouldn't want to walk around with a talking parrot on his shoulder or wear a black eye patch? And how cool would it be to have a hook for a hand or stump around on a wooden leg? I mean, you know, if you were 6 and didn't know any better.
And pirates made people walk the plank and buried chests full of treasure on tropical beaches and had sword fights and sailed the seven seas on fast moving ships and climbed up on cargo nets and swung from masts and climbed up into crow's nests and looked for land through telescopes.
"Fifteen men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. Drink and the devil had done for the rest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum."
Bandanas, big blousy shirts, the Jolly Roger - you get the picture. Later Disney romanticized the pirate culture even more by creating the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disney World and Disneyland and by the time I was old enough to visit either, honesty compels me to admit that the thought of chasing lusty wenches through a burning village appealed to my base instincts - perhaps even more than walking around with a talking parrot on my shoulder. And of course when the Disney folks started casting Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in the first series of movies I know anything about that are based on a theme park attraction, the romance of the pirate culture was embraced by a whole new generation.
A tattoo artist in Key West told me that he has done twice as many skull and crossbones tattoos as Confederate flags since the first Jack Sparrow movie came out. Go figure. And every time I get near the ocean I play and sing along with Jimmy Buffet's hit, "A Pirate Looks at Forty," although, truth be known, most Parrot Heads have to look backward to see 50. Way backward for those that are close to my age.
And all that is fine when you are talking about fantasy and fairy tales and adventure stories that appeal to young boys. But the pirate problem we have now, off the coast of Somalia, isn't a fairy tale. It is real. Very, very real. And the pirates aren't lovable characters with peg legs and parrots. They are murderers and thieves and it is high time that somebody did something about them.
Navy Seals shot three of them through the head last week, so maybe that's a start, but it hasn't seemed to deter them much so far. The pirates have already fired upon American ships and planes this week and have captured several other vessels that happened to be sailing under the flags of other nations but could have just as easily been flying the stars and stripes.
This wasn't our first run-in with pirates, of course. Back at the beginning of the 19th century pirates were running rampant along the Barbary Coast, much like the Somali pirates are doing today. They were capturing merchant ships and demanding tribute, which most nations paid - including the United States. Until Thomas Jefferson became president that is. He sent the Marines to fight the Barbary pirates, all the way to the shores of Tripoli, and established a precedent that the U.S. did not negotiate with or pay tribute to thieves and terrorists.
Well, I say that, once again, it's time for the world to stand up and say enough is enough. Somali pirates have reportedly stolen or taken in ransom over $150 million over the past 12 months and have led to a drastic increase in shipping costs and impeded the delivery of food aid to countries that desperately need it.
Last October the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution urging all nations with vessels in that particular region to use military force to repel the pirates. That's one UN resolution I am down with. The U.S. Navy took a big step last week and the French even captured a so-called "mother ship" with 11 criminals on board - and not an eye patch or peg-leg among them.
I say Vive la France! Now maybe a few more nations will join the fray and we can make dressing like a pirate socially acceptable again. And I hope we do it before Halloween. I picked up a great eye patch and bandana in Key West last month - while I was getting a skull and crossbones tattoo.