We have a claim on the arsenals of London as well as of Hanyang and, what is more, it is delivered to us by the enemy’s transport corps. This is the sober truth; it is not a jest.
~ Mao Tse Tung1
In 78 BC, a then young Julius Caesar was captured by pirates and held for ransom. (Rome had long complained about, but secretly tolerated, the piracy because it was a prime source of slaves.) Initially, in Caesar’s case, the pirates demanded twenty talents of silver as his ransom, maybe half a million dollars in modern purchasing power. He scoffed, insisting that he was worth far more, and inducing the pirates to raise the ransom to fifty talents. He then spent his captivity entertaining his captors with speeches, poetry, and writings, and his seemingly preposterous promise to return and crucify the lot of them.
The money having been collected and paid, the pirates – true to their word – released Caesar. He then – true to his word – raised a force, went after and captured the pirates, and crucified them.2
There are a couple of lessons involved in the story of Caesar and the pirates. One – a bit of the backstory – is that, when you make it profitable, in other words, when you pay the ransom or buy the goods, you create more piracy and kidnapping. Another is that, when you crucify the bastards, the ones crucified are not going to take any more hostages. A third is that, for the ones you don’t catch and put to death, the prospect of ultimate, and ultimately unpleasant, execution, may mean that they can’t, and know they can’t, afford to let their victims go, for some, while still others will be deterred.
A suspicion, though it doesn’t arise to the level of a lesson, is that, given the probability that the hostage takers will not let their victims go, people will be less inclined to pay.
Since those long ago but much more wise and enlightened days, however, we seem to have lost the trick for dealing with kidnappers, hostage takers, and pirates. Yes, it is a great pity.
Recently the President announced that the US government would no longer interpose the threat of prosecution upon people who opted to pay ransom privately for the return of kidnapped loved ones, noting, in his announcement, that no one has ever been prosecuted under the law for paying ransom.3 The implication seemed to be that the law was useless.
Of course, I only went to Washington and Lee Law School, top decile at the time, yes, but not Harvard, and I wasn’t even on the Law Review, let alone the head of it. Still, in my own simple minded way, I cannot help but note that the fact that something has never been prosecuted under a particular law is not quite the same thing as saying that the law has been ineffective.
It may have been ineffective, of course. Conversely, it may have been completely or almost completely effective – the threat of prosecution being enough to deter many, most, or all from paying ransoms.4 The end result, no or few prosecutions, would be the same. One suspects the President knows this, but that not too many others will pick up on it.5
In the real world, though, true enough, the law has only been somewhat effective. We know this because we know that various humanitarian groups have been “redeeming” (that’s code for ransoming) slaves in Africa for some time.6 It hasn’t worked – as near as we can tell – except to raise the price of slaves (since the redeemers can outbid the locals), while not reducing the local demand, hence to increase the number of slaves taken.7 Why, one might almost think that there was a parallel going on to the First Century rise in piracy on Rome’s sea. Still, some members of the International Community Of The Ever So Caring And Sensitive get to feel good about themselves by redeeming slaves, and, if that means that more slaves are taken, what does that weigh against ICOTESCAS’ good feelings and self-congratulations?8 Besides, ICOTESCAS is almost entirely white, while the coffled kids marched off as slaves are black.9
Slave raiding in the Sudan, though, is pretty retail stuff. Normal criminal kidnapping is, likewise, small scale and reasonably controllable by good police work. It is unfortunate, to be sure. We should certainly put to death, preferably by “Christianization,”10 those who are guilty of it. But the crimes are not existential; with maybe a low of twenty thousand to a high of two hundred thousand slaves in the Sudan, out of a population approaching forty million, they are not even wholesale, even though the “redeeming” sometimes seems suspiciously wholesale.
In any case, for the criminal kidnapper there is a point where wealth and risk intersect, and beyond which the kidnapper finds it unwise to proceed. Similarly, for the slave market, there is a point where the land’s carrying capacity cannot deal with any more slaves, and where those who can afford young female slaves for sex find that lust fatigue sets in, and there is no need for many, or any, more. And this without even the First Lady holding up a sign.
Not so for the terroristic political kidnapper and hostage taker; they are insatiable until either their movement is destroyed or their cause is victorious. There, the concept of Danegeld kicks in:
And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ‘em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!
It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: –
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.11
A lot of this variant on Danegeld gets paid, perhaps more today than ever before, though likely not so much as will be paid tomorrow and in the future. Enough is paid, actually, that there has arisen such a thing as ransom, kidnap, and extortion insurance, which usually reimburses for the ransom, along with paying for negotiators, guards, and couriers. One of the interesting features of this type of policy is that the insured is usually not supposed to know he is insured, lest he contribute to or collude in his own kidnapping.12
Collusion? Well, by way of illustration, there is very little doubt in my mind that both Giuliana Sgrena13 and Suzanne Osthoff14 – once held for ransom in Iraq – were voluntary kidnappees, who intended from the get-go to raise money to support terrorism,15 and who knew their governments would act as de facto ransom insurers.
That, however, is only half the story. While we may fret over the plight of Americans held hostage, and sympathize with their loved ones at home, we ought not forget that it isn’t just a question of money. Indeed, money is fungible; money is exchangeable. The criminal kidnapper may exchange ransom money for quality of life. Not so, for the most part, the political kidnapper. In these cases, money is exchangeable for, oh, say, explosives and detonators to conduct bombings like Mussayib,16 Kadhimiya,17 and Khanaqin.18
Maybe I don’t care about the Iraqi victims of terrorist bombings and maybe I do. But some people, ICOTESCAS, say, certainly claim to care. So, liberal folks, sensitive and caring folk, while you’re busy emoting and congratulating yourself on the President’s kindness, sensitivity, and caring, you might take just a moment to reflect on the price in blood – oh, and severed limbs and heads, too, to be sure – to be paid by brown women and children, so that you can feel like that. ‘Course, you’re white and they’re brown and, so one supposes, that makes a great deal of difference.
In any case, remember that we have just officially announced that it’s okay to pay ransom. The president assures us that the government will not pay, but, given Italy’s bending over on behalf of Giuliana Sgrena, and Germany’s releasing Mohammed Ali Hammadi, one of the murderers of our sailor, Robert Stethem, on behalf of Suzanne Osthoff, one tends to doubt that the United States will, long term, prove to have any more fortitude than Italy and Germany have shown.
And, so, if we are not providing arms to terrorism directly – though we are certainly arming ISIS indirectly (well, maybe sometimes directly19 – we will certainly be arming many political terrorists indirectly.20 The advantage of this policy, arming them with money, is that, unlike poor Mao, quoted above, and the People Liberation Army, this policy gives the enemy, the terrorists, more choice in their weaponry. You can’t get more enlightened and sensitive than that:
“Shall we buy a car and some C4 to build a car bomb, Achmed, or twenty-three suicide vests and a young female slave to tide us over until we each get our seventy-two houris?”
1 Strategic Problems of China’s Revolutionary War, Selected Works, I, p.252
4 There are, after all, people walking around today only because of the legal inconvenience associated with shooting them.
5 The laws in question can be found here: ttps://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1202, and here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1201.
7 Note that it is entirely possible that many “slaves” were never any such thing. See: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/i60-minutes-ii-i-slave-trade/
8 Let me go on record here as saying that, if the money spent on redeeming slaves were, instead, spent on raising an armed force to counterraid, free the slaves, and “Christianize” those who are holding slaves, it would be a lot more effective, even if the members of ICOTESCAS didn’t feel quite as good about themselves.
9 Yes, as a matter of fact I do despise idiotic, self-centered, and ultimately wicked and evil white liberals, who seem to constitute a very large percentage of liberals, as a whole.
10 See note 8, above; Christianization of the wicked, just as for the good, involves wooden crosses and nails. It is pure theological gravy that this is in accord with Sura Five of the Quran. What? You’re not going to object to the teachings of a theological book revered mostly by brown folks, are you, white liberal?
11 Rudyard Kipling, Danegeld
15 I discussed a couple of ways to deal with this problem in A Desert Called Peace, free download, here.
18 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4448798.stm. No, I don’t think the 6 million allegedly paid by Italy for Giuliana Sgrena’s release actually went to these three bombings. Rather, it went to replace money spent on these three bombings, so that bombings could continue. If the moral distinction is lost on you, you’re obviously just not caring and sensitive enough.
20 This – http://www.duffelblog.com/2015/06/pentagon-to-supply-isis-directly/ – is a parody. It is a strange and sad day when a parody makes more sense than actual policy.
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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