Price in Blood: Obama’s Ransom Order

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Mon, Jul 6 - 9:00 am EDT | 3 years ago by
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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

Lines of Departure: Obama's Ransom Order

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://, and here:


7 Note that it is entirely possible that many “slaves” were never any such thing. See:

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 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 – – 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 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

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  • Justin Watson

    The Era of the Divine Right to Good Feels will be the death of us all.

    • Tom Kratman

      Not all, surely; after all, the slave markets need to be filled with _someone_!

    • Justin Watson

      Right little ray of sunshine you always are, sir.

    • Tom Kratman

      “Always look on the bright side of life…”

    • Justin Watson

      You’ll see it’s all a show,
      Keep ‘em laughing as you go,
      Just remember that the last laugh is on you!

    • Tom Kratman


      Always look on the bright side of death…
      Even as you draw your terminal breath…

    • TBR

      Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it

      Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true

      You’ll see its all a show, keep ‘em laughin as you go

      Just remember that the last laugh is on you…

    • Tom Kratman

      Heads up; if you’re going to contribute to RTRH II, need it by 1 September or so. Drop me a line.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    Legally speaking, does this statement means anything more than “you won’t be prosecuted until January 2017, after which you’re fair game”?

    • Tom Kratman

      It has precedential power. The president who decides to say “We will now prosecute you for something that was effectively legal yesterday,” will pay a political price, since – as all caring and sensitive people know – such a president would simply not be caring and sensitive enough.

  • Toad Mib

    My ancestors where often kept as slaves. I think that I shall pass in joining them.

    • Tom Kratman

      Ummm…everyone’s ancestors, I think, expressly to include mine.

    • Justin Watson

      But you’re white, and therefore it is impossible that you have any inherent disadvantage due to your station in life because white. No, I don’t care that you grew up in a rough neighborhood in South Boston, or that you willingly served your country for multiple decades, you’re a white man and you’ve earned nothing in life because privilege.

    • Tom Kratman

      Well, clearly that, yes. And I certainly used to appear like a recruiting poster for the SS, so, since race doesn’t exist, unless you’re white – in which care irredeemable evil and bad and wicked and naughty and did I mention bad? and bad? And bad? – which is a race, apparently and which all right thinking people condemn and hate on sight because “look white” and privilege and raaaaaccciiissstttt!

      And, no, that sentence wasn’t supposed to make sense; it was only supposed to be descriptive of what passes for a thought process in lefty circles, today. The loons, you see, have been given the keys to the asylum.

    • sconzey

      I remember my father being shocked to learn that the Barbary pirates used to raid the south coast of England. Weirdly, everything I know about white slavery, I learned from a documentary about the history of the British seaside holiday, and this excellent novel.

    • Tom Kratman

      ISTR that the number of slaves taken from Europe was very close to the number of African slaves shipped to North America, and both by Islamic raiders and traders. But, ya know, brown and not white and religion of peace (marca registrada) so clearly it was privilege in action and those European girls carried off to concubinage and whoredom must have had it coming because white.

    • TBR

      And it took surprisingly long to root out “white slavery” by Barbary corsairs et al. German port cities were still convoying with own warships in the Med at the beginning of the 19th century until the temporary Napoleonic occupation and the “continental embargo” happened. In the end it was mostly the overmilitarization of the Mediterranean by the Royal Navy and other powers at the tail end of the Napoleonic Wars which effectively ended it.

      Ironic to think that it only took just around 30 years more to also largely and 30 years more to effectively end transatlantic “black” slavery by the RN’s underappreciated anti-slavery patrol, the most casualty suffering and intense “peacetime” military operation by my reckoning. Those sailors are the largely unsung heroes of the fight against slavery. They had more than 5.5 times the mortality rate of the other fleets for decades, with some particularly bad “plague” years having a mortality rate of 25%, that is a fleet mortality rate more than 15 times higher than that of any RN fleet in wartime.

    • Tom Kratman

      And how much less time if the approach taken had been Caesar’s?

  • Andrew Foss

    …Isn’t providing material aid and comfort to terrorists a felony? Isn’t piracy on the high seas the earliest form of terrorism, as evidenced by the consistent finding of pirates to be “Hostis Humani Generis”?

    Yet it seems to be illegal for the merchies to be armed. Hanging a couple pirates by their necks (with a few bullet holes) from the handrails until the freighter makes port would do more to stop piracy than rewarding them.

    • sconzey

      Hard to tell from this Wired article, but it seems not to be a matter for law-of-the-sea, but law of the flag nation, and many nations appear to be allowing merchant vessels to accept mercenary escorts.

      Edited-to-add: With that said, there’s a big difference in effectiveness between merely defending yourself against attack, and hanging pirates from the yard-arm.

    • Tom Kratman

      Nah, more complex than that. It goes fairly far back that an armed merchantman becomes an “auxilliary cruiser” and must be identified and registered as such. However, as with many things law and tranzi related, they pervert the law via glib sounding but groundless expansion to get the result that makes them happy. That’s how using smoke to screen the movement of our troops in Fallujah becomes a war crime, in ICOTESCAS’ eyes.

      And the approach as given in that wired article is approximately 100% wrong. Instead of warning shots, pirates should be enticed into range and engaged ruthlessly, if captured only for interrogation, trial, identification of the village they came from, and destruction of same, followed by execution of the pirates. I discussed how to do _that_, too, in Carnifex.

    • Rick Randall if I am mistaken, but isn’t there a subtle (but real) distinction between an armed merchant cruiser with *mounted* weapons, and a merchant ship that happens to have armed crewmen with weapons?

      Even during the heyday of designated armed merchant crewman, arms were still stocked aboard ships (albeit usually a few pistols and maybe a shotgun or rifle; but technically speaking, a belt fed machinegun carried by a crewman or an RpG or GL is not part of the ship’s battery; it is stored for use by the he ship’s *company*.

      That’s why the USN only assigns mount numbers to actual mounts *installed* on the ship – arms (even those intended for use aboard as “roving” AT/FP weapons) aren’t.

    • Tom Kratman

      Personal opinion, yes there is a difference and – other than the Fallujah factor, whereby smoke for screening is equated to Dresden 45 or Hamburg 43 – the reluctance here strikes me as simply bizarre.

    • Jack Withrow

      Can you point me towards the incident where they were claiming using smoke is a war crime? I remember vaguely hearing about it, but can’t remember any of the particulars.

    • Tom Kratman
    • Jack Withrow

      Thank You. I had forgotten about that film.

    • Tom Kratman

      No sweat.

    • Rick Randall

      I would also argue that the psychological factor inherent to incendiary weapons can make their use against troops in the open “a target requiring their use.”

      You use flame weapons against troops in the open in order to panic and disarray them, so as to shape the battlefield to your liking and reduce friendly casualties, reduce overall logistics burden (a little bit of horror can often do more than shit-tons of ball ammo), and incidentally, potentially reduce *enemy* casualties by inducing flight, surrender, or even just hunkering down out of the damned way. Like bayonets.

      But then, I have the *old* FM for “Flame Weapons”.

    • Tom Kratman

      Not sufficiently advantageous enough – necessity and requirement only amount to “advantageous” in war – to over come the presumption, I think, as long as HE or ICM will do. Of course, one can always call in mixed HE and WP (aka Shake and Bake) on “200 rifles and sets of LCE in the open…” but that’s questionable for the same reasons.

    • Rick Randall

      HE or ICM is probably better at *killing*. But they aren’t as good at breaking will and causing panic. That’s a practical differentiation – like utterly annihilating an Iraqi strong point with a B-52 strike after warning in advance, then advertising you’re going to do it again to specifically identified points a week or so later – encouraging the enemy to abandon those strong points.

      If the objective is a psychological one, over and above mere attrition, the advantage tonusing a weapon with a *far* greater psychological effect seems to meet the necessary proportionality restrictions. You’re not burning them to burn *them*, but to break the wills of their flanking units. Which will likely reduce overall enemy casualties.

      I would posit that, under those circumstances, the amount of more conventional ordnance to affect the enemy as effectively would be the “unnecessary suffering”. You’ll have to do direct attrition of three times as many troops, inflicting three times the casualties, for the same effect,, using HE and ICM.

      But I wouldn’t have a problem with routine use of incendiaries wherever they won’t unnecessarily endanger civilians or friendly objectives. Dead is dead. :)

    • Rick Randall
    • Tom Kratman

      Yes, but, again, that kind of use – for terror through unnecessary suffering – is generally agreed as being against the law.

    • guest

      Once again, not trying to be That Guy, but I was under the impression that our friend Willy Pete was significantly more effective, round for round, than HE, and, ceteris paribus, WP rounds have significantly larger bursting radii.

      Of course, DP-ICM is better yet on all counts, though I am given to understand that the same people who object to WP don’t like DP-ICM either, probably for all the same reasons. And hexachloroethane smoke rounds generate bigger smokescreens that last longer, round for round, anyway. I’ve also heard the claim that HC smoke, unlike WP smoke, is transparent to the thermal night vision gear that is still, for the moment, almost entirely solely in the hands of Western troops, but on that particular point I have no firsthand knowledge, and invite comment from people who actually know.

    • Tom Kratman

      Depends on the target. It’s pretty nearly ineffective against an armored column moving, highly effective against things flammable and stationary, but more effective against those, usually, if mixed with HE. It is more effective against troops dug in without overhead cover, because of the arc taken after detonation by the bits of WP. It is not especially effective against troops dug in with overhead cover because the bits of WP are unlikely to burn through the dirt-rocks-logs-steel plates of the cover. Enough of it can suffocate, but that’s perfectly okay within the laws of war. Think: “Poison Gas, bad; suffocation, good.”

      I’ve heard WP is somewhat effective against thermal imaging, but not all that effective. Last time I paid attention, we were working furiously toward a kind of smoke that would defeat

    • sconzey

      As the lawyer in this conversation, I’ll defer to your greater knowledge. How ‘armed’ does the merchantman have to be, to count as an ‘armed merchantman’ ? Does the captain’s sidearm count ?

      [Edit: I see someone's already asked this below...]

      That distinction as I see it is the difference between private vs. public solutions to the problem. If each ship carries small arms to fire warning shots at pirate ships, then that protects those ships. If a carrier group sends marines to raze pirate villages, that protects *all* ships. The public solution is cheaper in the long run, but requires international co-ordination. The private solution is much much more costly, but requires no co-ordination at all.

    • Tom Kratman

      There may be a little overlap on a Venn diagram, but, no, piracy and terrorism aren’t inherently and necessarily the same things.

    • Rick Randall

      Right. *BOTH* pirates and terrorists are both Hostis Humani Generis. But they aren’t the same, even though both are (or rather, were) outlawed for similar reasons.

    • Tom Kratman

      Notably that there is no sovereign who can control or be held accountable for them. Even state sponsored terrorism is too plausibly deniable to really counter the presumption. Though where we can prove a link to our own satisfaction, the proper response is bloody and expensive reprisal, against the state sponsoring terrorism.

      It’s interesting, actually, and a mark of either their stupidity or their dishonesty – not that these are always mutually exclusive – that the tranzi human rights lawyers and activists, looking to build a case for universal jurisdiction, sometimes will try to use piracy as an example, citing to it because of the horrendous nature of the pirate’s crimes. It’s more manufactured nonsense, of course, because privateering engaged in precisely the same kind of crimes, and – as any resident of Ciudad de Panama, circa 1672, could affirm – I mean _precisely_ – but were not enemies of mankind generally nor subject to universal jurisdiction. The difference was that privateers had a sovereign they operated under and who was responsible for policing and controlling them.

    • Rick Randall

      Exactly. We outlaw terrorists and pirates “like wolves”, because we can’t send a stern letter (or a sterner landing force, ” to the shores of Tripoli”, because they don’t answer to anyone and are under no sovereign’s protection.

    • Tom Kratman

      Ah, but try explaining that to a Tranzi who wants to pervert the law to suit an agenda. Why, yes, I have tried. It never works.

  • Jack Withrow

    Col, I have just about lost all capacity to be outraged at the Idiot-in-Chief’s actions anymore. He has put a target on every US Citizen’s back that will ever visit a foreign country from this point on. I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that the United States has the government and leadership it deserves. The vast majority of this country will not fight for anything anymore, but will instead cower in a corner praying no one will hurt them. So with that attitude on the part of the citizens, is it any wonder we get decisions like this from Herr Obama?

    • Tom Kratman

      Ya know, I didn’t think it belonged in the column, in good part because I knew an opening would appear here in comments, but one of the things that bug me about this is that the tin foil hat brigade is already convinced that Obama is a Muslim (I am skeptical he has any particularly strong religious convictions, actually, of any kind), who is aiding the enemy, and this just plays to that. Is this going to ease feeding funds to the terrorists? Yes, clearly. Does he intend that? It’s possible that some of his advisors do, perhaps, but him? I doubt that, too.

      I’m not his biggest fan, of course, but this is just a particularly bad mistake, made worse by an already vulnerable personal position.

    • Jack Withrow

      I don’t think he has any religious convictions what-so-ever. I do think he has bought into the line that the US needs to be punished for all of the so-called “evils” it has committed on the 3rd World. That I believe is his guiding principle. Whether through guile or whatever you want to call it, he has gained the office. Now that he is in office he has the opportunity to punish the US, and he will continue to do so until he leaves office.
      I am kind of confused though how giving families the legal authority to pay ransoms will in some way ease feeding funds to the terrorists.

    • Tom Kratman

      _Probably_ (almost certainly) some, at least, were previously deterred from negotiating with or paying ransom to terrorist hostage holders. They will no longer be deterred.

    • Jack Withrow

      Okay, I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying by allowing ransoms to be paid it would in some way lessen what the terrorists took in. My mistake.

    • Ciarog

      I for one kind of wish he actually was a Muslim; at least then he might have an ethos of some kind, beyond that which is innate to all politicians.

      Besides, unlike Moral Therapeutic Deists, Muslims seem to have no problem Christianizing other Muslims.

    • Neil

      As far as I can tell, the president is a run-of-the-mill Chicago socialist (having known more than a few of them), an archetype which has been part of America for a very long time. A dank and nasty part of America to be sure (excepting possibly Studs Terkel), but it can’t all be shining cities on hilltops I guess.

    • Tom Kratman

      My instincts run pretty strongly against anything remotely leftist. That said, there’s a lot to be said for balance, too. Thus, even if one is, as I believe I am, about at the right edge of the center, the position from which it is easiest to see the real lunatics on the extreme right, one can see benefit in keeping liberals and moderate socialists around to balance out the nuts on our side.

      This, of course, doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t take up arms and revolt in the event of a seriously lefty regime gaining power, in order to get rid of them before they’re really entrenched. _That_ is morally obligatory.

    • Neil

      My intuition leans heavily toward libertarian-populist, with the caveat that there’s always going to be someone holding a concentration of power. That’s why I have a bit of a soft spot for the old-time populist socialists like Terkel (and find both the Pete Seeger Stalinists and the Henry Ford Progressives abhorrent). Naivete kills, but it doesn’t make them bad people.

      But the a**holes always ye have with you. As you say, there’s a point where you’ve got to put them in their place. The only good thing I can say about the politics of our time is that the jerks are identifying themselves very clearly.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Regarding footnote #8, hear, hear.

    Thank you, as always, sir. Gonna be a long century…

    • Tom Kratman

      Fortunately, I won’t have to endure all of it.

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