The Pirate Coast

Written by Richard Zacks
Review by John R. Vallely

The war between the Barbary Pirates and the United States lasted from 1801-1805 and remains largely unknown and forgotten, save for the line in the U.S. Marine Corps hymn “…to the shores of Tripoli.” Corsairs based in Tripoli had preyed on American merchant ships since the U.S. had achieved independence. The fledgling U.S. Navy had attempted to eliminate the menace but was only partially successful. Frustrated by this lack of success through traditional means, President Thomas Jefferson instructed one-time U.S. Army Captain William Eaton to undertake a secret mission to overthrow the government in Tripoli. The colorful and imaginative Eaton, accompanied only by a small force of U.S. Marines, marched across the desert and, after convincing a number of Bedouins and Arabs to join him, captured the stronghold of Derne. The author manages to highlight the drama and uncertainty that lay at the foundation of all SAS-type operations to bring an early 19th century contest into the equally uncertain stage of 21st century national decision-making.