Monday, March 21, 2011

To The Shores Of Tripoli

From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the Shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea

-U.S. Marine Corps Hymn

When I first heard we were bombing Libya the words and music to the Marine Corps Hymn started running through my brain. I knew the Halls of Montezuma referred to the Mexican-American War between Mexico and the United State which started in 1846, the year after we annexed Texas, but Tripoli? When and why had the U.S. sent Marines to Libya? It had to have been sometime after the American Revolution as the song has been around since before the mid 1800's. After a little research I found out what the words "the shores of Tripoli" refer to in the hymn.

The story starts in 1783 when Corsairs (pirates) from what was then know as the the Barbary States of Northern Africa (Now the countries of Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia, and Libya.) started attacking American ships in the Mediterranean. The U.S. ended these attacks by agreeing to pay a yearly tribute. This went on for fifteen years until the Pasha of Tripolitania, angered by the fact that the U.S. had by this time only paid one-fifth of the monies owed to them,  had the flag staff, still flying the American flag, in front of the American consulate in Tripolitania cut down. This act, of course, was interpreted as a deceleration of war.

The Tripolitan War lasted from 1801 to 1805 but the line in the hymn is specifically  about a detachment of Marines, along with 400 mercenaries, who marched 500 miles from Alexandria, Egypt to the port of city of Derne in Tropolitania. Durning the battle there a U.S. Marine, 1st Lt. Presley  O'Bannon,  led a successful  attack on the harbor defenses which panicked the Tropolitania soldiers into running away and leaving their loaded cannons behind. O'Bannon then raised the American flag and turned the cannons around to face the town and the retreating soldiers. Legend has it that the Pasha of Tripolitania was so impressed by O'Bannon's bravery that he gave him his sword. This supposed act has become such a part of Marine Corps mythology that every Marine Corps officer is given a copy of that sword when they graduate or are commission  into the Corps.

So here we are back in Tripoli, or as least over the skies of Tripoli, and if at some point we do have Marines on the ground in Tripoli, what then?  Tripoli is a highly charged symbolic place in Marine Corps history and I cannot help but wonder how charged  the idea of Marines being back on  Tripoli-an soil will be to the people of Libya.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting history lesson.  I think that you bring up a good point about the symbolic nature of Tripoli and the Marines.  What will this mean to them if they get there on foot?  Something to watch and learn, I suppose.