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America Fought Its Very First Foreign Wars Against Muslim Nations

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From its very inception, the United States of America has been a nation built around war.  Currently the USA has been involved in many wars in the Middle East, Africa and around the world fighting mostly Muslim nations.  But, it is a little know fact that the very first series of wars the United States fought on foreign soil were also against Islamic nations.  The War of Independence and the War of 1812 are two of the most widely known wars from the early days of America, however in 1801 as well as 1815 the USA fought wars against the muslim nations in northern Africa.  

The Barbary Wars

These wars fought between the United States of America and the Muslim Nations of Northern Africa were known as the First Barbary War and the Second Barbary War, and collectively the Barbary Wars.  This series of conflicts has its roots in terrorism which essentially mirrors the root of today's conflicts in the Middle East.  In the late 1700s the United States was a newly born country with a fledgling army and government.  Generally, it did not have the firepower to sufficiently defend itself in the event of an attack on foreign soil.  The Ottoman Empire which extended from Saudi Arabia to modern day Northern Africa controlled states in Africa collectively known as the Barbary States.  These Muslim nations saw that the United Sates now conducted trade for itself with other nations, particularly those in Europe and often sent merchants through the Mediterranean.  Being a small nation at the time with money for a navy, the USA did not have the ability to defend its ships sufficiently when on foreign waters and the Barbary Nations took advantage of this.  

The Pirates of the Barbary Coast

Known as the primarily as Barbary pirates, the naval power of the Barbary states was not well formalized and consisted largely of conscripted members.  However, they were numerous and over the course of five years the pirates of the Barbary Coast raided dozens of US ships and eventually captured hundreds even thousands of American and European men.  Believing the violence could be stopped with ransom payments and appeasement, the United States headed by president Thomas Jefferson, paid well over $1 million to the pirates of the Barbary coast at a time when their budget for the government was only $10 million.  These payments had little to no effect on the action of the Barbary pirates and this led Jefferson to declare the First Barbary War against these nations.  

The First Barbary War

The United States went on the build its first naval force of six frigates.  Sending them into deployment in the Mediterranean sea, all but one ship survived the war and all were successful in driving the pirates of the Barbary Coast back into Northern Africa and eventually openeing fire on the City of Tripoli until the king surrendered and agreed to the terms of the US which included complete repayment of ransom money.  This began a time of relative peace in the Mediterranean sea for western merchants until after the war of 1812. 

The Second Barbary War

After the War of 1812, the pirates of the Barbary Coast saw a renewed weakness in the United States military because of its costly conflict with Great Britain which left much of its capital city in ruins.  The Barbary pirates resumed their terrorism of United States merchant ships.  Unbeknownst to the pirates, the United States had greatly increased its arsenal and was no longer a minor world nation.  Within a year the US navy had again repelled the Barbary pirates and forced negotiations from their governments.  


This final Barbary War marked the end of centuries of terrorism carried out by the pirates of the Barbary coast.  Within just a few years the nations of Europe as well as the United States had built up substantially sized fleets with much more sophisticated technology than the Barbary pirates could match.  Soon the western nations developed iron clad warships which declared supremacy in the Mediterranean sea. This began centuries long peace in the area and a gradual end to piracy as an effective means of national empowerment.



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  1. "First Barbary War." Wikipedia. 3/08/2014 <Web >
  2. "Second Barbary War." Second Barbary War. 3/08/2014 <Web >

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