It was a conflict that tested a young nation, and challenged the leadership of several Presidents. With echoes of today's flashpoints in the Middle East, the Barbary Wars -- which lasted intermittently from 1801 until 1815 and ended in the Madison administration -- pitted the newly formed United States Navy against Muslim pirates from Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, provinces of the Ottoman Empire that preyed on American shipping and enslaved American sailors.
In "Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History" (Sentinel, $27.95), Don Yaeger and "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade has written a swashbuckling account that showcases the exploits of forgotten heroes like Stephen Decatur -- and some of the first action seen by the Marine Corps -- as the United States emerged as a power on the world stage.
Newsday recently spoke with Massapequa resident Kilmeade, whose previous historical effort was "George Washington's Secret Six," about the Revolutionary War spy ring that operated out of Setauket. He'll be signing copies of the new book at Book Revue in Huntington on Nov. 10.
How did this war change American history? A lot of books make that claim.
For several reasons. We did not want a standing army, because we feared it could overthrow the government. There was a fear of military power. We were slow to realize the threat , but it affected our trade in the Mediterranean, which was substantial. We learned to use the Navy, and learned from our mistakes, which helped us in the War of 1812.
Though your story shows how military power could make a difference, wasn't diplomacy as much a part of this conflict as firepower?
Jefferson thought we had to show strength. We were willing to talk, and to make payments. But we had to show the world how to do it.
Though you cover the presidential politics of engaging with the Barbary pirates, you highlight the exploits of some lesser-known figures like Stephen Decatur and William Eaton, the U.S. consul turned warrior.
You buy the book because of Jefferson, but you remember Edward Preble , Eaton and Decatur. We are really made out of the people in camouflage and face paint who are doing the fighting out of the headlines.
Jefferson and his predecessor John Adams had differences of opinion about how to get the job done. If Jefferson wanted a fleet in "constant cruise" in Barbary waters, Adams warned that "We ought not to fight them at all unless We determine to fight them forever."
They're both right. Jefferson was right in his actions. Our interests were threatened. He, and then Madison, had to go and finish the job. It was really a special forces operation.
How did this conflict help us in the War of 1812?
Communications and coordination [between ships] were key elements in both wars. We figured out how to do it with speed and guile, to help other ships. We went to school on what things were effective.
WHAT Brian Kilmeade discusses "Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates"
WHEN | WHERE Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington
INFO 631-271-1442, bookrevue.com