Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Maglog: Harpers Magazine January 2009

What I learned from Harper's Magazine, January 2009, Lewis Lapham's Notebook:

... they might wish to consult Robert Patton’s Patriot Pirates, a history of the Revolutionary War at sea published in a timely fashion last spring soon after the prize crew from JPMorgan Chase swarmed aboard the wreck of Bear Stearns. Patton suggests, and offers a good deal of evidence to demonstrate, that our war of independence was won by the stout-hearted greed of New England ship captains licensed by the Continental Congress in the autumn of 1775 to plunder, burn, or sell at auction British vessels bringing munitions and military stores to the king’s regiments quartered on the merchants of Boston. The colonists at the time had few other means of acquiring weapons with which to give voice to their rebellion, and General George Washington understood that his ill-equipped and untried troops were not likely “to do much in a land way” against the superior force of the British Army. It occurred to the general to admit the servants of Mammon to the kingdom of Heaven with the thought that a squadron of privateers steered on the compass bearings of murderous self-interest might inflict enough damage on Britain’s overseas trade to persuade the British Parliament that war with its North American colonies was a losing proposition.

Opponents of the policy thought it unworthy of Christian gentlemen, one likely to encourage practices both vicious and depraved, tending to “the destruction of the morals of the people.” ... the objections were overruled by the advocates of piracy as public service, among them John Adams, who informed his fellow representatives in Philadelphia that the innovative investment strategy securitized the criminal collateral. “It is prudent,” he said, “not to put virtue to too serious a test. I would use American virtue as sparingly as possible lest we wear it out.”

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