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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Catholic Pirates and
        Greek Merchants
Pirates, Terrorists, and Warlords: The History, Influence, and Future of Armed Groups around the World
Edited by Jeffrey H. Norwitz
Skyhorse Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-1-60239-708-8, $16.95


While the title of this book provides a glimpse into the subject matter covered, Jeffrey Norwitz, in his introduction, provides a clearer definition of what or who constitute these armed groups.

For our purposes, this edited collection will consider armed groups to include classic insurgents, terrorists, guerrillas, militias, police agencies, criminal organizations, war-lords, privatized military organizations, mercenaries, pirates, drug cartels, apocalyptic religious extremists, orchestrated rioters and mobs, and tribal factions.

This collection of essays covers traditional areas of research, such as history, sociology, religion, and economics, but also explores ethics, education, law, and more. The introduction also summarizes each essay and why its inclusion is important.

The essays in Part One, History and Armed Groups, discuss pirates, Vikings, Teutonic knights, Italian Red Brigades, Cambodia, East Timor’s FRETILIN Guerillas, the Irish Republican Army, and Counterinsurgency. Part Two deals with today’s context and environment. These essays examine the threat at sea, the law as it concerns armed groups, globalization and transformation of these bodies, deterring them, sanctuary and geopolitics, piracy, armed street gangs, and prosecuting homegrown extremists. Part Three concerns the role of religion, while the next section concentrates on ways of rethinking how we look at armed groups. The final group of essays peers into the future. All the essays are written by respected experts in their fields, some of whom have firsthand knowledge of these armed groups.

Those essays of particular interest to pirate researchers are:

  1. Peter T. Underwood’s “Pirates, Vikings, and Teutonic Knights” discusses the three basic categories in which armed groups can be classified with pirates being at one end of the spectrum and the knights at the other end. He clearly shows the differences and similarities between these categories and how one can evolve from one to another in a cyclical fashion. An aspect of particular importance that is considered here pertains to tacit government support.
  2. Rohan Gunaratna’s “The Threat to the Maritime Domain: How Real is the Terrorist Threat?” talks about how terrorists and guerrillas develop maritime capabilities and how they’ve penetrated the seas in support of their operations, as well as in mounting attacks.
  3. Martin N. Murphy’s “Piracy and the Exploitation of Sanctuary” explores seven factors that permit piracy to grow, for without policing the havens on land, piracy exists. Then he looks at the future, particularly as it pertains to four regions where these seven factors allow piracy to be a problem.

All but one of the writings was written specifically for this volume, so readers won’t find the information elsewhere. That makes this a key book for anyone delving into armed gangs. Each writer’s credentials are provided to show why he or she is best qualified to write on the topic. Endnotes and resource lists are also provided, as is an appendix that contains the United Nations Guidelines on Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups.

Norwitz concludes his introduction with these words:

The purpose of this volume is to prepare ourselves for when we discover, unexpectedly, that the future is here.

To that end this goal is achieved, and anyone who reads this book will not only have an eye-opening experience, but will also come away with much to digest and consider. Pirates, Terrorists, and Warlords is an excellent resource for those who wish to better understand the problem of maritime piracy and terrorism, as well as other types of armed groups, in today’s society and how we might best deal with them.

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Review Copyrighted ©2009 Cindy Vallar

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