Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Everything old could be new again: Letters of Marque and Reprisal

In the old days, when a nation went to war, it issued piracy licenses.  I.e., letters of marque and reprisal.

Letters of marque and reprisal were just that.  In times of declared belligerency, nations licensed individuals to outfit their own vessel for the purpose of raiding enemy shipping, by which we mean commercial shipping.  It was legal, and it was lucrative, as the raiders claimed the enemy ship and its content as a prize and divided it up amongst themselves.  Indeed, the practice was so lucrative that navies occasionally had trouble recruiting men to their national navies during wartime, as signing up for a privateer was a better economic bet.

Letters of marque and reprisal are provided for in the same section of the Constitution; that the never used and nearly forgotten section providing for Declarations of War, are.  Specifically, it states that Congress has the power to:
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
Congress is too chicken to declare war anymore, and hasn't since 1941.  The Korean War, the Vietnam War, both Gulf Wars, etc., were all without declaration.  This has been addressed here a couple of times before, and clearly some of the non declared wars shouldn't have been declared, and we've always experienced that to some degree.  So, while I suppose its only musing, I left wondering why Congress can't issue letters of marque and reprisal in situations of near war.

For example, I wonder what issuing them following 9/11 would have been like?  Piracy licenses to that new type of pirate, the Cyber Pirate, might have cleaned out Al Qaeda's bank account in about a week.  And now that we've been raided by pirates ourselves, in the form of oversensitive North Korean Clown College pirates, and as we've seen what private hackers can do to a country like North Korea's internet just for entertainment, I have to wonder what they'd do if they feared that Congress might debate letters of marque and reprisal?

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