Rampant piracy this year has led to attacks on more than 90 ships, with two sailors killed, billions of dollars in cargo taken, and millions paid in ransom. The attacks keep coming, and “legal exquisiteness” prevents any “robust” action against them, writes Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. It’s time to re-adopt the hard-line attitude that led to hangings—and the near-eradication of piracy—centuries ago.
In the 18th century, pirates could be hanged even without “legal judgment.” By the 1800s, piracy had almost disappeared—“a civilizational achievement no less great than the elimination of smallpox,” Stephens notes. But now, the lack of a clear legal body controlling the crisis, as well as the “pursuit of a better form of justice—chiefly defined nowadays as keeping a clear conscience,” is keeping us from taking needed action.