David Frum

02.28.13

Why Should the US Accept a Gangster's Paradise?

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Peter Andreas argues at Foreign Affairs that we all need to calm down a little on smuggling and industrial espionage. His examples, such as that America was built on the backs of smugglers and other lawbreakers, are a bit weird, no? Not sure you want to urge people to calm down by saying, "but America did all of these things before!" After all, America's actions greatly damaged Britain, right?

In the years before the American War of Independence, Colonial merchants were leading players in the Atlantic smuggling economy, most notably in the illegal importation of molasses from the West Indies for distilleries in New England.

The American rebellion was in part sparked by a British crackdown on this trade. British authorities were also outraged that Colonial merchants had made illicit fortunes by supplying French forces during the Seven Years’ War. The increasingly militarized British crackdown on smuggling in the decade before the American Revolution provoked mob riots, the burning of customs vessels, and the tarring and feathering of customs agents and informants.

It was also thanks to smuggling that a ragtag force of Colonial rebels was able to defeat the world’s most powerful military. American smugglers put their illicit transportation methods, skills, and networks to use when they covertly supplied revolutionary troops with desperately needed arms and gunpowder. Motivated as much by profit as patri­otism, smugglers also served as privateers, recruited into George Washington’s makeshift naval force (although the British still considered them pirates).