Today I’m going to answer the timeless question: what story from history would make the best Michael Bay movie? The only important thing to know in order to answer this question is that Michael Bay don’t need bullsh*t like plot or character development. He needs explosions and ass kicking. Here’s the most explosiony, ass-kicky historical story that I can think of. Michael Bay, take note.
In 1803, North African pirates from the Muslim city-state Tripoli began commandeering U.S. merchant ships in the Mediterranean. To stop these shenanigans, President Thomas Jefferson sent the U.S.S. Philadelphia to cruise Tripoli’s coast in order to stop pirates before they attacked U.S. ships. While on patrol near Tripoli’s main harbor, the Philadelphia became stuck in a sand bar. Unable to free the vessel and with Tripoli’s shore guns beginning to fire on the ship, thePhiladelphia’s captain surrendered. Tripoli pirates then boarded the Philadelphia and made slaves of its sailors.
Not wanting the embarrassment of having pirates parading a U.S. naval ship around the Mediterranean, Jefferson ordered badass naval officer Stephen Decatur to conduct what amounted to the first black-ops mission in U.S. history. He wanted Decatur to destroy the Philadelphia, a dangerous mission because the captured ship was in enemy waters surrounded by hostile pirates.
Decatur decided that deception was the best way to destroy the Philadelphia. He’d trick the pirates into letting him get close to the vessel, then carry out his mission. With this in mind, Decatur and sixty U.S. marines arrived off the coast of Tripoli in the Intrepid, a captured ship disguised as an Arab merchant vessel from neighboring Sicily. Decatur hired five Arab interpreters and had his marines dress in traditional Arab garb in the off chance that a pirate patrol demanded to inspect the ship. As night fell on February 16, 1804, Decatur pulled the Intrepid alongside thePhiladelphia. He then had his Arab speakers ask to tie up to the beached ship in order to conduct some repairs. The unsuspecting pirates aboard the Philadelphiaagreed to the request.
Once the Intrepid was tied to the Philadelphia, Decatur cried out “Board!” The sixty marines stormed from the Intrepid’s hold on to the captured Philadelphia. In a 10-minute-raid, Decatur and his men went corridor to corridor, Zero Dark Thirty-style, killing or forcing overboard every pirate on the ship. All without suffering a single casualty. Decatur and his men then placed explosives throughout the Philadelphiaand returned to the Intrepid. In the most Michael Bay-esque scene in U.S. history, the Philadelphia exploded as Decatur and his men sailed away.
Seeing their prize in flames, the Tripoli pirates trained their cannons on the Intrepidand began firing. Pirate ships set out in pursuit. A merchant ship, the Intrepid stood little chance against the speedy, well-armed pirate vessels. Thankfully for Decatur and his men, the U.S. ship Syren showed up at the last minute to provide cover for theIntrepid’s escape. Both vessels made it to open ocean. A British admiral patrolling the Mediterranean heard of Decatur’s feat and called it “the most bold and daring act of the Age.”
That’s not the end of the story. Now that the Philadelphia was safely out of enemy hands, Jefferson wanted the navy to blockade Tripoli harbor and prepare for an invasion. Force the Tripoli leader to release the captured sailors. Supported by nations that had also grown tired of the pirates, seven U.S. ships sailed into Tripoli harbor in August, 1804. Decatur was in charge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Decatur’s brother James commanded a small gunboat.
Throughout August, the U.S. navy skirmished with the pirate fleet. During one of these encounters, James’s gunboat was getting the better of a pirate vessel, so the pirate captain, a large, imposing man, signaled that he wanted to surrender. James pulled alongside the pirate ship and, seeing only a few sailors, boarded in order to take control of the enemy vessel. When he came across, however, the pirate captain yelled out an order, and men leapt out of hiding spots and attacked the boarding U.S. sailors. The pirate leader then grabbed James, stabbed him, and left him bleeding and dying on the deck. Seeing the treachery, James’s second in command untied the gunboat and reported the events to Decatur, who had just finished capturing a pirate vessel.
Believing his brother to be dead, Decatur sailed the Enterprise in pursuit of the killer’s vessel. The faster American ship overtook and pulled alongside the pirates. With Decatur at the forefront, U.S. sailors crossed to the enemy ship, and the most epic sword fight in history ensued. Think of any sword-fighting gimmick you’ve seen in movies. It happened here. There was that block behind the back with a sword thing. The back-to-back fighting deal. The buddy rescuing his friend by parrying a blow trick. According to those who survived the ordeal, it was all there. The skirmish even had Michael Bay movie odds: the pirates outnumbered the Americans by some four to one.
The most amazing thing about the shipboard battle was that Decatur managed to find the pirate who had killed his brother and they began to sword fight. Although Decatur displayed more skill than his opponent, the pirate was a larger man and was able to drag the fight to the ground. After a scuffle, the pirate gained the upper hand, mounted Decatur, drew his dagger, and began to bring it down on the American sailor’s chest. Decatur used one hand to slow the dagger’s descent, while the other fumbled for his single shot pistol. Just as the dagger was about to pierce his chest, Decatur managed to free his sidearm, bring it to the pirate’s temple, and fire.
Decatur tossed off his enemy’s lifeless body and looked to find that his men were dispatching the remaining pirates. With the situation in hand, Decatur then located James’s body, found that he was still breathing, brought him on board theEnterprise, and held him until his life left him. Afterwards, Decatur likely looked at the sky and screamed “PIRATES!!!” At least that’s what he’ll do when Michael Bay makes this thing into a film.
The war with the Tripoli pirates didn’t end there, but Decatur played a lesser role from that point forward. The Americans packed the Intrepid with explosives and launched it towards the pirate fleet in the hopes that it would detonate and destroy the enemy vessels. When this attack didn’t work, U.S. Marines joined a Muslim force from a neighboring state and marched on Tripoli. After capturing a major city on the way to Tripoli, pirate leaders grew scared, promised not to attack American ships, and freed the captured sailors, thus ending the First Barbary War.
In potential sequels to the proposed Michael Bay movie, Decatur went on to battle the British Navy in the War of 1812, and he served in a second Barbary War. In true action movie fashion, Decatur didn’t live to be an old man. Nope. He died in a duel with a fellow navy captain.
Tell me this isn’t a Megan Fox away from making $500 million at the box office.