Interview session with Dr. Suk Kyoon Kim.
Various types of pirates have existed throughout history, and they reflected the social circumstances under which they operated. They were also the product of international politics among maritime powers in relation to maritime dominance. Pirates in history had been more than merely outlaws who disturbed maritime trade, threatened the safety of shipping and committed brutal crimes, inflicting enormous loss of life and property. They have occasionally served as a proxy of state power or as resistance to oppressive state authority and exploitative social structures. Pirates were also an outcry for freedom against oppressive authority and brutal violence in the maritime world. Despite their social and historical context, however, the nature of pirates has remained unchanged: They are brutal and heinous criminals who plunder ships and inflict terrifying violence at sea. In his book ,“The History of Piracy and Navigation”, Dr. Suk Kyoon Kim draws the line from past to presence and shows how piracy is still a threat for our modern world.
What was a motivation to write this book?
I have published many articles concerning contemporary piracy issues. By virtue of my doctoral dissertation, which is about a piracy issue in Asia, I have earned a kind of weird nickname: ‘Dr. Pirate.’ While exploring the issues of piracy, I desired to write a book through which readers may learn the history of piracy in relation to the history of navigation as well as world history. Academic articles are not widely available to general readers and cover only a specific portion of a subject. My goal was to write a book about the history of piracy that is not academic but intended to help readers understand the whole picture — as well as be interesting to read.
How does this book correspond with the author’s career?
I have served in the Korea Coast Guard (KCG) for 18 years and led the KCG as commissioner for the last two years of my service. My public career began with the Ministry of Government Legislation as a deputy director and I got transferred to the Korea Coast Guard in 1997. As a widely known scholar in maritime security and law enforcement, I have published many articles and books about maritime safety and security issues, including Maritime Disputes in Northeast Asia (Brill, 2017) and Global Maritime Safety and Security Issues and East Asia (Brill, 2019). This book is based on the experience and knowledge that I gained during my service in the Korea Coast Guard and from my devotion to research in maritime safety and security.
What is a striking feature of this book?
As a researcher of piracy, I have noticed that most books and research articles on the subject focus on pirates and piratical activities during a certain period. They are mostly about pirates in Europe and their coverage is limited to the Western world. Furthermore, many movies, dramas, paintings and novels portray the life of pirates as romantic and adventurous, leading to widespread misperceptions about pirates’ very natures.
I intended to provide a broader perspective by covering the history of piracy from ancient times to the contemporary world and from Europe to Asia. While the main focus is on the history of piracy in Europe, this book also deals with the history of Asian piracy. I believe that the coverage of Asian piracy is likely to be a striking feature of this book. It attempts to approach aspects of piracy in relation to the historical context and social circumstances in which each group of pirates operated.
What was piracy like in history?
Piracy has existed since ancient times, and pirates are regarded one of the oldest professions of mankind. It can be said that the history of piracy has been on the same track as the major events throughout history. In ancient times, pirates were maritime bandits engaged in plundering ships that sailed offshore and the coastal settlements of ancient states which attempted to expand to the sea. Ancient pirates were predators as well as explorers of the oceans who sailed in search of prey. In the Middle Age, pirates were predators as well as warriors who fought for their religious beliefs while justifying their plunder by considering it part of a holy war against pagans.
During the era of European expansion, pirates were one of the key players that had a significant impact on the history of world in one way or another. They were said to be a by-product of European maritime expansion, during which time pirates looted ships carrying the prizes that European maritime powers extracted from all over the world. They enjoyed the golden era of piracy, when piratical activities reached their zenith in history. They became a common enemy of European maritime powers by disturbing their maritime trade and shipping.
During this period, pirates had been rampant throughout Asia, including the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, South Asian seas, the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea. Ancient Asian pirates had also a significant impact on the history and politics of the region. Asian pirates were comparable to European pirates in terms of scale and the gravity of the violence they inflicted. A salient feature of Asian pirates was that they were closely linked to the regimes and political groups of the region, and thus were described as ‘political pirates.’
The legacy of ancient piracy in history carried on into the modern world. After a 200-year dormant phase, piracy has again been plaguing the safety of navigation in the modern world. Contemporary piracy is regarded as the largest threat to the safety and security of the maritime domain today, dubbed the ‘scourge of the 21st century.’ They are regarded as hostis humani generis (enemy of mankind) that international society needs to fight together. Thus piracy is a universal crime that any state may establish criminal jurisdiction over.
How can pirates be described in a historical context?
Various types of pirates have existed throughout history, and they reflected the social circumstances under which they operated. They were also the product of international politics among maritime powers in relation to maritime dominance.
Pirates in history were more than merely outlaws who disturbed maritime trade, threatened the safety of shipping, and committed brutal crimes, inflicting enormous loss of life and property. Pirates occasionally served as a proxy of state power or as resistance to oppressive state authority and exploitative social structures. They were also an outcry for freedom against oppressive authority and brutal violence in the maritime world. Despite their social and historical context, however, the very nature of pirates has remained unchanged: Pirates are brutal and heinous criminals who plunder ships and inflict terrifying violence at sea.
Any further comments for prospective readers?
This is not an academic book but a history book about piracy and navigation. It not only provides knowledge about piracy but also global history concerned with piracy and navigation. I believe that it will help readers have a broader understanding of world history in relation to navigation. I hope that readers present my book to their children and friends and that librarians and teachers are interested in it.
Thank you for the interview.
About the book
Title: ‘The History of Piracy and Navigation’
Author: Dr. Suk Kyoon Kim
Plot: Pirates have existed for millennia. Not just outlaws looting ships and committing crimes, pirates also fought for freedom from abusive authority. However, they are still at their core brutal criminals who plunder ships and inflict violence at sea.
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About the author
Dr. Suk Kyoon Kim studied public affairs at Hanyang University, Seoul, Korea and went on to receive MPAs at Seoul National University and Indiana University and a Ph. D in Public Administration at Hanyang University. His dissertation is about the Asian piracy problem, helping him earn a title of ‘Dr. Pirate.’ In addition to teaching international maritime law at Inha University, he has been an adjunct professor at the Hanyang University Graduate School of Public Policy. He is serving as professor at Myungji College. He served as a Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army in Korea, director general of the Security and Safety Bureau, commander, director general of the Planning and Coordination Bureau, deputy commissioner and commissioner general of the Korea Coast Guard. He also has written numerous books and articles on maritime security and law.