Knight vs. Pirate

A new show called “Deadliest Warrior” has debuted recently on cable TV with an intriguing premise. The show proposes a weekly match-up between warriors from two different cultures and time periods (with the help of some modern forensic investigation and computer simulation) to see which will prove more effective in battle.

Ironically, one of the upcoming episodes of the show promises a “knight vs. pirate” encounter. As colorful and exciting as such a duel may sound, the concept has taken on a new sense of relevance in light of events in the news recently — events that give us a real look into the meaning of chivalry and the dynamic of “knight vs. pirate.”

In recent days, international attention has been focused on a drama that took place in the Indian Ocean near the Horn of Africa. There, a group of modern-day pirates from Somalia attempted to seize a container ship carrying food aid to needy countries in Africa, including Somalia itself. During the attempted takeover of the ship, the captain, Richard Phillips, turned himself over to the pirates in order to ensure the safety of his crew. Capt. Phillips was held for ransom under threat of execution for several tense days until the U.S. military intervened to secure his rescue and deliver the ship and its humanitarian cargo to its destination.

Capt. Phillips has been hailed by his crew, his family, the media and the public at large as a true hero, and rightfully so. And (without any intent to diminish his heroism) he is only one of several such heroes that have come to the attention of the public lately — ordinary men and women of extraordinary courage who have stood up, put themselves in harm’s way, done the right thing and acted with bravery and compassion in the face of danger and panic.

The number of stories that have been popping up in the media — from people who put themselves at risk in moments of crisis to rescue others, to those who simply dedicate themselves to work for charitable causes despite their own economic hardships — indicate that, far from being forgotten, the concept of chivalry lives on, and is valued and respected in today’s world.

The buccaneers of the 18th and 19th centuries provide colorful characters for exciting high-sea adventures, from the novels of Robert Lewis Stevenson to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies — but when danger lurks or duty calls, a pirate is a poor role model (romantic notions of “noble pirates” from Gilbert and Sullivan notwithstanding).

We all hope that, when faced with danger and violence, we would act with the grace and courage of a Capt. Phillips, rather than the conniving self-interest of oceangoing thieves hijacking food and medicine meant to ease the suffering of their neighbors. We hope that in a crisis we would reach out to help others, rather than threatening someone else to save our own skins. We would all hope that when faced with hardship or adversity, we would react with the valor and chivalry of a knight, rather than the selfishness and greed of a pirate.

In a real contest between a pirate and a knight in shining armor, there’s no doubt about who comes out the winner.

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