The Two Greatest Uses of Trash Talk in the History of (Naval) Warfare

As I’ve mentioned a few times (hereherehere and here), I’m a huge fan of I love them because they’re hilarious, but also because they seem to have three or four people on staff dedicated solely to writing historically themed articles, and those three or four people always manage to inform me about things I didn’t know while making me laugh so hard I can’t breathe. Excellent combination. Please be aware, this article contains bad language and humor some might find offensive.

Nothing about Hollywood is more unrealistic than the droll one-liners delivered in the heat of battle. Nobody’s brain operates like that in real life — when facing imminent destruction, most of us just manage a few mumbled words followed by the sound of retching.

Yet history records some badass trash talk that would put Schwarzenegger to shame, some spoken in dire circumstances. Of course, it takes a certain type of badass. Like …


#7. John Paul Jones, the Battle of Flamborough Head

The Situation:

John Paul Jones, the father of the American Navy and the one-time temporary conqueror of England, found himself in dire straits on September 23, 1779, during the Battle of Flamborough Head. While dueling the HMS Serapis, Jones’ boat was outgunned, undermanned and, ultimately, sinking.

Having clearly won, Captain Pearson of the Serapis asked Jones if he was ready to surrender. Any sensible sailor would realize “certain death” was the only other option, but John Paul Jones was not a sensible sailor. According to the English, in fact, he was a flat-out pirate.

From a sinking ship whose decks were awash with blood, Jones shouted …

The Quote:

“I have not yet begun to fight!”

After this ballsy proclamation, which likely had the opponent in stitches, Jones began to fight. He rammed his ship into the Serapis, cleared its deck with sharpshooters and had his men storm its deck with swords and grenade-bombs like the pirates they totally weren’t, honestly.

The Aftermath:

Jones’ ship was lost, but Jones and his men had no problem commandeering the Serapis. He sailed it to the Dutch Republic, where Jones was hailed by the drug lords in Amsterdam as “The Terror of the English.”

Upon hearing that Captain Pearson, who had also survived the encounter, had been knighted for valor at Flamborough Head, Jones added to his list of awesome quotes with:

“Should I have the good fortune to fall in with him again, I’ll make a lord of him.”

6. Oliver Hazard Perry, Battle of Lake Erie

The Situation:

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry was the type of man that Cracked lists were invented for, starting with his impossibly ballsy name.

When he engaged the Royal Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, the 27-year-old Perry famously boasted, “If a victory is to be gained, I will gain it.” He meant it.

Perry experienced slight setbacks, like his flagship getting sunk while he was on it, but the battle was nevertheless one of the most spectacular naval victories in U.S. history, so much so that it marked the first time a British naval squadron had surrendered, ever.

As the ships were now the property of the U.S. Navy, Perry sent a message to General William Henry Harrison to let him know about their recent acquisitions. The message described all Perry felt there was to describe about such a historical victory:

The Quote:

“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

The Aftermath:

Perry became one of the most beloved heroes of the war, alongside the ranks of future presidents Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. Had he not perished just a few years later, it could very well have been him sitting in the presidential chair instead of Harrison.

But hey, at least he got a stamp!

There are eight more non-naval instances of awesome historical trash talk on this list. Read the entire article (it’s hilarious).
Courtesy of Jacopo della Quercia and
Image: The Battle of Lake Erie by Percy Moran.

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2 Comments on The Two Greatest Uses of Trash Talk in the History of (Naval) Warfare

  1. Both of those lines are awesome, although I have to say Perry – as usual – was a little more subtle.

    I also like the story, which is probably apocryphal, about the gunner who was standing near Jones when he gave the verbal middle finger to Pearson. Allegedly he turned to his mate and said: “Some poor bastard never gets the message.” Or something of that nature. Whether he meant his own captain or the enemy ship’s is open for debate but it does sound like the kind of off-handed sarcasm one would expect from an old tar.

  2. Tony Hewson // May 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm //

    I don’t know if it qualifies as trash talk, but my favourite war despatch is Napier’s “Peccavi”.

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