“Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation” -James Madison

Monday, August 28, 2006

USS New Jersey and Beirut, 1983-4

My girlfriend is reading some pulpy thing about reincarnation, and one of the stories involved the "heartless United States bombing innocent civilians in Beirut" in 1983 and 84, from the decks of the USS New Jersey. She asked for my take on it, and not really knowing much about it, other than the timeframe fitting in roughly with the bombing of Marine barracks in October 1983, my guess was that was certainly part of it.

I decided to do a little research. The dates and events listed below come from this website. I have bolded and colored the more important ones. Comments in italics are mine. This is a bit of a tie-in to my previous post on the recent Israeli-Hezbollah dustup. Again, I stress that history tells us how to prepare for the future. This is even more important when dealing with a civilization that has not effectively progressed beyond the 14th century outside of external influences.


25 August -- Roughly 800 Marines of the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), commanded by Colonel James M. Mead, landed in Beirut as part of a multinational peacekeeping force to oversee evacuation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas. The force also includes 400 French and 800 Italian soldiers.

This is the result of a UN resolution – Yassir Arafat and the PLO had stirred up a civil war in Lebanon since the mid-70’s. In response the UN decreed that a multinational force would host the evacuation of the PLO out of Lebanon and institute a peacekeeping force, and the US, French, and Italians were the point on this.


16 March -- Five Marines were wounded in action in first direct attack on American peacekeeping troops. An Islamic fundamentalist group claims responsibility.

18 April -- A large car bomb explodes at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, causing massive structural damage and killing 61, including 17 Americans. More than 100 were injured. Islamic fundamentalists again claim responsibility.

Attacking an embassy is a declaration of war. The car bomb was the favorite tactic of the 80s terrorist, and this was only a practice, a baby bomb, compared to what would come later. Note that the “Religion of Peace” claims responsibility for this and many other attacks following.

5 May -- Marine helicopter with six aboard, including Colonel Mead, is hit by ground fire as it investigates artillery duels between Druze and Christian gunners.

22 July -- Two Marines and one sailor wounded in action by shell fragments during shelling of Beirut International airport, part of a general pattern of increasing indirect fire against the Lebanese Army, the airport, and the multinational force.

10 August -- About 27 artillery and mortar rounds were fired by Druze militia from the high ground east of Beirut into Beirut International Airport, resulting in one Marine wounded in action. Rockets also hit the Defense Ministry and the Presidential Palace. Three Cabinet ministers were kidnapped by the Druze.

28 August -- A combat outpost manned by 30 Marines and Lebanese Army troops east of Beirut International Airport came under fire from semiautomatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Marines return fire for the first time, with rifles and M-60 machine guns. No friendly casualties, after a 90-minute firefight.

4 September -- Israeli forces withdrew to positions on the Awwali River, creating a void to be filled by factional hostilities among the Lebanese.

This was a response to a UN request, one which would have impact decades later, into 2006 and the recent hostilities.

6 September -- Rocket attack on Beirut International Airport from Druze positions in Shouf mountains resulted in two Marines killed, two Marines wounded. Total since 28 August: four KIA, 28 WIA.

10 September -- Battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) was alerted for deployment to the Eastern Mediterranean.

19 September -- USS John Rodgers and USS Virginia (CGN-38) fire 338 five-inch rounds to help Lebanese Army troops retain hold on strategic Shouf Mountains village of Suq al Gharb. American role shifted from "presence" to direct support of Lebanese Armed Forces, in perception of rebel factions.

20 September -- Residence of U.S. ambassador was shelled; USS John Rodgers and USS Virginia responded.

21 September -- USS John Rodgers and USS Arthur Radford (DD-968) responded to shelling of Marines at Beirut International Airport.

At this point the US shifted from being strictly part of a “ peacekeeper” UN force to being an active participant siding with the Lebanese government in their civil war. Regardless of whether we should have or not, the idea was to get SOME group back in control of the country, and the UN clearly was not able to do it. The best chance for stability was to support the already-existing government. Note also that now the US ambassador’s private residence ( a non-military installation housing civilians) is considered fair game for the terrorists to attack.

26 September -- Cease-fire went into effect at 0600. Announced by Saudi Arabian and Syrian officials in Damascus, supported by Druze. Talks begin on formation of new coalition government for Lebanon. Marine casualties to date: five killed, 49 wounded.

The next few days will indicate how seriously these people take cease-fires.

1 October -- 31st MAU departed Mediterranean for Indian Ocean, in response to threatened crisis near Strait of Hormuz.

5 October -- Two Marine helicopters hit by ground fire.

8 October -- Two Marines wounded by sniper fire.

13 October -- One Marine wounded by grenade fragments.

14 October -- One Marine killed, three wounded by sniper fire. Marine sharpshooters responded, setting off three-hour fire-fight. Ceasefire of 26 September allegedly still in place.

15 October -- Marine sharpshooters kill four snipers.

16 October -- One Marine killed, five wounded by sniper fire.

23 October -- Suicide truck loaded with equivalent of 12,000 pounds of explosives destroyed headquarters building of BLT 1/8 at Beirut International Airport. Almost simultaneous suicide attack destroyed building occupied by French paratroopers. U.S. casualties: 241 killed, 70 wounded. French casualties: 58 killed. Marine replacement airlifts, via 13 C-141 aircraft, begin the same day.

This is arguably one of the worst days in Marine, military, and US history. We lost a lot of very good young men and women to a cowardly suicide attack while undergoing a mission to repair a fractured nation bent on tearing itself apart. The deaths were not part of any combat; they were in their barracks, still largely asleep at 6 am on a Sunday morning.

4 November -- Department of Defense established commission headed by Admiral Robert L.G. Long (USN (Ret.), to investigate 23 October suicide attack at Beirut International Airport. Suicide driver blows up Israeli headquarters in Tyre, killing 29 soldiers and 32 prisoners.

22 November -- Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger stated that the 23 October suicide attack on the Marines was carried out by Iranians with the "sponsorship, knowledge, and authority of the Syrian government."

Key statement – the barracks bomb was wholesale a Syrian operation. The Druze are aligned with the Syrians in this phase of the civil war, and their main bases are in the mountains east of Beirut (Syria is north and east of Lebanon/Beirut). Guess who is now a target?

4 December -- Marines at Beirut International Airport came under heavy fire from gun positions in Syrian-held territory. Marine casualties: eight killed, two wounded. Naval gunfire missions fired in retaliation. Earlier in the day, a 29-plane raid was conducted on Syrian antiaircraft positions in the mountains east of Beirut, in retaliation for Syrian fire directed at American aerial reconnaissance missions. Two U.S. aircraft are downed, in this first combat mission over Lebanon.

15 December -- The battleship USS New Jersey delivered 16-inch gunfire on antiaircraft positions in the Syrian-occupied mountains southeast of Beirut, as the Syrians continue to fire at U.S. reconnaissance flights over the area. This was the USS New Jersey's first action off Lebanon.

This is the first of 2 major actions for the New Jersey in this conflict.


15 January -- Druze gunners closed Beirut International Airport for three hours with intense 23mm fire on Marine positions east and southeast of the airport. U.S. forces responded with small arms fire, mortars, rockets, tank fire, and naval gunfire from the battleship USS New Jersey and destroyer USS Tattnall. No U.S. casualties.

3 February -- Shiite leadership called for resignation of Moslem cabinet members and urges Moslems in the Lebanese Army to disregard the orders of their leaders. Prime Minister Wazzan and the Lebanese cabinet resigned, to clear way for formation of new coalition government.

6 February -- Druze and Moslem militiamen seized much of Beirut in street fighting and demanded resignation of Gemayel.

7 February -- President Reagan announced decision to redeploy Marines from Beirut International Airport to ships offshore, leaving a residual force behind to protect the U.S. Embassy and other American interests. Increased reliance on air strikes and naval gunfire support indicated.

8 February -- USS New Jersey bombarded Druze and Syrian gun positions as part of the heaviest naval gunfire support since the arrival of the Marines in 1982.

This is probably the bombardment that the book discussed.

10-11 February -- American civilians and other foreign nationals were evacuated from Beirut by helicopter.

The beginning of modern history in US/mideast relations – our first retreat. It wasn’t sold as such, but essentially this was a “cut and run” similar to what the current doves in the US government would like us to do in Iraq. We did not have the national will to clean the place up and kill all the bad guys. 20 years later, when GWB decides to do just that, he is heavily criticized. None of this is easy, but it is necessary.

We have no problem scouring the crust and grime from a tub or pipe, or our own teeth, yet we are reluctant to do so in a society even when that corrupted society has declared war on our own.

21 February -- Marines began their redeployment to ships of the Sixth Fleet offshore. About 150 Marines departed in the first increment.

26 February -- Redeployment of the 22d MAU to offshore ships completed.

No word of John Kerry's reaction, nor that of Ted Kennedy. I can only assume they thought this was the correct resolution.

Granted, Reagan had to contend with the last days of the Cold War and deal with the very real threat posed by the Soviet Union, especially in light of the fallout from their invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq war. When compared to those events, of course the civil war in Lebanon ranked far below in Reagan's estimation with respect to America's interests. The events of that time have of course had direct and indirect effects on recent events in the area, and it is certainly interesting to wonder how Reagan might have handled events of today, given the fall of the Soviet Union and therefore allowing more interest to be paid to the troubled middle east.

The United States ultimately failed in its attempt to be part of a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. As has been proven over and over again, a "peacekeeping" force only works when there is a peace to keep. Usually these things are the result of awkward ceasefires such as the most recent one with Israel/Hezbollah. We got involved, started taking losses, took HUGE losses on 2 occasions, and did not press on to annihilate the enemy. Eventually the whole thing just sort of petered out, and our forces left, showing the first of many evidentiary instances of our power being that of a Paper Tiger.

True peace follows Victory.

When the Allies defeated Germany and Japan, it was total. There was no discussion about timed withdrawals or structured peace agreements. We bombed the daylights out of their cities, killed as many (or more) civilians as military, and accepted nothing short of unconditional surrender. We forced their civilians to realize that the entire enterprise their government had embarked on was a bad idea -- when the civvies are too scared to go to the factory, production of war materiele tends to stop, and defeat is swiftly inevitable. The firestorms of Dresden and Tokyo, the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the complete destruction of Berlin are all testaments to the power of total war.

Since that time, these two nations have become the closest of friends to the US and Britain. Japan is an economic and manufacturing superpower in its own right, and while Germany has its own problems and is not always as supportive, is still a valued ally.

Back to the original point -- the US (and the New Jersey) does not and did not just indiscriminately shell the mountains east of Beirut seeking to kill innocent civilians. It was war, declared or not, and it was in part a response to a major attack on our barracks and partly a support of a larger action to sap the Syrian/Druze forces.

Civvies got killed. It happens in war. But we ARE NOT the bad guy, and we take all pains to avoid hitting civilians. Our enemy knows this, and deliberately hides amongst them, sometimes with their permission, sometimes by forcing them. Our enemy also deliberately targets civilians on our side, knowing that they cannot survive a straight-up fight with our superb military forces. They also have a much better understanding of western media manipulation than our own media does, and they play our foolish newscasters like the proverbial fiddle.

Now I see it has become part of the pop culture in an innocuous passage in a crappy little new-age book that has found its way to my home.


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