Wednesday, October 22, 2003
They Came in Peace
Twenty years ago tomorrow, 241 American troops, including 220 United States Marines, were brutally murdered in America's first major confrontation with Arab/Islamist terrorism in Beirut, Lebanon. Almost simultaneously, and only two miles away, 58 French paratroopers were murdered by another suicide attack on their barracks. They had come in peace. More than 1,000 Marines, as part of a multi-national peacekeeping force, were deployed to Lebanon to evacuate Palestinian fighters from Lebanon, and later in response to the Lebanese slaughter of Christian Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
Six months prior to the Marine barracks bombing, the US Embassy in Beirut was bombed, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. For reasons unknown, the US deployment headquarters at the Beirut International Airport did not undertake stringent security measures following the bombing of the Embassy, even as the security situation worsened on a daily basis. In addition, the deployed Marines had specific orders to NOT return hostile fire-- President Reagan insisted that the mission was peace, and engaging in the battle would fundamentally change the mission. Over time, the sniper and rocket attacks on the Marines worsened, while they did little to nothing to defend themselves. They essentially became "sitting ducks," and hundreds of people paid the price for those rules of engagement when the Marines barracks was destroyed.
In February, 1984, our troops were pulled out of Beirut, and all efforts-- any progress made-- went to waste. Lebanon has since been occupied by Syria, and Israel and Lebanon carry on as bitter adversaries. This was one of the first impressions of America for the Islamist terrorists, the first sight of our fierce military hightailing out of a situation as soon as it turned ugly. Did this embolden burgeoning terrorists around the world? You betcha. Throw some violence, death and destruction at Americans, and the outrage of the citizenry becomes too much for our government to handle. The justification of the mission becomes too difficult. Terrorism works.
Have we learned anything from the hundreds of American deaths in Lebanon? We didn't learn for years. Time and time again we have been attacked, yet our responses have never amounted to much. Ten years ago this month our troops faced a situation similar to Beirut: they went to Somalia in peace, and retreated in the face of horrific attacks. That incident also emboldened the likes of Osama bin Laden. We were, in his eyes, a paper tiger.
When we consider this war on terrorism, we need to look back to October 23, 1982. Those Marines were our first troops to make the ultimate sacrifice in this war. It did not start on September 11, 2001... it's been going on for decades. We've just never been "locked and loaded" in a way that allowed us to respond appropriately to the threat facing us. Arab and Islamic anti-American sentiment did not start when we stormed Afghanistan or invaded Iraq, it's been brewing since long before.
Our enemy understands nothing but power and force. They do not respect us because of the mistakes we've made in the past when dealing with them. It's high time our country proves that those men did not die in vain. As we look through the course of history, we must not forget the first sacrifices made in the early battles of this war. Our President says he hasn't forgotten the 241 American servicemen. For their sake and the sake of all others who have given for this cause, let's hope we see this through.
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