A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Remembering 30 Years Since the Beirut Marine Barracks Bombing

October 23, 1983 — 30 years ago today — the US Marines suffered their worst single day of losses since Iwo Jima, and the French Parachutists too their worst losses since Algeria, when two truck bombings ripped through their respective headquarters in Beirut. It was one of the earliest uses of vehicles for suicide attacks, a weapon that would become all too familiar in subsequent years. At the US Marine Barracks near the airport, 220 Marines, 18 Navy and three Army personnel died, along with one Lebanese. At the headquarters of the French 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment, another bomb killed 58 paratroopers.The group that would soon emerge as Hizbullah was widely blamed.

It was not America's first baptism of fire, coming four years after the Iranian Revolution and subsequent hostage crisis, but the toll of dead was a shock and there was a rush to assign blame, leading to the Long Commission Report and to the withdrawal of the Marines. (Though the Reagan Administration was interventionist, it knew when to cut its losses and go home.)

I'd have to put America's loss of innocence in the Middle East quite a bit earlier, but it was a shock to the public (and the voters) who thought the Lebanon intervention was essentially a separation of forces peacekeeping mission. (It started that way, but then we took sides.)

None of my friends died there but I knew a lot of people involved with Lebanon at the time and one old friend wrote a lot of the Long Commission Report, so a lot of this is fairly fresh in my mind. Let's hope we learned something.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

This event was preceded six months earlier by the truck bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut with the loss of over 60 persons, including several friends of mine. Unlike the Marine barracks bombing, this did not lower the ardor of Americans for our peacekeeping venture in Lebanon. Events of this period were a lesson to me in the higher tolerance that Americans have for the loss of life or imprisonment of U.S. diplomats or CIA personnel, as compared to our military personnel. It seems counter intuitive, but it is a fact of public perceptions.