10-14-08, 08:12 AM
Honoring the fallen
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October 13, 2008 - 9:12PM
Arms of youth from Centerville Baptist Church reach out from the darkness to the names inscribed on the wall of the Beirut Memorial. They were on a scavenger hunt, and the memorial was one of their stops. October 23 marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing in Beirut, Lebanon.
10-15-08, 11:19 AM
MICHAEL POCALYKO: Remembering Oct. 23, 1983
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008
Twenty-five years ago, at sunrise on Oct. 23, 1983, at 6:22 a.m., a yellow Mercedes truck with a driver and a passenger circled the parking lot adjacent to the headquarters of the Multi-National Force in Lebanon, a four-story reinforced concrete building at the Beirut International Airport.
The truck suddenly turned, accelerated through a barbed-wire fence, ran the sentry post, and then crashed through the gate and drove into the lobby of the building. The suicide bombers detonated an explosion that was equivalent to 12,000 pounds of TNT, which the FBI later concluded was the largest non-nuclear blast it had ever seen.
The bombing killed 241 Americans, most of them Marines, the largest one-day death toll the Corps had suffered since the invasion of Iwo Jima in 1945. Minutes later, another suicide bomber killed 58 French paratroopers in west Beirut.
President Ronald Reagan branded the attack "despicable." Addressing Congress five days after the bombing, he asked: "If we were to leave Lebanon now, what message would that send to those who foment instability and terrorism?"
He pledged renewed American resolve, saying of the Marines, "We must not strip every ounce of meaning and purpose from their courageous sacrifice. We are a nation with global responsibilities. We're not somewhere else in the world protecting someone else's interest. We're there protecting our own."
On Feb. 7, 1984, 102 days after the bombing, Reagan ordered the Marines withdrawn from Beirut and "redeployed" to Navy amphibious ships off the Lebanese coast. The entire American, British, French and Italian Multi-National Force was gone by April.
The message that was received in the Middle East, in contrast to the one transmitted in Washington, was clear to the most radical elements in Lebanon, Syria and Iran. Bomb Americans, kill Americans, and the Americans will go away.
The radical Shiite group Hezbollah (the Party of God), which found growing support among Lebanese Shiites then and enjoys widespread support now, formally announced its existence in February 1985 in a manifesto by Sayyid Ibrahim al-Amin. The first principle in that document was "to expel Americans."
We're still living with the consequences today, and they reverberate far beyond Lebanon.
The Beirut bombing 25 years ago was the beginning of a pattern of internal political conflict and international discontent with America that now includes our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The questions first raised in Beirut persist today: How much is enough? When can we withdraw? What will be the consequences if we leave now? If we stay? If we escalate (now called "surging")?
In Beirut, we first saw how suicide bombing could exact a heavy price on rich and powerful nations at little cost to a small organization. The four nations of the Multi-National Force paid the economic cost. France and America lost sons, husbands, fathers. Lebanon was destroyed again by sectarian strife. Any member of the Beirut Veterans of America could have predicted the pandemic of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, dysthymia and suicide among returning Iraq veterans.
Like a catalyst in a chemical reaction, the insertion of foreign forces into Lebanon, first Syrian, then Israeli and finally American, British, French and Italian, and for good measure some Iranian Revolutionary Guards, ignited the country's volatile religious and sectarian hatreds. Twenty-five years later, they're still burning.
Although the date means nothing to most Americans today, and many others would prefer to forget it, October 23, 1983 was a day of enormous importance.
Our first duty is to remember the Marines of October. Our greater duty, however, will commence 12 days later, when we choose who next will steer us in the powerful currents that we first felt in Lebanon. They are deep waters, and they are strong.