By Phillip Chesser
President Obama and his administration continue to receive deserved criticism for their handling of the Benghazi attack, but history shows that putting Americans in needless danger or leaving them to swing in the wind for political reasons is not new. Here are some of the more egregious examples from history:
In 1983, some smart people in the Reagan State Department thought it a good idea to make 240 Marines sitting duck targets for terrorists at the Beirut, Lebanon, airport. “Showing the flag” seems to be a recurrent theme in exercises like that. “A strong U.S. presence” was supposed to reassure U.S. allies in the region. Some reassurance: a truck bomb ended the lives of 243 Marines. At the time, Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger and his close advisers in the DOD objected to positioning the Marines that way, but the striped pants crowd overruled them. The buck stopped with President Reagan, of course.
The 1968 North Korean attack on the USS Pueblo, killing one crewman, followed by the taking of the ship and the one year imprisonment of the Pueblo crew provides another example of Americans hazarded and unprotected for reasons not understandable to ordinary people. In that Cold War environment where “everyone knew” that everyone else was spying, things like this were not supposed to happen.
Pueblo was a small, lightly armed (two fifty caliber machine guns) intelligence gathering, converted cargo ship designed to listen in on electronic communication from the communist Asian mainland. No one was supposed to mind, you see, because Soviet fishing trawlers did the same thing off the coast of the U.S. A spying quid pro quo was supposed to exist between Cold War opponents. North Korean officials didn’t get the memo.
Worse, American Naval forces could have assisted Pueblo but did not. Put this one on the Lyndon Johnson administration. Then after their release from the North Korean prison, when Commander Bucher and the Pueblo crew returned to California, no one from official Washington greeted them. California Governor Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, greeted the skipper and his crew at the California airport, but no one from the White House or the DOD. To add insult to injury, the Navy wanted to court martial Commander Bucher for dereliction of duty. To his credit, President Nixon stopped the court martial.
The most disgraceful example of official abandonment of Americans in danger and the appalling cover-up afterwards was the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty on the fourth day of the 1967 Arab Israeli War. The cover up, vigorously aided and abetted by the Israeli lobby and their handmaids in the U.S. government and the U.S. Congress, continues to anger and outrage Americans with firsthand knowledge of the event, that is, those Naval personnel on board Liberty during the attack. In fact, when they have tried to get the truth of the incident to the nation, they have been stonewalled by publishers and the media and called anti-Semites by the Israeli lobby.
Here’s what happened: As the Liberty, a World War II cargo ship which had been converted to carry sophisticated electronic intelligence gathering equipment, steamed slowly in international waters 14 miles from the Sinai Peninsula, waves of low-flying Israeli fighter bombers attacked the ship with rockets, napalm and cannon. The air attack lasted 20 minutes. Liberty was left afire, listing sharply. Eight crewmen had been killed and the captain seriously wounded. About a half an hour later, Israelis attacked again, this time with torpedo boats, killing 25 more Americans. In total, the Israeli attacks killed 34 Americans and wounded 171.
Claims of mistaken identity by Israeli officials were and continue to be lies, for Liberty carried a large American flag; furthermore, six hours before the afternoon attacks, Israeli recon aircraft had flown over the ship. They knew who they were attacking and did it anyway because they feared that actual intelligence would conflict with the official Israeli accounts of the events that precipitated the Six Day War.
For starkly immoral political reasons, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration covered up the true circumstances of the attack and, under the influence of the Israeli lobby, succeeding administrations have continued the cover up. Appeasing an influential American lobby was and has been more important than the lives of American sailors and Marines.
And by the way, going back to the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor one can see another example of Americans made sitting ducks by politicians. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Samuel Richardson advised President Roosevelt that stationing the fleet in Pearl Harbor was provocative. He therefore advised moving the fleet back to Long Beach, CA. For that, Roosevelt replaced him with Admiral Husband Kimmel, who, after the infamous attack, became a favorite political scapegoat.
And so on. I also suggest readers look at the impossible situation Major Robert Anderson faced at Fort Sumter prior to the War Between the States in 1861.
From time immemorial, leaders of powerful nations have shown little regard for the lives of their fighting men. Power warps their character, or maybe those who seek power have none to begin with.
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Stumptalk is published weekly in the Crossville Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. To contact Stumptalk, email coordinator Phil Billington at firstname.lastname@example.org.