Monday, November 01, 2004

Beirut, Lebanon 1982

Originally uploaded by zippinski.
This is what Osama bin Laden refers to in his 1st speech and in his latest video about destroying the World Trade Center and attacking the Pentagon.

The Lebanon war went from 1975 (and earlier) to 1990 (and is likely to flare up again). It is still a mess there, for humanity and for the environment. No objective view of the war is available. We have merely the views of combatants: a Christian view, an Arab view, a Muslim view, an Israeli view, a French view, an American view, a Syrian view, a Palestinian view, a Lebanese view. Inhumane atrocities were committed by ALL of the above during the Lebanon war.

The war affected Americans profoundly in several ways that Americans do not understand because the mass media has not been forthcoming with information. One of those ways of course was the tragic revenge of 9-11. Another was the tragic election of Ronald Reagan, arranged in part by his secret backroom deal to only release the U.S. embassy hostages in Iran until after his election -- in exchange for an arms deal. The very day of Reagan's inauguration, the deal went through and the hostages were released. This is now in the public record, but you must search for it as the news has been censored. It is one of those "Fog Facts" I introduced in the post below. The complex connections between the Iranian hostage crisis and the smaller number of hostages in Lebanon will take too long to explain here, so instead I've given some links below for more background. In general, the struggles throughout that region continue to refer to the Palestinians and also to anti-Muslim intervention from western powers.

Although there is no objective or transcendent view of this conflict, I can tell you my view which is derived from a much longer historical depth than most. It begins in the modern era with the widespread popular hatred of Jews throughout Europe. This pervasive anti-semitism supported the rise of fascist powers that led to the near genocide of the European Jews. After fascism was suppressed at the end of WWII, the Jews still had no welcome place; hence an international agreement was made among the victors and victims of WWII: the creation of a new homeland for Jews in Palestine. This would become Israel, but it meant the displacement of the local population already living there. That displacement was not conducted fairly and with due compensation. In fact, it quickly led to resistance and brutality on all sides.

We will also have to skip over a longer history of western colonialism that divided Lebanon from Greater Syria. And we will have to foreshorten the historical roots to exclude a very very long history of invasions and conquests and defeats by virtually every known peoples in that area, notably the Ottoman Turks, but also just about everyone else including Christian Crusaders in Lebanon.

After 1948, Lebanon was initially a small force against Israel, but became a larger force because displaced Palestinians migrated there and became intensely militant on the shared border with the new Israeli state. Chaotic wars ensued with every group against every other group at some point.

The US sent marines several times, but abandoned Lebanon as hopeless eventually. During the period of the photo above, US warships shelled civilian populations and destroyed many buildings in the city of Beirut. [Please see updated correction of this last claim in the comments link below 11/17/2005.] The bombing of civilians is nothing new in the history of European warfare, but how it is different from terrorist bombings of civilians is a bit of a stretch.

American involvement in the chaos of postcolonial wars is neither good nor evil. It is extremely complex since you can find both good and evil on all sides. But American involvement has not led to much progress, and it has been naive. Sometimes we supported fascists and fundamentalist militants simply because they were against leftists. Incredible atrocities ensued. And now we are suffering through a period of revenge which we fail to comprehend.

The ultimate view for me is, as in Auden's poem: Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.

Violence begets violence. There is no end of it, until we finally sicken of it and realize that there are other ways to negotiate conflicts. Neither Bush nor Kerry is willing to lead in that direction. So based on this rather long and depressing history, I predict more violence ahead. I may become a victim, or you, or someone we don't know. But if you are not contributing to the solution, then you are part of the problem. Peace be with you.

Links for further info:
Iranian Hostage Crisis

American Reaction to Hostages in Lebanon & Iran & other historical incidents

Congressional Record testimony of Gary Sick about Reagan's Iranian arms deal, along with numerous articles

Subsequent history of hostage taking in Lebanon

Mid-80s Iran-Contra Scandal of Reagan's administration connected to Hostages in Lebanon

Very informative and loving website about Lebanon


At 9:08 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

About a year after posting this blog about the war in Lebanon and its connection to Osama Bin Laden's repeated reference to the year 1982, I have finally received a single comment by email. Since the sender didn't make the comment publicly, I will preserve their anonymity here, and simply quote the essence:

"US Naval forces never shelled Beirut proper. They did shell the Shouf mountains (home to Walid Jumblatt's Druze militias) further inland after attacks on US forces patrolling Beirut. The image is probably showing an artillery and air bombardment of PLO positions in West Beirut by Israeli forces in June, July or August of 1982."

In reply, I should say first of all thank you for taking time to send in this correction. In retrospect, I agree that your description of the historical event registered by this photo is probably more accurate than mine. More about that in a moment. In a rush to explore what Osama Bin Laden is so upset about, I too quickly conflated my interpretation of his perception with my own encapsulated history. Still I wonder if what I'm trying to point out here isn't still valid on the one hand, and utterly ignored in the mainstream media on the other hand? Is it possible to try to understand the "enemy's view" without thereby adopting that view fully? I think so.

Moreover, such a brief mini-essay had to leave out a lot of related material, and I now regret that I didn't mention that the US Marines at that time saw themselves as part of an international peace-keeping mission, symbolically and practically wedged between the Israeli invasion (which itself was both defensive & offensive) and the several other militant factions. Amid that fog of war and chaos of multiple factions, several especially large suicide car bombs killed hundreds of Americans, French and Israelis in separate occasions in 1983. The bomb most commonly remembered, of course, was the most deadly blast at the US Marine barracks in Beirut on October 23, 1983, which killed 241 Americans. President Reagan soon ordered a US military withdrawal some three months later, so the Marines retreated.

Islamic militants claimed credit, as they viewed the international forces to be working mainly in favor of Israeli and/or also Lebanese Christian interests and thus against the Palestinian and Muslim interests. That perspective, say what you will, continues to operate fully in the 21st century among Islamic militants. It is also based upon a very old history of resentment toward Euro & American imperialist control over Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, etc., going back to circa 1850. One other high point for US military intervention was under Eisenhower's cold war against "international communist aggression" in 1957 to 1958 when 70 naval vessels and 14,000 US troops where sent to Lebanon, enforcing US "interests". Needless to say, communism was not the real issue since it wasn't a real presence there, but that's how the official story got told as an alibi for imperialism. Further, that large military force was merely the visible tip of a deep covert iceberg of secret attempts to control much of the Middle East. The covert stuff is much more destabilizing, and it no doubt continues today. (For an expose of just the facts, see _Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II_ by William Blum. Also his _Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower_. His website is linked to from the righthand side of my blog. )

I want to reiterate that I don't see these imperialist interventions as simply good or evil. The actual complexities are well beyond such simple judgments. In some cases, tough choices had to be made on the ground then and there. In other cases, tough choices had to be made in a quiet office in the Capital. But I do insist that violence leads to violence -- including covert violence. Not to put too fine a point on it: terrorism doesn't come out of the blue for no reason at all. And it doesn't derive from cultural or religious sources alone -- as too many pundits today would have us believe. Terrorism is in reaction to violence -- deep, old, recent, perennial, disruptive, personal, social, and economic violence.

Next, what isn't recalled in the standard histories in English is the great number of civilian deaths caused by the massive invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the shelling of Beirut's densely populated areas, as the photo indicates. I wasn't there myself, so I relied on other sources for this blog entry (not the Blum books noted above). Probably you are correct to say that when US ships shelled Lebanon circa 1982-1983, it was not into the downtown, nor as depicted in the photo, but rather in the outskirts and the hills, aimed at combatants and not at civilians. The amount of fire and destruction in that photo probably places it, as you noted, during the Israeli invasion.

Osama bin Laden & Co. seem to lump the US and Israel together. I'm attempting to point toward why. His view is not entirely wrong, though of course it is hardly therefore right.

Thanks again for your correction, as it stimulated me to review this matter.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

The same correspondent quoted in the 1st comment above replies again to say:

"Perhaps it is an oversight or people just simply forget. Israeli forces did not intentionally target civilian centers is well
documented that PLO fighters and the other 15 armed militias fighting
then took refuge in prime civilian sites, e.g., hospitals, schools,
churches, mosques, etc. At that time Israel was demonized as intentionally hitting civilians (after all, it is massive firepower
poured into an urban area, right?). They (the IDF, Israel Defense
Forces) target combatants and as has been seen in Iraq, innocent people
always get hit.

"The bombardment was conducted not at the onset of the invasion (June
6-10, 1982) but rather during, what is called the 'Siege of Beirut',
where the PLO forces were more or less cornered. From this point, they
eventually evacuated Lebanon for Tunis.

"I am almost 100% sure this shot was taken during that siege."


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