Saturday, October 18, 2008

Simon Says

Saturday morning Scott Simon puts on his uber-somber/emotional voice to do a little typical NPR surgery on history. He's interviewing Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), who was in charge of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit in Beirut when it was attacked with a massive truck bomb on Oct. 23, 1983.

The gist of the report - based on Geraghty's recent article - is that the truck bombing marked the beginning of a new tactic in terror - the suicide car/truck bombing. However, as Mike Davis has pointed out in part one and part two of his history of car bombings, the Beruit attack simply added the kamikaze dimension to a terror tactic which has a long and storied history (one in which the US and Israel have happily participated when it served their ends).

No surprise that NPR doesn't touch that one, but a Simon also censors a more obvious bit of information on the Beirut bombing. He opens the report by saying "220 US Marines and 21 other US service members died that day, along with 58 French paratroopers; they had been sent to Beirut as peacekeepers." Well, yes, they may have been sent there as peacekeepers, but it's funny that Simon doesn't mention a bit of what happened later. Even Geraghty, in his article writes
"It is noteworthy that the United States provided direct naval gunfire support-which I strongly opposed for a week-to the Lebanese Army at a mountain village called Suq-al-Garb on 19 September and that the French conducted an air strike on 23 September in the Bekaa Valley. American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality, and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision." forum has a similar note of the US political decision to veer from neutrality. The author of the post notes that after an initial positive reception by forces in Beirut,
"the perception of the United States as an impartial peacekeeper changed and, with it, the attitude of the Moslem population toward the marines. General Mead cited the U.S. training of the Lebanese Armed Forces, an essential element in the rebuilding of national authority, as one of the first developments perceived as U.S. bias in favor of the Christians.....The latest, and perhaps the most significant, change was the use of naval gunfire in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces during the September fighting at Suq el-Gharb."
This is no small quibbling with details. That so many men were killed is tragic - but it is hardly a simple act of "pure terrorism" as Geraghty states in the NPR piece with Simon. The Wikipedia article on the Beirut Barracks Bombing rightly notes that
"Under international law, peacekeepers are regarded as non-combatants due to their peacekeeping role, but in Lebanon the U.S. Marines had become allied with the Maronite Christians and were actively engaging in battles, thus waiving their non-combatant status. The U.S. still categorised this attack as an act of terror as it was directed against off-duty servicemen, which the U.S. defines as non-combatants. However, no international law defines sleeping or off-duty servicemen as non-combatants."
Simon, needless to say, doesn't raise this issue at all. Besides, that would also get in the way of the other message of the NPR feature: Iran and Syria were behind the attack and the US should have retaliated (and maybe still should?).

BTW, I'm also looking forward to see how NPR covers another act of "pure terrorism": the sneak attack on a little country which resulted in about a hundred deaths and was conveniently launched just two days after the Beirut bombings, thereby helping to erase that failure from the public's awareness (those Reagan years were such golden times!).


RepubLiecan said...

Fortunately for Scott the Simonizer there was an event with an anniversary date close to the election to trot out something to scare people again. Thanks for reminding us about the pseudo-neutral position those marines were placed in by their mission and the politics surrounding it.

RepubLiecan said...

Scott's deeply affected emotional response jumped out at me too. Having heard him do this so often only makes me think "phony" whenever he does it now. Michelle Norris is very accomplished at this as well.