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The Beirut Lesson

Before I give my take on what happened in Kirkwood last night, there are two historical lessons, neither of them directly related to the incident that I'll want to be able to refer to without having to explain them. Here's the first one.

In 1983, President Reagan decided that the US could not stand by and let a US ally, Lebanon, descend into chaos and civil war. So we sent over a battalion of US Marines, preparatory to sending more troops if necessary, to separate the warring sides long enough that peace talks could begin. The Marines knew that they had been dropped into the middle of a shooting war. They knew that all three sides in that civil war were, in part, proxy armies for better-armed regional powers. They also knew that at least one of those sides was receiving substantial military aid from the Soviet Union. So they knew to expect trouble, and their improvised base was fully guarded.

When a truck, driven by an unfamiliar driver, crashed through the barricades outside the base, the Marines didn't have to think long about what to do. They knew they were under attack, and opened fire, immediately killing the driver and crippling the vehicle. But the vehicle was already moving fast enough that its own momentum carried it the rest of the way to the wall of the barracks building, the building where the bulk of the American forces in Lebanon were inside at the time. The entire cargo compartment of that truck was one big bomb; it detonated as soon as the truck hit the wall.

Although Reagan pledged revenge, by the end of the week he (and the rest of America) decided it wasn't worth it, capitulated to the terrorists, withdrew our forces, and let the Lebanese Civil War go on without us. But that's not the relevant point. No, the relevant point is what I have called, ever since 1983, The Beirut Lesson. And the Beirut Lesson is this:

If enough people want you dead so badly that they don't care what happens to them as long as they get you, no force on earth can keep you alive.

I don't care how heavily armed you are. I don't care how prepared you are. I don't care how many police, private security, bodyguards, soldiers, and/or mercenaries you hire. I don't care what precautions you take. I don't even care if the gods themselves are on your side; if enough people want you dead so badly that they don't care if they die, they don't care how many of them die, they don't even care what you do to their families and loved ones after they die, just so long as you die too? You're dead.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 8th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
My brother in law was in the Navy on a ship sitting off the coast of Lebanon when this all went down. He said it was quite a scary time for everyone, not knowing whether we would declare war.
Feb. 8th, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)
This follows from the simple fact that it will always be easier to destroy than to create. The destroyers don't need gods, they have Entropy on their side.
Feb. 8th, 2008 10:30 pm (UTC)
The IRA had a slogan that they directed at the police and security forces at the time of the Brighton bombing: 'you have to be lucky all the time, we only have to be lucky once'.

In the end, though ... it's something Brad's said before. Human beings are human beings. The number of people in the world who genuinely will stop at nothing to follow an ideology or kill their enemies (rather than, say, take extreme measures to achieve an immediate goal) is very small, by any standard of reckoning, and they're pretty easy to pick out from a crowd.
Feb. 8th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
The details you cite are emphatically not true. From "Killer Elite" (informal history of the US Army Intelligence Support Activity, aka 'Army of Northern Virginia') , p. 87-89.

"The commission set up under retired US Navy Admiral Robert R J Long to look into the bombing specifically pointed to the failure by the commander of EUCOM and others to share intelligence properly, and the lack of efficient security measures around the Marines' barracks, as the prime reasons for the awful success of the terrorist attack." (Emphasis added.)

The Marines on sentry duty were not permitted to have loaded rifles. Anti-vehicle barriers (now standard at every military base in the world and many civilian sites) were not installed.

"The Activity team also briefed Marine commanders on the potential threats against their troops and position, specifically warning them about their vulnerability to car bombs, another former ISA officer said. 'They discussed the need to improve the roadblock leading into their position and the rules imposed on those at the roadblock. The Marines were not allowed to keep their weapons loaded. The arrangement of the roadblock allowed vehicles to drive through, at fairly high speed without stopping. In short, the roadblock was a roadblock in name only. I believe this was also included in our after action report. We were livid when the Marine commander was later questioned, after the bombing, about this very point and he replied, that we had warned only about the threat of car bombings, not truck bombings. What the hell was the difference?'" p. 80-81 (Emphasis added)

Further, for political reasons the Marine barracks were placed in the middle of a fishbowl, wide open to snipers, artillery and mortar fire.

Both ISA and Seal Team 6 recommended to both the Marines and the Embassy that electronic, automatic anti-bombing transmitters be deployed. These transmit detonation commands on all available frequencies. Car and truck bombs, and some vest bombs, usually have remote detonation. Car and truck bombers are often discovered by later forensics to have been thoughtfully chained to the steering wheel. The remote detonator allows the observer to set off the bomb immediately if the driver changes his mind about jihad.

Seal 6 drove around Beirut in 1982 with one of these activated and had 'several' bombmaking sites blow up as they did so.

Allegedly (although I don't have the cite for this with me), the American ambassadorial staff declined to have a anti-bombing transmitter installed because it would endanger Lebanese civilians in apartment buildings on the embassy perimeter (!!!). Sadly, the bureaucrat who made this lethal decision survived. The embassy pickup truck bombing cost 63 people their lives, including six CIA officers, eleven Marines and one SFOD operator training eleven local Lebanese bodyguards. (p. 70)

ISA had prior threat intelligence including orders from Iran and the location of bomb-making facilities. This intelligence was not disseminated by the Army to either the Embassy security people or the Marine commanders on the ground.

Amusingly enough, I agree with your point if not the specific way in which you make it. If you have ENOUGH opponents who want you dead, and are willing to die to succeed, they will find a way to kill your principal.

This unpleasant fact is one of the basics of executive protection training, Secret Service training, and counter-insurgency / counter-terror operations.
Feb. 8th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
You missed what I see as the real point, but you grabbed it back in the penultimate paragraph.
Feb. 8th, 2008 11:40 pm (UTC)
Brad kinda tends to exaggerate the facts to make his points. I don't think that's intentional, but it's a little problematic because:

1.) It somewhat undermines the point ("if this is really so, then why do you need to fudge the facts to make your case?")
2.) Urban legend/telephone syndrome. People are going to remember and repeat the revised "facts," perhaps altering them further, and disinformation spreads.

I don't think the first one is that big of a deal, because brad's points are usually solid enough, but the second is an ongoing problem in human thought.

Which is the long way of saying: I think that constructive fact-checking comments sort of inherently have value.
Feb. 8th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC)
unless you're willing to expend considerable resources into either locating & killing all these folks which is morally questionable or opening a dialog with them to at least attempt to deal with the reasons they seem to think all the world's problems will be improved if not solved with yr death -
One of my oldest & dearest friends was working for an photo agency and had arrived in Beirut just 4 hours before the attack - was days before I knew if he was alright or not -
Feb. 9th, 2008 08:01 am (UTC)
Was he alright?
Feb. 16th, 2008 05:15 am (UTC)
I meant to answer - yes - he was fine and thrilled that his timing was so great - and survived to return on another assignment in the first Gulf War - I remember sobbing at work when it was announced the bombing had started and I knew he was there somewhere - but - he broke his hand playing handball on some aircraft carrier and the news agency sent him home because while he could still operate the camera with one hand - he couldn't put a gas mask on with just one hand - so he comes home and starts talking about healing in time to go back for the then proposed US Marines landing on the beach fro a land invasion - I started to have my usual heart attack - then girlfriend who was with us - and possibly because she was originally form New Jersey - said - no problem - we'll just break his other hand - oddly enough that made me feel much better - but he landed a job as a still photographer - Boys in the Hood i think - and there was no land invasion to speak of as I recall - he went on to be key art photographer in several movies and produced and directed his own The Pet - about slavery in this day and age - probably a simple yes would have sufficed but there you are -
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