I wonder how many of the individuals who go by the stone memorial, near the sprawling U.S. Marine Corps base, at Camp Le Jeune, ask, what is the meaning of the inscription etched into the stone monument --"They Came in Peace"?
Not unlike many other military monuments dating back to the Civil War, as time goes by, there is a sense of loss as to why such a monument was erected.
The monument in Jacksonville, N.C., is relatively new as is the purpose for which it was dedicated -- to remember the event of Oct. 23, 1983 and the 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers, killed while they slept, at their barracks, in Beirut, Lebanon.
It was in the early morning hours when a lone driver plowed his bomb laden truck into the four-story barracks with one objective -- to kill Americans. Simultaneously, another suicide bomber drove his vehicle into the nearby French Army compound killing 58 peacekeepers from France.
According to Leatherneck Magazine, "The ensuing detonation was deemed the largest non-nuclear explosion the FBI ever had investigated. The death toll it wrought led to the highest single day Marine casualty rate since Iwo JimaŠ"
Marines, along with armed forces from France and Italy were sent to Lebanon 16 months earlier to be a buffer between the Israelis and the Palestine Liberation Organization with the responsibility to escort the PLO safely out of Lebanon.
The original assignment had been accomplished but another one was added -- to maintain peace between the warring Maronite Christians and Muslims.
The "occupying" Western forces did not sit well with Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, proxies to the governments of Syria and Iran (which was never proven). President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of defense, Casper Weinberger, had been in direct odds with his fellow cabinet member, Secretary of State George Schultz. The latter wanted to implement swift and decisive retaliation. It never developed, at least in any meaningful way.
There were many lessons to have been learned from the incident that occurred in Beirut some 30 years ago. Obviously, the enhancement of security was the foremost. Not to station troops in the middle of a country’s civil war being a close second. Our country’s staying out of the internal strife in Egypt, Libya, Somalia and more recently, Syria, are perhaps worthwhile examples of lessons learned.
However, there were lessons that were not well absorbed by subsequent Washington political leaders. The major lesson, Islamic Jihad and their cohorts throughout the world, will only become more embolden when they see weakness in response to their actions.
There has been a pattern beginning with what had taken place in Iran, in November 1979 at the U.S. Embassy, the Beirut bombings, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the destruction of the U.S. Air Force facility (Khobar Towers) in Saudi Arabia in June 1996, the two embassies destroyed in East Africa, in August 1998, and the deadly assault on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, the events of on Sept. 11, 2001, and more recently the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. These tragic events were manifestations of Islamic Jihad’s plan to inflict havoc on Westerners.
Chief Warrant Officer, Randy Gaddo, USMC (Ret.), writing in the October, 2013 issue of Leatherneck Magazine, noted, "A question burns in the hearts and minds of people who know details of the 1983 bombing: If America and her allies had stood their ground in Beirut after the bombing, could the carnage on American soil on 11 Sept. 2001 have been avoided"?
Gaddo also mentioned what Colonel Timothy Geraghty, the then Marine commander at the Beirut bombing scene had written in his book, "Peacekeepers at War: Beirut 1983," "Somehow, we had lost our sense of justice by refusing to retaliate against Islamic extremists who committed acts of war and murdered U.S. Citizens. It is no mystery that America’s reluctance emboldened them to bring their bloodshed to the American shores."
And to emphasize the point of ignoring Islamic Jihad’s havoc, one only has to look at the ‘pirates’ nestled in Somali -- within a decade, hundreds of ships and their crews have been seized for ransom by this embolden group of terrorists, euphemistically described as pirates.
On Nov. 10, Marines, active and retired, will celebrate the Corps’ 238th birthday. Marines believe in the lesson their political leaders should embrace when they commit our military and also emphasized by Gaddo -- "Get in, complete the mission, get out -- lesson learned."
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.