The suicide bombing on the Beirut airport barracks for American peacekeepers in Lebanon killed 241 US servicemen — 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers. The last time that many Marines died at once was during the assault on Iwo Jima, and the overall single-day casualty toll was the highest for the Pentagon since the first day of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The French lost another 58 soldiers in a separate attack on their peacekeepers, with both attacks conducted by a little-known group at the time called Hezbollah — a proxy terrorist network of Iran, which hoped to seize control of Lebanon through Syria.
CBS News is rerunning their special report from that day, helmed by the late Charles Kuralt:
At the time, the UN-authorized peacekeeping force included Italian and British forces besides the US and French troops, arriving in 1982 as Lebanon was seven years deep in its civil war. Less than five months later, the US would leave under pressure at home to withdraw. It was another in a series of retreats in the face of radical Islamist terrorism that would embolden Iran to use its proxies against the West. The civil war ended in 1990 without the Western peacekeepers, with more than a million Lebanese fleeing the country during the conflct, many of them the once-dominant Christians. Hezbollah still remains armed in Lebanon, and now has a major political role in governance.
The attack mainly gets treated as a historical note as a result, but it had a lasting impact on American security. Younger readers may not know, for instance, that the decorative broad posts in front of government buildings began appearing as barricades after the Beirut bombings to prevent that kind of attack here — a suicide bomber driving a truck into the lobby of the building. (Had such a barricade existed in the barracks in 1983, the driver might have been forced to detonate the bomb outside the building, and more Americans might have survived.) American enthusiasm for peacekeeping missions drained considerably, and the performance of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia drained it even further.
The attack has not been forgotten, however. Last year, after almost three decades, the families of those killed and the survivors won a $2.1 billion judgment against Iran for ordering the terrorist attack, which followed a 2007 judgment of $2.7 billion against Iran. That will complicate Barack Obama’s attempt to reopen diplomatic relations with Tehran, but the act of war should not be forgotten. Kudos to CBS for making this a remembrance for today.
Update: My friend Allan Bourdius will spend today paying tribute to all those Americans who gave their lives for the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon from September 1982 to February 1984.