US Marines and the Beirut Barracks Bombing of 1983, part 2
Forty years ago on October 23, the US Marine Corps suffered its deadliest single-day attack since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
On that day, in Beirut, Lebanon, a yellow Mercedes loaded with 12,000 pounds of explosives sped toward a four-story concrete building that served as headquarters and barracks for the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines (Battalion Landing Team – BLT 1/8) of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit.
The explosion left a gaping crater and a mountain of rubble, killing 220 Marines, 18 Navy sailors, and three Army soldiers. Minutes later, an identical attack hit the French barracks and killed 58 French paratroopers. We mark this grim anniversary with two weeks of programs talking with survivors and looking back with veterans of the US military intervention in the Lebanese Civil War from 1982 to 1984.
The Beirut bombing was a turning point in that Civil War, which had raged since 1975. The war was marked by a cascading series of sectarian conflicts where armed militias vied for control of the country. Turn by turn, the fighting spilled across national borders.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) used the chaos as cover for launching military attacks on Israel from Lebanese soil. Israel countered on June 6, 1982, by invading Lebanon to eliminate the PLO. Lebanon appealed to the international community, which responded by creating a Multinational Peacekeeping Force (MNF) composed of American, French, Italian, and British servicemembers.
The mission of the MNF was to oversee the safe withdrawal of the PLO and to help stabilize the country. That would prove a tall order. Iran spiked the violence sending Shiite fighters bent on fighting the Israelis and the MNF. Then, Bashir Gemayel, a Lebanese Christian militia commander who had allied himself with Israel and had been elected President of Lebanon, was assassinated before taking office on 14 September 1982. A wave of violence followed, and the MNF became major targets in the renewed fighting.
In April 1983, a suicide bomber targeted the US Embassy in Beirut, killing 63. including American foreign service workers and Lebanese civilians. This event marked a shift in tactics for terrorist groups in the Middle East, as suicide bombings became more prevalent. As fighting among the various militia escalated, US Marines and other MNF elements found themselves caught in the crossfire.
Most Lebanese came to see the US as not neutral but siding with a narrowly ruled government leadership. The Beirut barracks bombing itself was a well-coordinated and devastating act of terrorism. An unknown group calling itself Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, but investigators concluded that Hezbollah, a proxy army sponsored by Iran and Syria, had organized the attacks.
These bombings signaled a rise in terrorism that would continue to escalate over the years, with extremist groups willing to carry out suicide attacks to target Western interests. The attacks also highlighted a shift in tactics, as terrorists increasingly sought to maximize casualties. The tragic events in Beirut had a lasting impact and are often seen as an early precursor to the Global War on Terror.
The security lapses and inadequate preparations surrounding the peacekeeping mission were harshly criticized. Ultimately, the US began withdrawing its troops from Lebanon in early 1984 in the face of the rising danger. Join us for a one-of-a-kind commemoration and conversation that brings together over a dozen veteran survivors of the Beirut barracks bombing as well as others who have documented the tragedy and kept alive the memory of those who have passed. The legacy of the Beirut bombing still resonates, serving as a stark reminder of the dangers of any military operation, especially those in the volatile Middle East.
Joining us on October 16 and 23 will be: Michael Ivey, Director/Producer of “We Came in Peace,” a documentary of the Beirut barracks bombing
Jeff Hamman, former Corpsman who runs Beirut-Memorial.org
Robert Abril, 1/8 Corpsman
Greg Balzer, 1/8 Assistant Operations Officer
Miles Burdine, Bravo Company 1/8 Executive Officer