At 0619 on a bright October morning in Beirut, Lebanon, a Mercedes pickup truck packed with explosives raced past US Marine sentries with empty weapons, sped through largely dismantled vehicle barriers, through a fence, and into the lower floor of the US Marine Barracks that held HQ Company Battalion Landing Team 1/8. The explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear detonations since the end of World War II, collapsed the barracks, killing 241 Americans (mostly Marines) and burying and wounding dozens of others.


The facts from Beirut were grim and maddening. Sentries without loaded weapons, crew-served guns with no ammo belts, lack of barriers on high-speed avenues of approach. All tactical sins, all foisted upon BLT 1/8 by those in Congress and in government concerned with “posture” and “appearances”.

Imad Mughniyeh, the alleged mastermind of the Beirut attack (where a simultaneous bombing killed 58 French soldiers) died in a car bombing in Lebanon in 2008. In the intervening 25 years, he ran rampant throughout the world, killing and terrorizing as far away as Argentina. He was responsible for the hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985, and the murder of US Navy Diver Robert Stethem, 23, a passenger on that flight. In addition, Mughniyeh was linked to the bombing of the Khobar Towers.


Some hard lessons came out of that physical, military, and diplomatic rubble. One would think that they would be with us yet. Some apparently either forgot, or never learned.

  • Muslim extremist are willing to die in order to kill Americans, even when they are send to help other Muslims.
  • Proper “posture” is one in which US Servicemen are allowed to defend themselves and kill the enemy.
  • Restraint in pursuing and killing those responsible for such acts is seen as weakness by America’s Muslim Extremist enemies, and such encourages more and more terrorism and killing.


We learned, though. Didn’t we?

Well, the words coming from Afghanistan sound eerily familiar. Overly restrictive rules of engagement that allow the enemy to engage and disengage at will unless caught in the act of shooting at American servicemen. An admonition on the parts of General McChrystal and CJCS Admiral Mullen for US Servicemen to take “more risks” and not be so concerned about their own protection. An outpost sited on poor defensive ground and vulnerable to attack, positioned not by tactical necessity, but by political expedience. Again we hear the words “appearance” and “posture”. We see the handcuffs on our servicemen engaged in combat with an elusive and ruthless enemy.


Let’s hope we don’t hear again how US Soldiers or Marines died sleeping, or without a chance to fight back, because appearance, posture, risk, and political expedience put them in that position. On 23 October, 1983, 241 US lives were lost. If we do not remember them, and how and why they were lost, we allow those lost lives to be wasted.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Foreign Policy, History, Homeland Security, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Jay

    We showed up where we really didn’t understand the situation. Left soon thereafter. Congress tied the ROE? I find that odd, but would be willing to see proof of that.

    I have always laid this one in the lap of the Chain of Command then, including the decision to go in. And then depart. (making us look weak and indecisive — almost an early “cut and run”).

    Remind me again who was President in 1983?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Nobody ever said Congress wrote the ROE. Except you. And we know who was President and SECDEF in 1983. Which shows that adhering to sound principles is irrespective of political affiliation. Which is the point of the post.

  • Paul M Hupf

    We refuse to learn from the attack on the Marine Barracks in Beirut. There are enemies of the United States bent on its destruction, bent on inflicting harm in one way or another, particularly by stealth; e.g. suicide attacks by seemingly innocent civilians. Is the posture of the United States in the world today so naive as to look away?

  • AT1 Berlemann

    I remember this well since it happen on my birthday and lead to a no-notice deployment of my father with his carrier group.

    As to not knowing what we were doing there, actually it was pretty simple. We were trying to restore the status quo, which was the democratic tri-party government that had been ruling the country since the end of the Second World War. We had intervened once before in 1958 to help prop up the government of Lebanon with US Marines and US Navy personnel on the ground, Operation Blue Bat. We withdrew those units after 4 months on the ground. Hopeing the government would stay together. The Lebanonese Government lasted until 1975.

    As to the restrictive ROE. I would like to point out that we weren’t the only ones operating under those. 58 French Paratroopers died on the same day due to a similar bombing. They too were operating under restrictive ROE’s regarding the usage of force and the appearance being a military force. The situation was never completely solved to anyone’s satisfaction. Numerous people have pointed fingers all over the place as to why things were done a certain way regarding security. The questions the historians and others looking at this need to ask themselves is how could we do it better in the future? What can we learn from this?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Not sure anyone said we didn’t know what the overall mission was.

    The details of just how that mission was to be accomplished and what level of effort/violence our adversaries would use to stop us was by no means clear, nor was the lengths we were willing to go to counter them.

  • AT1 B


    Some of the articles, that I have read, about the incident some thirty years hence have seemed to ask what our mission in Lebanon was and for what those 241 US Marines and 58 French Paras died for.

    You are right the details of how we accomplished the mission was not clear and even in the clear as mud hindsight of almost thirty years since, the details of how to accomplish bringing democracy to Lebanon (and peace to the region) still isn’t there. I do feel that we tried to do our best in the region to prevent the spread of totalitarian regiemes and create democracy in the region. Our only problem is not fully understanding what sort of playing field we are on.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Well-said. VERY well-said.

  • RickWilmes

    The fundamental error is bringing democracy to countries that do not understand the concept of separating church from state. Any country that bases their government on the Koran or Islamic law is doomed to failure. Lebanon is even more complicated with a segment of its population being Christian.

    John Adams in his ‘Defense of the Constitution of the United States’ showed that democracy was a degenerate form of government. By bringing democracy to countries that refuse to separate church from state we only legitimize the factions that have majority control. We are seeing the consequences of this ill conceived idea with the increased bombings in Iraq and the voter fraud in Afghanistan.

  • Natty Bowditch

    Jeeez, URR. Why not just post “I hate Muslims” and be done with it?

    Your “hard lessons” are completely misplaced. Contrary to your assertion that we were there to “help other Muslims;” we were perceived to be supporting other factions against Muslims.

    Far be it for me to defend Weinberger, but in this instance he was right. We should not have deployed troops to Beirut. This is really the hard lesson of Beirut: Know what you’re doing and why. It’s impossible to play the role of peacemaker if all sides view you as the enemy.

  • James Dilport

    I was in the US Navy stationed on the USS John F. Kennedy CV-67 when the Beruit terrible terroist attack occurred. I was shocked and angered that my US Marine Corp brothers were not allowed to have their weapons fully loaded, and authorized to shoot per the Chain of Command.

    Fast forward 26 years later to Fort Hood Texas. Once again I witness another terroist attacking unarmed US Army personnel who could have stop this terroist after one bullet was fired if only they had been armed with their service handguns.

    Can this country not learn that disarming our military personnel, is a invitation for the terriorist to kill us?

  • Dennis

    It wasn’t one of the largest non-nuclear, it was at the time, the largest non-nuclear explosion on the face of the planet. The foundtion wasn’t rocked (I beleive that’s how CBS reported it) the building actually left the ground (the whole building) before it began imploding. Just thought you might like to know.