Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finished: "The Root" by Eric Hammel

Finished: The Root: the Marines in Beirut, August 1982 - February 1984 by Eric Hammel, 1985, 015179006X.

I reserved this after doing an author search for Hammel in the catalog.

This came out just a year after the barracks bombing. I remember the news coverage of the bombing fairly well. What I would not have understand at the time was the massive screw-up that it was. News coverage praised the heroism and mourned the dead but finger pointing and political spin obscured things as they happened and afterwards.

Political shenanigans in Washington and Lebanon were standard. What happened 25 years ago is no different than what happens now. Reagan gets so much credit and praise from the right wing but he really fucked up.

The mission was never clearly defined. They were there to be peacekeepers but no one was quite sure what was to be done. The U.S. professed neutrality but was training the Lebanese Army. When the Israelis withdrew from Beirut things turned worse because the Israelis were the only stabilizing force among the mix of Syrians, Iranians, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, and the rest. When the Marines were shooting back at attackers at the same time as a Lebanese attack they looked to be actively assisting the Lebanese. That direct support, and perceived support, screwed the Marines.

The government glossed over the fact that the Marines were being targeted. Active sniping, machine gun attacks, and shelling by the moslems/Syrians/Iranians/etc. was referred to as accidental. Marines would be in day-long firefights. Politicians refused to accept the reality of the danger and allow better defense or improved engagement rules.

All the Marines had was some Amtracs and .50s. The rare times they were able to fire their mortars they were usually firing illumination. They brought howitzers ashore but were not allowed defensive fire.

Marines could not carry a rifle with a chambered round. They were not allowed to dig in or build strong bunkers - all they could do was sandbag. Their perimeter was porous and airport traffic could transit back and forth through or by the area.

The bombing itself collapsed a four story building. Body parts and concrete were blown all over. Hammel did a good job pulling together the different stories of Marines in the rescue attempt. Several Marines were trapped with their legs crushed in the collapsed concrete floors and slowly died. Rescuers could hear trapped colleagues but were unable to dig fast enough, or cut through the concrete and rebar to rescue them before they died. One Marine was found with a self-tied tourniquet around his leg but bled out before rescue. Many guys had to withdraw from the scene and try to mentally recover after seeing so many dead and dying colleagues and having to pick up their arms and legs.

Vice President Bush made a brief tour of the bombed building - where Marines running recovery equipment were asked to turn it off since the noise bothered Bush - and then said a prayer in front of all the cameras. President Mitterand of France visited the morgue alone and said prayers over several bodies without the press there. Reagan never attended any Marine memorials.

Hammel's epilogue mentions how Marines were proud of what they did but not sure what it was for. When asked "What did we accomplish?," the standard answer is "nothing."

No comments: