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Taking Liberty: Killing Americans to Protect Israel

On June 8, 1967, the Israeli Air Force attacked an American reconnaissance ship, USS Liberty, killing 34 American sailors and wounding 174. Over a period of an hour-and-a-half after Israeli pilots identified the ship as American, while the sailors battled to save the ship and their lives, the Israelis attacked the ship from the air and torpedo boats, hitting it with armor-piercing rounds, at least one bomb and one torpedo, and strafing the lifeboats. The Israelis wanted no survivors to embarrass them. Israeli jets had also targeted the antenna, to keep the ship from calling for help. But, as James Bamford recounts, a couple of radiomen:

patched together enough equipment and broken antennae to get a distress call off to the Sixth Fleet, despite intense jamming by the Israelis. “Any station, this is Rockstar,” [radioman] Halman shouted, using the Liberty’s voice call sign. “We are under attack by unidentified jet aircraft and require immediate assistance.”

“Great, wonderful, she’s burning, she’s burning,” said an Israeli pilot.

But, hey, the Sixth Fleet had the message. We all know what happened next. Seen it in every movie. The cavalry was on the way. You can hear the order to American pilots: “Splash the bastards.”

Er, no. Wrong movie. (Try Exodus.) What actually happened was that the Secretary of Defense (Robert McNamara) and the President of the United States (Lyndon Johnson) twice recalled the American planes that were launched from nearby carriers to defend the ship.

That’s right, twice. When the Sixth Fleet carrier division commander resisted the Secretary of Defense—because, you know, RUFKM!—and demanded confirmation of the recall order, he was shocked to hear President Johnson come on the line personally, to say that he “didn’t care if the ship sunk, he would not embarrass his allies.”

[And let’s not pretend the plural is relevant here: there is no other “ally” that would have been granted the right to sink an American ship]

Never heard of this incident? Think about that for a second. No, five seconds. Give it some thought. Did you hear about in once upon a time somewhere, but it was treated as insignificant, and never heard of again? I bet you’ve heard endlessly, and know all about, John McCain’s POW experience at the hands of the Vietnamese?  (His father presided over the cover-up of the Liberty incident, by the way.) I wonder how this will be treated in Brian Cranston’s LBJ biopic. All The Way, LBJ went with Israel.

Why no Hollywood movie, ever, about this great story of military heroism? Isn’t it a natural, with the survivors appearing in cameos and all? What’s remembered and reported, and what’s forgotten and dismissed, and why, and under whose orders?

When you hear the great patriotic paeans to America from our President and presidential candidates, ask what they have to say about what happened forty-nine years ago today, whether they think it was OK for the President to accept—to order, in a real sense—208 American causalities so as not to embarrass Israel. And ask yourself why there is never peep one about this from any of our flag-pin-wearing American leaders or our free of critical thought media. Where, exactly, do they rank American lives on their scale of whom to protect?

What else is there that we might not be being told, today, about American lives jeopardized for Israel? Think the Iraq war, the destruction of the Iraqi state, and the Libyan state, and the ongoing attempt to destroy the Syrian state are “senseless”? Can our American school-and-media-built thought radar detect nobody who wanted, and benefitted from, the destruction of three states in the region that were militarily strong, socially-advanced, secular, and defiantly supportive of Palestine resistance? The Middle East is burning. Great, wonderful.

Remembering the Liberty is not just an exercise to boil your blood about what happened forty-nine years ago (and reading the links below will do that). Remembering the Liberty is necessary to understand what’s happening to us now, and what will happen in the future, if we obey the orders of President Trump or Clinton—either of whom will go all the way with Israel, and to protect it, will sink our ship.

There is no more urgent task—none—for progressive-minded Americans than to end American involvement in Israeli colonialism, which might start by ending Israeli impunity for the murder of Americans.

Links and References

Jerusalem Post confirms Israel knew USS Liberty was American

Behind the USS Liberty Cover-up – Consortiumnews

New revelations in attack on American spy ship – Chicago Tribune

History News Network | USS Liberty: Cover Up

Lyndon Johnson ordered cover-up: Former navy lawyer

Affidavit of Captain Ward Boston, USN, JAG (Ret.)

Statement of Rear Admiral Merlin H. Staring, JAGC, USN (Ret.)

The USS Liberty

USS Liberty Memorial

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Jim Kavanagh edits The Polemicist.

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