All states do cynical things. One can’t condemn any government for a single bad deed. But the US response to the sinking of the USS Liberty is one of those things that has to be acknowledged before the American people can have any confidence in their own government, much less that of Israel. The basic story is this:
On the 47th anniversary of that unprovoked attack let’s be clear about what happened: Israeli messages intercepted on June 8, 1967, leave no doubt that sinking the USS Liberty was the mission assigned to the attacking Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats as the Six-Day War raged in the Middle East. Let me repeat: there is no doubt – none – that the mission of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was to destroy the USS Liberty and kill its entire crew.
There were notably heartless actions by the pilots who engaged in the attacks–and notable bravery by American sailors–that makes this an emotional issue. Critics of Israel point to it as the moment in which that state learned that it could act with impunity, poisoning subsequent relations between the countries. That’s probably not true, since the US can always re-assert itself. And, of course, this plays into the Israel-Palestine conflict and the broader Israel-Arab conflict. Those deserve to be judged on their own merits/demerits.
And then there’s the fact that the president who directed the American response to the attack on USS Liberty was perhaps simultaneously both the best and the worst of post-WW II presidents. For those who hate him, it is easy to turn his indifference toward American servicemen into a bloody rag. The stories of both the dead and the survivors would break your heart. But lots of presidents have been indifferent to servicemen. That is, after all, why there have been so many wars and so little response to problems like PTSD, Agent Orange exposure, and Gulf War Syndrome. Just because those men suffer and die out of the public spotlight doesn’t mean that presidents are ignorant of the human consequences of their inaction.
The main issue, as far as I am concerned is the US response:
When President Johnson learned that the USS America and USS Saratoga had launched warplanes to do battle with the forces attacking the Liberty, he told Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to call Sixth Fleet commander Rear Admiral Lawrence Geiss and tell him to order the warplanes to return immediately to their carriers.
According to J.Q. “Tony” Hart, a chief petty officer who monitored these conversations from a U.S. Navy communications relay station in Morocco, Geiss shot back that one of his ships was under attack.
And then, to add insult to grave injurywas this element of the US response:
[According to a commission led by] former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and before that Chief of Naval Operations) [Admiral] Thomas Moorer…
… surviving crew members were later threatened with “court-martial, imprisonment, or worse” if they talked to anyone about what had happened to them; and were “abandoned by their own government.”
How come Admiral Moorer, along with Marine General Ray Davis and Rear Admiral Merlin Staring were the only senior members of the military to demand that the human beings aboard the Liberty be acknowledged?
Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of the sinking of USS Liberty. Refusing to politicize it in any way, let’s make sure that it is never forgotten. Let’s make sure that the memory of what our government did never be forgotten. And let’s try to make sure that the survivors of that and all acts of war receive humane treatment for all wounds, visible or not.