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Tampa Tribune (Florida) October 23, 2003

1983 Bombing Marked Turning Point In Terror

The U.S. reaction to the Beirut attack set off a chain of events, some say

By Brad Smith
Information from Knight Ridder Newspapers was used in this report

TAMPA - Jimmy Barber wants the world to remember what happened 20 years ago today: the bombing that killed scores of U.S. Marines in Lebanon.

A Tampa Marine, Lance Cpl. Ferrandy D. Henderson, was among 22 Floridians who perished in the attack that left 241 Americans dead at a Beirut barracks Oct. 23, 1983. The U.S. carnage was worse than any single day of the Vietnam War.

Barber, a 53-year-old Vietnam veteran from Brandon, pushed last year for a commemoration. And now a display about the bombing is at Veterans Memorial Park off U.S. 301.

In retrospect, analysts say, the Beirut bombing provided a game plan for 20 years of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, although no one at the time predicted today's war against global terror.

Speaking in Tampa last week, Caspar Weinberger, President Reagan's defense secretary, ranked Beirut as the worst event on his watch. In his view, there was no good reason for U.S. troops to be there to help a peacekeeping force responding to Israel's invasion of Lebanon.

"I urged as strongly as I could, apparently not strongly enough, that we shouldn't be there, that we should take those troops out, at the very least put them on ships offshore," Weinberger said. "They were sitting in the middle of a bull's eye."

The military soon pulled out of Beirut, and experts say that emboldened other terrorists. Six months earlier, zealots had driven a truck bomb into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 17 Americans and 46 others. And afterward, terrorists:

Attacked U.S. embassies in Kuwait two months later and in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing about 230 people.

Hijacked TWA Flight 847 for 17 days in the Middle East in 1985, taking hostages and killing a Navy diver.

Blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 270.

Bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, killing six and wounding about 1,000.

Bombed Khobar Towers, a U.S. base in Saudi Arabia, in 1996, killing 19 and wounding more than 370.

Struck the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39 others.

Flew hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed one into a Pennsylvania field Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 3,000.

Assessing The Lesson

Osama bin Laden, identified as the mastermind behind Sept. 11, underscored the symbolic importance of the 1983 violence when he told ABC News in 1998 that U.S. soldiers were "paper tigers."

"The Marines fled after two explosions," he recalled.

"There is no question it was a major cause of 9/11," said former Navy Secretary John Lehman, a member of the Sept. 11 investigative commission quoted recently in Knight Ridder Newspapers. "We told the world that terrorism succeeds."

Not all agree with that conclusion. But some warn that today's shaky situation in Iraq, with continuing attacks on U.S. troops, may foreshadow another Beirut with potentially high casualties that could erode public support for the mission espoused by President Bush's administration.

"Every one of these bombings in Baghdad is a flashback to the Beirut bombing," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington think tank. "They've seen this movie, and they know how it ends."

Remembering The Sacrifice

Indeed, Bush reminded the nation of Beirut in a prime-time speech last month during which he urged the country to brace for a long and costly battle to rebuild Iraq - while not repeating past mistakes and leaving before completion.

Pike said the lesson of Beirut ought to be that Americans will bail out if they "see no good reason to stay and be blown up." Beirut was "a demonstration of American rationality," he said, "and I think it demonstrated what is generally the case in the history of modern warfare - that there has to be a proper tie between ends and means and cost and benefit."

In any case, veterans such as Barber won't forget the sacrifices of those who died two decades ago.

"I have a patch worn by a survivor that was donated" to the display at Veterans Memorial Park, Barber said. "The man who gave me the patch, he came up and said, "I know how you Vietnam vets must have felt. No one did anything to remember us.' "


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