31 years ago today, we woke up to the fact that over 200 of my fellow Marines were killed by a truck bomb. A truck bomb…now we have the “fancy” term Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED). In accordance with their rules of engagement, the Marines on the gate had their weapons but they were not loaded. The concept of dragon’s teeth, and serpentine roadblocks had not been developed (we learned from that lesson). The Marine compound was at the Beirut airport, and was the same facility and location used by the French peacekeepers before we took over the role. You would have thought that we would have learned from Dien Bien Phu / Khe San that following in the tactical footsteps of the French is not the best approach.
That morning, I awoke to the news along with every other Marine world wide, AND WE WERE PISSED. Thirty one years later, and I still am.
We look at the middle east and cities like Tehran, Beirut, Baghdad, Tel-Aviv, Riyadh, Amman, Damascus, and so forth and we see an active modern city. Then we try to apply our “Western” culture and values to what we see, and this is where we fail. We camouflage and obscure the truth as we apply labels like extremist, or terrorist to individuals or even groups but that is really not accurate. Since at least the 8th Century, Islamic forces have been in conflict with Christian cultures. Honestly, you could probably trace this back even further but, in many ways we are in conflict culturally not religiously. There nature of our conflict, is the willingness and ability of our enemies to violently attack anything. In recent history the attacks have moved to more symbolic cultural targets. The “things” that they feel are so wrong with our culture of freedom and forgiveness. Couple that willingness to do harm, with the tribal organization of the region, the global nature of communications and commerce, and we are left with the situation that we have today of continued violence and conflict not only with the culture of “the west” but also between the tribes themselves.
There is no easy solution. There is no clean solution. Our conflict is not one based (primarily) on religion but, is one of culture. Yes, our conflict may have started as a result of religious differences. Yes, there are still underpinnings of those differences particularly in the religious symbolism and historic places in Jerusalem. By and large though we are in conflict culturally, and that conflict continues to expand and be asymmetrical (another complex word for a simple concept) and unconventional.
31 years ago I was a young 22 year old Marine who woke up to a very different world than the one from the day before. So was Cpl. Kirkpatrick, go read his story from last year 30th Anniversary of Beirut Bombing: Survivor Shares his Story | Marines Blog.