They Came in Peace: The Beirut Memorial

marineIn the fall of 1983, Lebanon was notorious as one of the most violent countries in the world. The fundamental reason for this well-deserved reputation was a bloody civil war, which had prompted Israel to invade the country as part of “Operation Peace for Galilee” – a military effort intended to support the President of Lebanon, with the full blessing and overt military support of the United States. The object of this invasion was to provide a “buffer” between the various warring factions involved in the conflict, including Maronite Christians on one side and Lebanese Muslim communities on the other. Other countries had joined Israel in similar respects throughout 1982 and 1983– involving the deployment of the U. S. 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) to Beirut as part of a joint multinational force (MNF) with France and Italy, which together had contributed 2200 troops to peacekeeping efforts in the war. Muslim adherents in the bloodshed had already come to perceive this MNF as unfairly siding with Maronite Christians, but this feeling escalated sharply when the U. S. ordered a naval bombardment of Muslim insurgents on September 19, 1983, followed by a similar French air strike on September 23. By early October, most Muslim forces failed to see the neutrality of the peacekeeping forces present in Lebanon – thereby setting the stage for one the most tragic terrorist attacks in U. S. history.

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The Marines Were Part of a Peacekeeping Force
Photo credit: Someone Funny / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Early on the morning of October 23, 1983, the 1st Battalion 8th Marines, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Larry Gerlach, was housed in a building located at the Beirut International Airport. A subordinate element of the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), much of the battalion was sleeping when a truck resembling those that delivered water to the compound drove into the parking lot, circled briefly, and then increased its speed as it crashed through a separating fence into the main building. The driver, an Iranian national named Ismael Ascari, detonated about 21,000 pounds of TNT that had been rammed into the truck – setting off an explosion that collapsed the whole building and killed 241 U. S. servicemen. Another related attack on the garrison housing the French 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment was additionally responsible for the death of 58 elite paratroopers – making the day a very costly one for the multinational peacekeeping force.  Rescue efforts to recover survivors that were possibly buried alive underneath the rubble of the explosion went on for almost one week, involving Lebanese construction companies, medevac helicopters, and the frantic removal of debris. Approximately 128 wounded U. S. military personnel were pulled from the site, and the overall impact of the horrific event led to the withdrawal of the multinational peacekeeping force in February of 1984.

The Marine unit participating in the peacekeeping efforts that day, now re-designated as the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), is based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where the event is memorialized by a monument. Located just outside the front gate of the military training facility there, it is the result of efforts led by the Jacksonville Beautification and Appearance Commission, which organized a design competition through the North Carolina State University School of Design. Built on 4.5 acres of land presented to the effort by Camp Lejeune itself, the monument was a community effort that involved donations from across the United States. Students at Northwoods Park Middle School in Jacksonville, taught by Mrs. Martha Warren, took it upon themselves to write letters to the families that had lost loved ones in the tragedy and raise money for the purchase of memorial trees to be planted as part of the overall monument. One ninth grade student auctioned off her Cabbage Patch Doll for $1500 dollars, and eventually one tree was planted for each lost serviceman as part of a project that was officially dedicated on March 24, 1984. The monument itself was completed 2 years later and received its official dedication on the third anniversary of the bombing in 1986.

The completed memorial is in the form of two broken walls, representing the crumbled remains of the compound after the explosion, with a pedestal in between supporting a statue depicting a Marine in a peacekeeping pose. Inscribed on the memorial are the words “They Came in Peace,” along with the names of the 273 military personnel that died as a result of the terroristic act. Although some entities have contested the claim, the United States has officially designated the destruction of the barracks as an act of terrorism, rather than an event of war. Ceremonies are held annually at the site as a commemoration, and on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy in 2011 the Gold Star Mothers – an organization of mothers that have lost a child serving in the military – placed an honorary plaque at the site.

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The Statue of a Marine at the Beirut Memorial
Photo credit: The Uprooted Photographer / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

There is perhaps no other memorial that better captures the curse terrorism represents to the human race, because the bombing of the Marine barracks encapsulates all aspects of a vicious, diabolical cycle. First, religious intolerance, poverty, cultural narrow-mindedness, and racial hatred mingle with political violence – ripping the fabric of a peaceful society into shreds. Next, an outraged international community reacts through military intervention, but the long range effect is the deepening of the violent concoction already in place. In the midst of this, a new generation of terrorists is born for future attacks, which sometimes take place thousands of miles away as retaliation for a previous event in time – such as with the infamous 911 tragedy. Terrorism will never abate unless this cycle is broken, and this must begin with proactive measures. Those that have personally suffered the sting of terrorism, such as June Clark of Texas, are profoundly aware of this fact – as are the families of those that died in Beirut that day. Join us in making the whole world aware of this need by signing the petition to which this website is dedicated.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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Reconciliation: Canada’s Peacekeeping Monument

Peace KeeperAs signed on June 26, 1945 at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, the Charter of the United Nations grants the United Nations Security Council the authority and responsibility of intervening in world affairs to preserve international peace and security. Since 1948, peacekeeping forces of the UN have participated in 68 operations around the globe, and at the time of this article there were UN troops actively involved in 16 different interventions for which the UN had budgeted $7.3 billion. Down through the years, approximately 114 countries have contributed uniformed personnel to this cause, with an estimated 3,120 casualties that have occurred while carrying out the special duties in the field. The UN describes a peacekeeping force as involving “military, police and civilian personnel, who work to deliver security, political and early peacebuilding support.” For the country of Canada, it is estimated that approximately 125,000 citizens have participated in UN and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) peacekeeping missions, and the United Nations officially lists 121 Canadian fatalities that have occurred during such worldwide efforts to preserve tranquility. The Canadian government itself claims a total of 114 citizens that have died as part of UN interventions, and an additional 12 to conflicts involving NATO. Canadian dedication to the principle of peace, and to those that have died to preserve it, is very evident in the Reconciliation and Peace Keeping Monument located in the capital of Ottawa.

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The Canadian Peacekeeping Monument
Photo credit: Canada’s Capital – Capitale du Canada / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Situated proudly on Confederation Boulevard in Ottawa, the monument venerates the memory of Canadians, both living and deceased, who have participated in peacekeeping missions down through the years since 1947. Depicting 3 peacekeepers – two men and one woman – that are standing on sharp edges of stone that cut through the rubble and debris of war, this unique memorial symbolizes the resolution of wartime conflict. Below the three military figures, the word “reconciliation” is etched in stone, and elsewhere the monument is also inscribed with the words of former Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Laureate Lester B. Pearson, who said “we need action not only to end the fighting but to make the peace… My own government would be glad to recommend Canadian participation in such a United Nations force, a truly international peace and police force.” Completed in 1992, the memorial is the work of architects Richard and George Henriquez, who have long been dedicated to the moral and social dimensions that can be a part of architectural endeavors. It is situated an easy walking’s distance from the National Gallery of Canada and the U. S. Embassy.

Besides the recognition it brings to the peacekeepers in Canadian history, the Canadian Peacekeeping Monument also serves as a testimony to the important role Lester Pearson and Canada have played in the worldwide development of peacekeeping efforts by the UN. During the Suez Crisis of the 1950s, Israel and Egypt fought tenaciously for control of the Suez Canal – with France and Great Britain at one point taking the side of Israel and even bombing Cairo on the behalf of the Israelis. In order to grant the invading powers the opportunity to save face and withdraw from occupied territory adjacent to the Suez Canal, Pearson proposed to the United Nations the idea of organizing a peacekeeping force that

would intervene in the crisis. The end result of his efforts was the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), which played an active presence in the area from 1956 until 1967. Pearson proposed the creation of UNEF during his tenure as the Canadian Minister of External Affairs, and to this day he is considered to be the father of the modern theory of “peacekeeping.” Thus, the Peacekeeping Monument located in Ottawa is not just a hallmark to the sacrifice of Canadian peacekeeping forces, but also to the birth and significance of that concept in international affairs. In recognition of his efforts, Pearson – who died in 1972 – won the Noble Peace Prize in 1957.

United Nations Peacekeeping Forces

The Blue Helmet of UN Forces
Photo credit: United Nations Photo / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Wearing the familiar blue combat helmet of the United Nations, troops performing peacekeeping duties around the world are empowered to promote, monitor, and observe the peacebuilding process taking place in post-conflict areas of concern. As indicated at the UN Peacekeeping website, these forces “are called upon not only to maintain peace and security, but also to facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; support the organization of elections, protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law.” Since the end of the Cold War, the number and cost of peacekeeping efforts has risen steadily, due mostly to the increased spirit of cooperation that broke upon the world stage. Furthermore, this involvement has come to include ever-increasing non-military connotations, such as the promotion and monitoring of desired civic functions, including democratic elections.

Canadians have every right to be proud of the role they have taken in bringing the concept of peacekeeping onto the international scene. However, the sacrifice and hope represented in their Peacekeeping Monument is for the whole world, meaning that it is a symbol that reaches beyond the geographic boundaries of Canada and speaks to a worldwide human need – namely peace. The promoters of this website ask you to show your commitment to these ideals by clicking on the link below and signing the petition to which we are dedicated. Like the Canadian Peacekeeping Monument, a memorial dedicated to the victims of terrorism is a statement on the need for peace, and you can express your commitment to that need in the next 5 minutes.

You can help promote the establishment of a monument dedicated to all American victims of terrorism, whether they died at home or abroad, by clicking the link above and signing the petition. Nothing is asked but your signature for a good cause.

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