Don’t Give Up the Ship

From two until almost four o’clock on a sunny afternoon in June 1967, in the Eastern Mediterranean, Israeli jets and motor torpedo boats mercilessly pounded the virtually defenseless U.S.S. Liberty, killing 34 sailors, seriously wounding 171 (two thirds of the crew), and leaving the ship with a nine-degree list and a huge torpedo hole in the starboard side.  Though still afloat, the ship was a total loss other than her scrap value in a Baltimore breaking yard, where she ended her days after slowly steaming, via a Malta dry dock, to her home port of Norfolk, Virginia.

“The specter of the Liberty,” James Scott writes,

has haunted the U.S. Navy and intelligence community for decades.  The underlying question the attack raised in 1967 still resonates: How do politics and diplomacy impact battlefield decisions?  In the case of the Liberty, the White House, afraid of offending Israel’s domestic backers at a time when it needed support for its Vietnam policy, looked the other way.  Likewise, Congress failed to formally [sic] investigate the attack or hold public hearings.  No one was ever punished.

Over the years the response from Israeli sources has been that the strike was simply a tragic accident caused by misidentification in the fog of war.  Though Scott (the son of a survivor of the attack) refrains from interjecting...

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