by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
July 19, 2006
REMEMBER THE MAINE, THE LUSITANIA AND THE TURNER JOY
BRADENTON, Fla., July 19, 2006 -- The image broadcast today of the Orient Queen, a sleek, eight-deck luxury cruise ship moored in the Port of Beirut - it's now set sail for Cyprus - with 2,000 American and British citizens fleeing Lebanon aboard, was seen around the world on Cable News Network and cannot have been missed by any number and variety of terrorists anxious to inflict damage on Israel, the United States, Britain and anyone who supports them.
If the Orient Queen was attacked and sunk with hundreds of casualties, either at anchor or at sea, the consequences could be extreme. Depending on who the attacker was deemed to be, it could lead to a much wider war involving not only Israel and Lebanon but Syria and Iran, too.
Ships have played a key role in the start of several wars over the past two centuries. As we remarked here before the U.S. went to war in Iraq, claims of attacks on the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor were attributed to a Spanish mine until 1976, when Admiral Hyman Rickover published an investigation saying the explosion was probably self-inflicted by the combustion of volatile coal dust near the forward powder magazines.
More recently, National Security Agency analysts said in a 2005 report that alleged attacks on the destroyers U.S.S. Maddox and U.S.S. Turner Joy on Aug. 2 and 4 in the South China Sea off Vietnam never occurred (see http://www.nsa.gov/vietnam/releases/relea00271.pdf). The reports were the basis for the Johnson Administration's Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which established a rationale for the American invasion of Vietnam.
The United States lost at least 55,000 soldiers in the Spanish-American and Vietnam wars, both of which got started based on false, or at least dubious and unproven, reports not unlike those that drew us into Iraq in 2003.
Reports of attacks on U.S. and other ships have not always been untrue. The on May 7, 1915, German U-boat attack on the Lusitania killed 1,153 passengers and crew off Ireland, and helped propel a then-neutral America into World War I two years later.
The seizure of a French patrol boat in Haiphong Harbor in Vietnam started the disastrous French adventure there, ending in its rout at Dien Bien Phu in 1954; that war left France with 100,000 dead and 14,000 wounded - most of them Indochinese and North African draftees.
A 1987 Iranian attack on the U.S.S. Stark that killed 34 and left 21 American sailors wounded was attributed by Iran to "pilot error," for which Iran apologized; in Oct., 1987, though, Iranian missiles sunk the "reflagged" U.S. oil tanker Sea Isle City, prompting a U.S. Navy attack on an oil platform in Iran's Persian Gulf Rostam oilfield; the U.S.S. Vincennes' mistaken July 3, 1988, attack on an Iranian airliner killed 300 people, and the Israelis' mistaken June 8, 1967 attack on the U.S.S. Liberty in the Mediterranean during the Seven-Day War, which killed 34 American sailors and wounded 173, raised fervent cries for revenge; cooler heads generally prevailed in all of those incidents, however.
[Update, Jan. 7, 2008): According to press reports and the Iranian news agency IRNA, five "fast boats" came in close proximity - perhaps 500 feet - of a convoy of U.S. ships sailing in international waters in the Straits of Hormuz, and one of the U.S. ships reported receiving a poorly-worded message saying "We will explode you." The incident spiked oil prices, and lasted for about 20 minutes. Closing the Straits of Hormuz is an Iranian option that would vastly increase the cost of oil, so even in this small incident a great deal was at stake.
The Iranian news agency IRNA called the action - purportedly to identify the U.S. ships - a "normal" one, but it had instantaneous and far-reaching consequences, perhaps even to influence the outcome of the New Hampshire primary's selection of presidential nominees. Since it was a Navy incident, it would appear to most benefit former Navy squadron commander Sen. John McCain, who is locked in an extremely tight race with former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, a politician with no military experience. More than 100 Navy admirals and armed forces generals have endorsed McCain.]
What does this have to do with the Orient Queen? History tells us that an attack on a "mercy ship" could catalyze reactions that might not be contained before they explode into a wider Middle East war.
Typically, U.S. naval forces provide adequate cover, both by air and surface craft and even by submarines, but such coverage failed the passengers of the Lusitania. The ship and many others in the vicinity of the Irish coast were warned the night before of U-boat activity in the areas that had already resulted in the sinking of two mid-sized liners the day before, but on the day of the attack, not a single protective ship was to be seen from the decks of the Lusitania.
It appeared to the captain of the Lusitania, a man named Turner, that all the protective naval vessels had cleared the waters after the British Admiralty's warning. But was England inviting a cataclysmic incident to get America involved in its war with Germany?
The repeated warnings received by the United States in advance of the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack by Japanese were ignored, leading some historians to believe the U.S. invited an attack in order to enter the war on the side of England. If nothing else, these incidents prove that if you want to start a war, you'd be most likely to succeed if you did it at sea, where no one else can objectively verify what happened except the captive military audiences aboard the respective ships or aircraft. Journalists and independent eyewitnesses won't be there to argue with you.
The inevitable problem of evacuating tens of thousands of people by sea on defenseless cruise ships is their vulnerability to attack by air, water, or passenger sabotage. Recalling the history of recent wars, we wonder why the United States has taken the risk. The answer, of course, is urgency; it is not easy to find a way to evacuate 25,000 people from anywhere, and especially from a war-battered city whose airport tarmac is in ruins and whose suburbs are under fierce airborne assault. Moving even 1,000 people a day is a difficult task even under normal circumstances.
Fortunately, the U.S. State Dept. has just announced this afternoon, as I finish writing this, that the U.S.S. Nashville will carry another 1,000 Americans away from danger tomorrow. Helicopters are also being used to evacuate another 240 Americans. That makes the evacuees a lot safer, and might also bring a sigh of relief to those worry over the history of ships at war.