June 8 1967, Another Day that Lives in Infamy, the Attack on the USS Liberty. Yada Yada Yada.
Ah, the USS Liberty incident. June 8 1967, the USS Liberty, a “technical research ship,” IE a spy ship, is in international waters off the coast of Egypt. This was during the Six Day War, when Israel was fighting Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. Israeli air and naval forces repeatedly attacked the USS Liberty, despite the fact that it was clearly marked as a US vessel. 34 crewmen were killed, 171 (or 174) were injured, and the vessel was badly damaged. Afterwards, both the US and Israel concluded it had been an accident, and Israel paid tens of millions of dollars in compensation to the families of the dead and wounded. Many people did not accept this explanation, and controversy and conspiracy theory roils to this day. Two survivors run a website dedicated to exposing the alleged cover-up.
The whole Liberty incident from beginning to end is rather complicated. I’m not going into the nuts and bolts of it, because it’s not really relevant to this post. And I don’t imagine I can add anything when countless others have examined the ins and outs of it, I certainly don’t know if the attack was deliberate or not. It might have been, and one or both governments might have conspired to cover up the truth. These sorts of things have happened, and while they sometimes get cleared up in the decades or centuries after the fact, sometimes they don’t. It’s safe to say that unless there are some revelations, we peasants will never know for sure how it was that Israel repeatedly attacked a US ship.
However, there is one aspect of this incident where my opinion has changed. Or at least grown more nuanced. Much has been made of the fact that the ship was clearly marked as an American ship. Which to many people’s way of thinking makes it impossible that attackers didn’t recognize this, and thus must have deliberately attacked an American ship. Alas, what science now knows about human perception, especially under stress, is that our perception is really inaccurate. If the pilots and sailors involved were told they would be attacking an Egyptian ship, it would be quite understandable if that is exactly what they saw. The image we see is created by our brains, and our expectations and focus can affect what we perceive. The attackers didn’t see the American flag and markings because they were focused on other things, and not expecting to see an American flag and markings. The same way these people didn’t see the gorilla.
Does this mean we can’t trust our own eyes? Nope. Nor our brains either. Add to that the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s a wonder that we make any progress at all. Still, here we are. Trying to make sense of it all. At least some of us. Are there any other lessons in the Liberty Incident? None that I can think of, it certainly wasn’t of strategic or even tactical importance. If the ship had been sunk, it might have made more of a public impact, but that would have faded. If the Liberty hadn’t been attacked, I can’t imagine how that would have changed history. One of the dead would have gone on and been the next Hitler? Seems pretty unlikely. In my final analysis, these deaths, like most war deaths, didn’t really mean much at all. Soldiers are cannon fodder, dying in wars is part of the job. And what a sucky job that is. How many other jobs involve people trying to kill you? Hockey. Politics. That’s about it.
Aside from the Liberty Incident, did the Six Day War have any other influence on history? Yes, even if the gentle reader has never heard of it. (Sometime I forget that I am above the median human age, and many people don’t remember the sixties because they weren’t alive yet.) It was a very important war, as war importance goes. Almost anything I say about it will be controversial. Or cause offence to some people. They aren’t the same, despite what generations of Evolution deniers maintain. For one it established that Israel had absolute military superiority over their neighbours. It also put Israel in control of all of Palestine, and the Golan heights, which were not traditionally part of Palestine. Ultimately, it got the nations bordering Israel out of the mix, Egypt and Jordan at least. Both sensibly decided that Israel could have the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and that was the end of noise about “driving Israel into the sea.“
And of course with Israel ultimately at peace with its neighbours, the now safe Jewish homeland of Israel made a just settlement with the Palestinians who also now lived in Israel, and everyone lived happily ever after. Alas, no. Israel had the land, but didn’t want the people living there because they weren’t Jewish. And since then has worked to steadily disenfranchise, legitimize, impoverish, and demonize their Palestinian neighbours, while bit by bit stealing their land. Fortunately all is not hopeless, many Palestinians and Israelis are working peacefully for a just solution to the Palestine problem. I in fact I am joining JVP, Jewish Voice for Peace, and will be posting more on the topic in the near future. (Honestly, some readers were surprised by that? I hope.)
(The above image is from Wikipedia, so I am assuming it is public domain. In any event it’s not being used for profit, yada yada yada. And can someone explain to me why yada yada yada is not in my spelling dictionary? It’s been in the OED for a decade or more. We have computers now people, we’re supposed to keep up with stuff like this. Sheesh.)