The dichotomy between the first two speakers at this event was really interesting. Mireille Rebeiz seemed to have a very heavy level of academic detachment from the topic at hand. James Breckenridge by contrast (having actually been there for the bombings) obviously had a much more visceral and personal recounting of that specific event. I thought the foundation laid by Rebeiz was obviously very important but I felt that Breckenridge’s telling of events felt much more powerful and engaging to listen to than Rebeiz’s portion of the talk. Hearing his description of the bombing itself was chilling to say the least.
Outside of that, I think he did a really good job explaining the domestic politics that went into the decision-making process behind expanding U.S. presence in Lebanon and Beirut. It’s always good to be reminded that international decision-makers aren’t always making decisions based purely on international factors. There’s always going to be some level of domestic political factors at play. I didn’t realize until listening to this that the Beirut/Lebanon situation was pretty much all-out war right up until the barracks bombing. I thought the comparison Breckenridge made between the barracks bombing and the bombing of pearl harbor was a very interesting one. I didn’t really think about it as such a similarly powerful event since it didn’t result in the U.S. joining a world war. However, he made a good argument for why it was so important. With the benefit of hindsight the changes that happened in the department of defense, as well as the literal geopolitical consequences of the bombing, seems much more important than I thought it was.
Michael Gaines’s segment of the presentation, although less visceral than Breckenridge’s, felt even more personal. This presentation’s structure of going from least personal to most personal felt very purposeful, and I think it had the intended effect. As the presentation went on it kept making me feel more and more somber about the whole situation. The goal of the presentation definitely felt like it was to raise awareness about both the geopolitical consequences but also the very real human cost of the event.
Overall, I really appreciated being able to listen to this presentation. This may just be my own personal experiences, so I’m not sure if this perception is as widespread as I’ve experienced it, but so often these days I feel like I’m always hearing commentary painting U.S. military operations (especially in the middle east) as well as the American Military writ large in a negative light. I feel like people tend to blame the U.S. for a lot of the problems in the middle east. So, hearing someone buck that trend and describe the actions of the marines that fought Beirut in such an unambiguously respectful and heroic light was a mixture between sobering and reassuring. I was very encouraged to hear the stories about the lives the marines were trying to protect while they were stationed in Beirut.