Greg Maybury (👉) is a freelance writer based in Australia. His main areas of interest are American history and politics in general, with a special focus on economic, financial, national security, military, and geopolitical affairs. For 6+ years he has regularly contributed to a diverse range of alternative, independent media (AIM), news and opinion sites, including OpEd News, The Greanville Post, Consortium News, Information Clearing House (ICH), Dandelion Salad, Global Research, Dissident Voice, OffGuardian, Contra Corner, International Policy Digest, Principia Scientific, The Hampton Institute, and others.
‘…[Did] our government put Israel’s interests ahead of our own? If so, Why? Does [it] continue to subordinate American interests to Israeli interests?…I’ve never seen a President…stand up to Israel.…If the American people understood what a grip these people have on our government, they would rise up in arms.’ — Statements attributed to Admiral Thomas Moorer, on the 1967 attack on the USS Liberty by Israel (© 2004). Adm. Moorer was Chief of U.S. Naval Operations (1967-70), and later Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (1970-74).
‘Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep his word, and to behave with integrity rather than cunning. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have considered keeping their word of little account, and have known how to beguile men’s minds by shrewdness and cunning. In the end these princes have overcome those who have relied on keeping their word.’ –– Nicola Machiavelli, The Prince
‘If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.’ – Founding Father Samuel Adams.
‘Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns of foreign policy’. ― Henry Kissinger
‘Greg, I can’t tell you when I have read a better article about our great ship Liberty and her crew [and] can’t thank you enough for this excellent [piece]…. [All] Americans should read this, read Phil’s book, and [then] demand justice once and for all…...’ — Phillip Tourney, USS Liberty Survivor, on “Of Treachery, Treason, Terror, Truth, and Liberty Forsaken (An American Tale)”
Synopsis: In this the 50th anniversary year of the 1967 Six Day War (SDW) between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, we take another look at the origins and causes of that pivotal war, and with that examine in some detail the deliberate attack by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) during that conflict on the US naval reconnaissance ship the USS Liberty, with the loss of 34 lives and scores of casualties. To this day, despite irrefutable evidence it was a deliberate attack, the official explanation is that it was a case of “mistaken identity”. Along with showcasing one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. military history — and from there seek a measure of recognition, justice, redress and closure for the survivors and their families — it presents us an opportunity to place into broader, now ever more urgent relief, the history of America’s increasingly contentious and counterproductive relationship with Israel in addition to probing the role of both nations in events unfolding in and across the Greater Middle East. It moreover, invites us to reexamine the largely unexplored role played in these events by one of America’s most psychopathic and criminally inclined of Oval Officeholders. On all counts, author Phillip Nelson’s new book – to be released this week – Remember the Liberty: Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas, provides us ample context and perspective within which to contemplate all of this and more.
(Ed. Note: This is Part One of a Two Parter. The next instalment will examine further the principal events mentioned herein and the key players involved, and from there consider some of the geopolitical consequences of these events. Having been privy to the galley proofs of the book, I’ve been working closely with the author and the publisher in the preparation of this article and the one to follow, and on other pre-publication aspects of the project. Former CIA intelligence analyst, now activist, geopolitical commentator, and co-founder & member of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) Ray McGovern has penned the foreword to the book, due out June 8, 2017.)
— The No-Fly Zones (Of the Political Zeitgeist) —
Permeating the rarefied atmosphere of the zeitgeist at any given time in American political culture, there are a number of verities — truisms, shibboleths, sacred cows, myths, choose a favorite — embraced as unassailable realities by the broad spectrum of the two-party political classes and the so-called ‘body politic’.
Regardless of the intrinsic rationale for doing so or the considered, informed perspective from which one might be ‘traveling’ (or would like to be seen to be “travelling” from), criticising or questioning said “verities” is almost always considered verboten, with refusing or failing to fully embrace them being especially risky for academics, teachers, journalists, researchers, and politicians.
Those people inclined to venture into these ‘no-fly-zones’ do well to be mindful of the old adage about “fools rushing in….”, with the more au courant admonition, “Don’t even think about it!” being a more salutary one to keep in mind if all else fails to dissuade one. As we’ll see, in addition to sharing much in common, along with being extolled at every turn within and right across the political, policy-making, education, media, organizational, social, economic and popular culture firmament, there are at least three of these “verities” especially germane to our narrative herein.
The first of these pertains to the sacrosanct aura that envelops the US military. Considering its less than stellar performance across any number of ‘metrics’ over several decades, the obsequious esteem in which it is held and is espoused publicly is as unfaltering as is the actual track record is unflattering. Donald Trump’s recent encomiums (“we have the best military people on Earth”) shilling the virtues of the U.S. armed forces are not untypical coming from the military’s commanders in chief. With delivering such boiler-plate panegyrics all but written into the presidential job description, the incumbent ‘Oval One’ isn’t simply fulfilling his obligation here, one that not even he would disdain.
He is also underscoring both the durability and inviolability of the sentiment that attends this ritual mythologising. To be less than reverential toward or unappreciative of the mighty U.S. military — especially that of its rank and file service personnel past and present — invites knee-jerk accusations of being “unpatriotic”. At the same time, as Andrew Bacevich observes, whilst expressing reverence for those in uniform is something akin to a religious obligation….‘such bountiful, if superficial, expressions of regard camouflage a growing gap between those who serve and those who applaud from the sidelines.’
As our narrative herein reveals, this “reverence” does not always extend in turn to how the US top brass and their transient political masters treat their very own men and women in uniform, the ones whose virtues they spend a lot of airtime giving lip-service to. When if comes to bestowing substance to that age-old military bromide “we don’t leave our people behind!”, or the even more commonplace “we support our troops”, this is in fact, one of those “how not to treat your defense force personnel” case studies, an exemplar to be sure, but not of the good kind.
As for this unctuous mythologising and public fetishizing about the nation’s military past — when the blighted reality of its creation, conduct, conclusion, and consequences is so vastly different from the myths we’ve been force-fed via the education system, the media, and public discourse in general — Melbourne-based Aussie academic and geopolitical commentator Binoy Kampmark summed it up best recently:
‘Human sacrifice is the enormous tent under which political blunders and military catastrophes are subsumed, negating any questioning about decisions made and engagements undertaken in conflict.’
The second of these verities pertains to anyone openly deriding, challenging or again, even questioning, the U.S. government’s official narratives attending past and even more recent events in history. This might encompass everything from America’s entry into World War 1 in 1917, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Korean War, the Kennedy assassination in 1963, to Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Gulf War, and along to the events of 9/11, the Iraq War, the 2014 Ukrainian coup, and the recent gas attack in Syria, and many, many others before, in between and beyond. These include the official explanations for the events to be showcased herein.
As a former high-school history teacher (yet now at least partially ‘rehabbed’), in these and in so many other areas I can safely say that so much of what I’ve ever taught my students over the years with requisite conviction was, as the Limeys like to opine, well, “a load of old bollocks!”
Yet, for such folks (even for “rehabbed” history teachers!) inclined toward “questioning the unquestionable” whilst exploring our historical past or even evaluating the political present (what’s real [news]?, what’s fake [news]?), doing so inevitably invites the pejorative riposte “[you’re just a] conspiracy theorist” or some similarly pejorative claptrap with any so identified offenders promptly derided as potentially dangerous ‘loony-tooners’ with too much time on their hands and a fetish for aluminum millinery. Put another way, if I went back to teaching history again with what I know now and tried to teach it that way, I’d be out on my ass in a New York minute.
And the third — the most taboo of all those we’re concerned with herein — pertains to any criticism of Israel and its foreign policies in general, and most everything from its treatment of the Palestinians to the enormous, and enormously excessive, influence it wields in Washington and in the U.N., to say little of questioning the economic, financial and military assistance the country receives from the U.S. Venturing down this path almost always elicits the one-size-fits-all response: “you’re an anti-Semite!”
The recent grandstanding by U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley over alleged anti-Israel bias by UN members — such perceived bias increasingly if tenuously, conflated with being “anti-Semitic” — is evidence aplenty this knee-jerk response to criticism of Israel is alive and well. In such matters both Lawrence Davidson and Guardian journalist Arthur Neslen provide us all indispensable context and perspective and from there, valuable insights, into what might define the ever moving feast of “anti-Semitic” behaviour in any given situation, how those definitions are evolving and in the process becoming increasingly proscriptive, and why this should be of considerable concern to all of us.
And for folks seeking further clarity and insight herein, then Paul Craig Roberts is your man. In a recent piece he characteristically gave short shrift to the easy tendency to label one an “anti-Semite”, and noted that in “former times”, an anti-Semite was one who actually “hated Jews”. Writers simply attempting to factually report on actual events and those involved, now risk being ‘branded an anti-Semite by the Israel Lobby’. [T]oday he says, ‘…it means anyone who makes even a mild criticism of Israel’s polic[ies]…’ .
With all this in mind then, it’s time to press on with our narrative. Over the coming weeks, Israel is preparing to celebrate an important anniversary marking what it calls the “liberation” of land it acquired during the course of its 1967 Six Day War (SDW) with Egypt, Syria and Jordan (the then United Arab Republic; UAR). This land — what more objective observers identify as the “Israeli-occupied territories” — refers to the West Bank of Palestine including the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the western Golan Heights in Syria.
Much has been written about the SDW itself – a ‘ground zero’ turning point to be sure not just in the Middle East. Notwithstanding the 1956 Suez Crisis, in addition to being arguably the most significant event since Israel’s inception in 1948, it was also an event that has had broader significance for the here and now, and will be examined in more detail in our follow-up piece. Suffice to say, few people could argue for example that the current situation in Syria – indeed in and across the Greater Middle East — does not have its genesis in the conduct and the outcome of the “spontaneous” 1967 war. All of which is to say, given that both the direct and indirect blowback of the SDW is still very much a ‘work in progress’, the import of this revelation and America’s larger involvement in the region – and by extrapolation, its relationship with Israel and that country’s own role in past and unfolding events and developments — takes on a much deeper resonance.
After noting the “huge shadow” the war cast over the Middle East and the rest of the world, Lance Selfa writes:
‘The war thrust onto the world agenda all of the issues still at the center of Middle Eastern politics today…Israel began one of the world’s longest-running military occupations, which continues to be one of the greatest sources of Arab resentment against not only Israel, but its main cheer-leader, the U.S.’
For Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook, the “liberation” celebrations will be ‘a potent reminder’ for Israelis — most of whom have never known a time before the occupation — that ‘Israel’s rule over the Palestinians seems as irreversible as the laws of nature’. But ‘the extravagance of the festivities’ he says, ‘also underscores the growth over five decades of Israel’s self-assurance as an occupier.’
Referring to documents “found recently in Israel’s archives”, Cook also deduces from the information discovered therein that Israel’s overriding concern at the outset was to ‘hoodwink the international community’ about the occupation’s motives and its overarching, long-term objectives within the region. And in that time, we can most assuredly say that Israel has been fine-tuning its “hoodwinking” strategies ever since.
— Give us Liberty, or Give us Death —
Along with reexamining the less well-known origins and causes of the War itself, it is another event during that war with which we’re concerned at this point. That event occurred on June 8, the fourth day of the SDW, when a U.S. naval reconnaissance ship the USS Liberty, operating in the Mediterranean Sea, was deliberately attacked by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Put another way, we cannot examine the Liberty incident without a similar focus on the overarching event in which it occurred, nor could we look at the SDW without discussion of the Liberty attack.
And most importantly in this case, we cannot then view these events together or separately, without affording even more attention to the principal ‘mastermind’ behind both of them, one Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), the 36th president of the United States.
But first, to the Liberty. There’s no delicate way of saying this then: The explicit objective of this attack was to kill all crewmembers and deep-six the ‘sitting-duck’ vessel and then attribute blame to Egypt. Doubtless, neither the official narrative nor the very different reality of this event is one the powers that be both in Israel and in America will be celebrating with anywhere near the same enthusiasm. The premeditated attack on the Liberty by America’s most controversial of allies was then nothing less than a false-flag attack a la the Gulf of Tonkin (GoT), the incident LBJ used to trigger America’s massive escalation of the Vietnam War just under three years earlier. Not unlike the GoT incident, the planned, yet in this instance ultimately unsuccessful, destruction of the Liberty and murder of its crew was a high-stakes gambit conceived by key figures at the highest levels of the U.S. government and carried out by the Israelis at the behest of the plotters in Washington.
If successful, this attempted ‘false-flagger’ — code named Operation Cyanide — was designed to provide a casus belli for America’s entry into the war on the side of Israel. This almost assuredly would’ve brought the Soviet Union into the war allied with the Arab states in question with all that that implies. In reality, even if we generously concede this was not the very intention of those who conceived this perfidious scheme, they would’ve known it was the inevitable aftermath. To appreciate how much it “implies”, herein one only needs to contemplate a different outcome to the recent Khan Sheikhun ‘gas attack’ in Syria.
The attack — itself having all the hallmarks of a false-flag event — was still one reflexively presumed by the U.S. government and the corporate media to have been carried out by Syrian leader and Russian ally Bashar al-Assad, without any evidence to support it and prior to any investigation. We’ve heard this ‘story’ many times of course, and we will doubtless hear it again sometime soon.
As Phillip Nelson observes in his soon-to-be-published book, Remember the Liberty!: Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas, whilst there are many ‘unsolved and perplexing mysteries’ in the annals of US military history, few compare to the fate of the U.S. Navy ‘sig-int’ ship that was “mercilessly attacked” by Israel, intentionally and without warning. One of the reasons he says it is still a mystery is because ‘it is the only peacetime attack on a US naval vessel that, to this day, has never officially been investigated by the Congress of the United States.’ Put simply, the real story, complete with full revelations of all known and knowable aspects of the attack and its aftermath, along with the reasons behind the attack and the motives of those who planned and orchestrated it, have been covered up to this day.
Whilst he readily acknowledges the many people whose prior work has helped illuminate this tragedy and prevent it being consigned to the dustbins of history, Nelson nonetheless deserves our eternal gratitude for bringing us what amounts to the definitive account of the events and circumstances of that day in what can be rightly termed its proper historical context and geopolitical perspective.
If there’s any justice, accountability, and transparency – as well as closure – to be had over the Liberty’s fate, then that time has arrived. His account should dispel once and for all any further doubt about what happened to the Liberty, it being simultaneously, if incongruously, one of the worst ‘best-kept secrets’ in the history of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. But the basic facts on the ground on the day as follows, are paradoxically as straightforward and incontrovertible as they’re shocking and incomprehensible.
- The USS Liberty was relentlessly and deliberately attacked firstly by unmarked aircraft manned by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) personnel;
- its radios were jammed on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
- life rafts that were dropped over the side in anticipation of orders to abandon ship were deliberately destroyed by machine gun fire from attacking torpedo boats;
- the torpedo boats then slowly circled the torpedoed and sinking ship while firing upon crewmen who ventured topside to help their wounded shipmates; and, last but not least,
- Two flights of rescue aircraft subsequently launched from US Sixth Fleet aircraft carriers were ordered recalled while the ship was still under attack and calling for help;
- After those flights were recalled, Sixth Fleet personnel listened to calls for help as the attack continued knowing they were forbidden to come to the assistance of the ship; and,
- As part of a government cover-up, the U.S. Navy threatened to court martial and imprison any survivor who revealed details of what had actually happened on the day.
This is without doubt one of the darkest, most shameful days in U.S. military history, with the subsequent cover-up of one of the most treasonous executive actions ever taken by a U.S. president that took place in its aftermath compounding the tragedy, shame, and perfidy. To this day this “cover-up” is ongoing, with both Washington and Tel Aviv publicly refuting the attack was anything more than a case of “mistaken identity”, along with the ever-reliable mainstream media complicit in ensuring important facts about the attack would remain a “mystery” for half a century. To suggest otherwise invites accusations of anti-Semitism or conspiracy-mongering or both.
It is worth noting that Nelson collaborated in the writing of this book with three of the ship’s survivors — Phillip Tourney, Ernie Gallo, and Ron Kukal, members of one of the most proactive of the ship’s veterans’ support groups the USS Liberty Veterans’ Association — who along with many of their former shipmates alive today are still fighting for, and seeking from, the U.S. and Israeli governments no small measure of “justice, accountability, transparency, and closure” over the incident. But this task has been a long, hard road, the injustice compounded in no small measure by these individuals being subjected to abuse, derision and vilification from some surprising quarters, the details of which Nelson does not spare us. In order to convey at the outset the terror and harrowing brutality of the attack and its tragic, bloody aftermath, it’s perhaps apposite to cite just one first-hand account of the numerous disturbing, poignant of those written for the book, this one by Tourney. With ship-mate Rick Aimetti helping him, they
‘….found some fire hoses and began hosing off the deck with a “suicide nozzle” on it that sprayed water in a very concentrated, high-pressure stream. It took both of us to handle this hose, because it was like a giant python and one man could not do it alone. It was the most gruesome, heartbreaking task either of us had ever done because every piece of flesh was the remains of one of our fellow sailors, many of whom were friends. As [we] went about this ungodly task, tears streamed down our faces and I prayed to God for forgiveness in how we were forced to treat the remains of these men so sacrilegiously. In the gun-tubs we found a shoe with a foot still in it, which we put aside for collection. Many of the bloodstains would not come off, even with that special hose, because of the previous day’s heat – not just baking under the sun’s heat, but from the rockets and napalm that had been dropped on the ship by the attacking [planes]. We found out the hard way how hot our government’s most brutal weapon can burn: It can get as hot as 2,200°F, which explains why that blood could not be completely cleansed from the steel decks.’
— On Getting Away with Murder (Open Slather) —
With no shortage of folks inclined to deny it even now, this broadly is the unvarnished, if still incomplete reality of the Liberty attack. Given that the attempt to destroy the ship – a terrorist act by any definition of the word — was not successful, had the real story become known at the time it would have shaken the U.S. political establishment to its core. Moreover, it would have shattered America’s then still fledgling relationship with Israel, one that had been hitherto greatly facilitated by president Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ). Indeed, of all the insights and conclusions one might take away from Nelson’s book – and there are many – the following might be one of the most significant: It is with Johnson’s presidency that America’s so-called Friends of Israel really came into their own, and never lost their grip. This was not happenstance! As Nelson documents it:
‘Unlike Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy – who had all endeavored to maintain a comfortable distance between the US and Israel, in order to keep a neutral position from which to promote peaceful relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors – [Johnson] moved quickly to drop all pretense of neutrality.’
With the fiftieth anniversary of the Liberty attack and the Six Day War itself looming – and taking into account the increasingly contentious, costly and questionable nature of the ongoing relationship between the U.S. and Israel, one that derives much from the events of 1967 — now is as good a time as any to pry open the closet door and let the light in. But as noted, for Washington’s so-called ‘Israel-Firsters’, whether Zionists, neoconservatives and/or liberal interventionists, or fundamentalist far-right, ultra-conservative Christian ‘end-timers’ – a considerable number of whom past and present have been, and continue to be, the driving forces behind the destruction, chaos, and anarchy in and across the Greater Middle East — this is one skeleton in the already ‘hanging-room only’ closet of U.S.-Israeli relations they’d prefer was left dangling in its darkest corners.
As Ray McGovern has observed ruefully in his foreword to the book, the ‘U.S. cover-up taught the Israelis that they could literally get away with murder’. The inescapable corollary to this conclusion is that if Israel could “get away with murder” then, as later suggested by under-secretary of State at the time George Ball, it could “get away with anything” from that point on!
The Liberty attack was much more though than a treacherous terrorist act perpetrated on America by Israel, a country whose founders even before its creation were no strangers to the use of terror, violence, deception, treachery, assassination, and political extortion in order to achieve their short and long-term goals.
The attack was also an undiluted act of treason upon the part of the ruling Washington establishment up to the highest levels, with the subsequent cover-up, ostensibly in the service of realpolitik, representing one of America’s greatest travesties of justice for its purportedly much-revered defense force personnel.
As McGovern again puts it, amongst so many other consequential issues and challenges, all of the survivors for fifty years now have had to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), “on steroids”. This to say nothing of what their families have had to deal with.
Both these observations have singular pertinence to our narrative herein. Although more will be said in Part Two about the origins and causes of the SDW itself, it’s important to observe here Israel’s own terror ‘rap-sheet’, one that as noted extends back many years prior to its official establishment in 1948. As to the first observation, anyone doubting such verities regarding Israel’s history – the overarching narrative, much like the SDW itself, distorted and obscured in order to portray it as the perennial underdog defending itself against the collective animus of the Arab/Muslim world into which they intruded several decades earlier — might wish to read Thomas Suarez’s 2016 book State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel. It is just one of the more recent ‘go to’ tomes for those still harbouring illusions about ‘plucky little Israel’ being an innocent surrounded by hostile forces hell-bent on its destruction, always at the ready with the standard, and in principle at least, not entirely unreasonable, refrain, “[Israel] has the right to defend itself” (against these forces).
The narrative Suarez relates for us then is of an elite Zionist cabal unwavering from the off to firstly colonize and then transform Palestine into a Jewish state. Closely affiliated with this objective was the disenfranchisement, subjugation, displacement, and then expulsion of the local non-Jewish Arab population from the region. The Zionists at the outset weren’t just perfectly willing to use violence, assassination, and terrorism to achieve their goals, even against fellow Jews themselves who resisted or simply failed to embrace their methods or their ideology. It was a necessary means to the overarching end-game. In this context its difficult to view the Six Day War as anything but part of this broader plan.
Throughout his book Suarez meticulously traces from that point the tragic history in detail. To underscore just how unequivocal and indisputable this policy was, in his introduction Suarez includes the following statement from one of Israel’s founding fathers and Zionist ‘terror–meister’ Menachem Begin, who later became a Prime Minister of Israel between 1977-83: ‘We intend to attack, conquer and keep until we have the whole of Palestine and Transjordan in a Greater Jewish State’.
Who could argue that this unambiguous statement of intent has by now proven to be anything less than a self-fulfilling prophecy, albeit ably abetted in varying degrees by the United States? On this Ray McGovern provides us in his foreword some additional contemporary context and perspective. If we “fast forward” to today he says [that], ‘U.S. policy support for illusory “moderate rebels” [in Syria] – including false-flag chemical attacks blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – can only be fully understood against the mirror of U.S. acquiescence to Israeli objectives.’
To be sure Israel consistently positions itself as the perpetual victim of terrorism, violence, and aggression rather than being a perpetrator thereof. This enduring and impressively successful propaganda narrative has always been crucial to rationalizing its defense, security and foreign policies in general, and especially that of its treatment of the Palestinians. To simply say “nothing could be further from the truth” seems inadequate here. For Suárez, whose account covers the period of the British Mandate from 1920 until Israel’s creation in 1948, it was Zionist terrorism that ‘ultimately dictated the course of events [throughout this period], and it is Israeli state terrorism that continues to dictate events today.’
Insofar as the second observation goes, this treasonous plot was the brainchild of none other than U.S. President Lyndon Johnson himself – possibly the most unhinged individual ever to inhabit the Oval Office — whose singular devotion to Israel has been well documented by Nelson and many others. This “devotion” far outpaced that of LBJ’s predecessors Kennedy, Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower and even Harry Truman, the latter who himself helped expedite Israel’s creation in 1948 against the vociferous advice of numerous folks in the U.S. foreign policy establishment.
As we’ll see, along with documenting the myriad assortment of pathologies that occupied prime real estate in Number 36’s deepest psych-cerebral recesses, it is the primary role he played in precipitating then facilitating both the Liberty attack and the SDW that mark Nelson’s book out as a unique and essential – and to date, based on all available evidence, arguably the most complete, accurate and coherent — chronicle of the events at hand. On the fiftieth anniversary of both the war and the attack, one imagines there’s not a better time — all things equal — for such an account to be entered into the record.
Beyond the ever-present dictates of political expediency to which LBJ was in thrall throughout his tumultuous career, Nelson cites a number of factors as to why Johnson was so enamoured of Israel: his mother’s Jewish ancestry; LBJ’s own involvement in and support of the creation of Israel in 1948; and in particular, the influence many high-profile, pro-Israel, (mostly) Jewish people exerted within his inner circle such as Abe Fortas and Benjamin Cohen. Others included McGeorge Bundy, Arthur Goldberg, Lew Wasserman, Harry McPherson, Ben Wattenberg, Abe Feinberg, Arthur Krim, and the Rostow brothers, Walter and Eugene, to name just a few.
All these people more or less shared the same views: That of the need for pro-active, uncompromising initiatives designed to aggressively further Israel’s strategic interests, even at the expense of U.S. national interest. And as we see with this story, it did come at the expense of America’s strategic interests. That it is still doing so should already be axiomatic for all but the most blinkered of geopolitical observers and strategic analysts.
In fact, such was LBJ’s “devotion” to Israel, it chimed with his other long-held ‘magnificent obsession’, that of being the ‘greatest’ president of all. This grandiose, ultimately unrequited ambition necessitated him being re-elected in 1968 to a second full term. As it seems to be so often with American presidents, in his supremely warped imagination, being a truly great American president was synonymous with being a wartime leader. And if serendipity did not present such pretexts for war-making, then extending “serendipity” a helping hand was not out of the question.
As noted LBJ in this respect already had ‘form’ with the aforementioned Gulf of Tonkin (GoT) incident. As history tells it, the GoT false-flag precipitated the Vietnam War, thereafter igniting the whole South-east Asian conflagration. Along with being politically and socially divisive domestically and extraordinarily damaging to America’s international reputation, the latter was, at least until the 2003 Iraq invasion, ‘highly regarded’ as America’s biggest and most costly foreign policy misadventure and out-of-control military fiasco.
Even for terminal optimists, it shouldn’t require too much effort counterfactually hypothesizing the possible dire outcomes had the planets aligned on June 8, 1967, and LBJ’s grand plan in the Middle East had come off in a similar fashion to the GoT. As early as 1966, for various reasons the prospect of LBJ’s re-election was looking less likely, not least because of the Vietnam debacle. This realization was obvious even for Johnson, a man no stranger to self-delusion amongst countless other of his bespoke pathologies, all of which Nelson himself has meticulously laid bare in two earlier books on the man (see here and here). At all events, it was these twin obsessions that drove LBJ to commit the unthinkable. The inevitable result of LBJ’s dire political position at the time was, as Nelson notes,
‘….a resounding resolve to do whatever was necessary to get it corrected. Only the boldest, most dramatic, action – something so monumental that it could not be ignored or denied – to capture the attention of that political demographic would do, and nothing could stand in the way of accomplishing that objective.’
— A President With the Bark Off —
In order to convey something of the monumental treachery, treason and the tragedy of the Liberty incident, it is essential we undertake a more forensic analysis of LBJ as president and his past political ‘form’. This is a man whom in his 2012 book, LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination, Nelson convincingly charged with being the principal orchestrator of the assassination of his predecessor and the subsequent cover-up. As we might rightly opine, that’s some “form” indeed!
In this it is interesting to note the number of folks currently decrying the incumbent president’s psychological fitness for office. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, to the extent that any of us can have any authentic insight herein, we’d have to say Donald Trump is by comparison – no matter how odious such a “comparison” might be for some folks — a model of personal decorum, moral rectitude, social grace and political circumspection when placed against the reality of Lyndon Johnson at the ‘top of his game’.
In fact, let’s really go out on a limb here shall we? Richard Nixon is portrayed varyingly as one of the most deranged, venal, contemptible, delusional, corrupt, paranoid, treasonous, amoral, megalomaniacal and criminally inclined presidents of all. However, as Nelson illustrates in this and his previous two books, it is LBJ who ticks all these boxes and others The ‘Trickster’ might never have dreamed of if he’d ‘done an FDR’ and served three-plus terms, and then died on the Oval Office ‘john’ with his boots on. Up close and personal, LBJ, as one observer has said, was a man to see “with the bark off”.
But for a more thorough understanding of the Liberty incident and the War in which it took place, it is as noted earlier, crucial we examine some of the then president’s pathologies both within the broader contextual framework of his tenure in office and that of the times. As indicated, this is part of what makes Nelson’s contribution so compelling and essential. As the author notes, the LBJ connection has all but been overlooked in previous accounts of the tragedy, and the events and circumstances that both precipitated it and those in which it occurred.
Along with recounting the enduring, if quixotic, and invariably thankless efforts of the survivors and their families to tell their stories and then seek redress, as the author puts it, his basic job with Remember the Liberty was to attract the attention it deserves, without which little or no “redress” will eventuate. Whilst he says that ‘[P]ieces of the puzzle have taken five decades to become known….’, during that time many people have been working even harder to keep ‘the darkest secrets of the Johnson presidency under wraps’ – ably abetted by a corporate media that long ago lost any interest in the truth of the Liberty, LBJ’s “darkest secrets”, the truth surrounding the Six Day War, or even the more significant verities underpinning the U.S.-Israeli relationship — with many others continuing ‘to build the myths to create the illusion of a great president.’
In Nelson’s telling then, it is LBJ who provides the key piece that’s been all but missing from previous narratives about either the Liberty incident or the SIx Day War itself, on both counts begging the question that frequently attends any examination of presidential history: “what did the president know and when did he know it?”
As it turns out here, the president knew pretty much all the details before anyone, as he was both principal architect and orchestrator. Not only, according to Nelson, did LBJ collude with the Israelis to provoke the “spontaneous” Six Day War (the Operation so-named Frontlet 615) for possibly up to two years prior to the war’s outbreak, within that gambit was Operation Cyanide, the plot to sink the Liberty then blame it on Egypt, so as to provide the casus belli for U.S entry in the war. Only someone capable of enormous acts of self-delusion, Nelson says, ‘would even think that he could replace truths with lies, and that the lies would become the truth, could have possibly been behind this tragic story.’ He doesn’t stop there.
‘Only a person whose hold on sanity – and the last traces of rationality were intermitent and tenuous at best and completely lost at worst – could come to believe that an outrageous act of treason such as this could be politically beneficial to himself and therefore worth the risk of failure, or worse, public exposure….There was only one person who met those criteria, and he was not in the Israeli military or government. That “someone” ….could have only been the president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson. The benchmark being set for this case is simply that the perpetrator must have been someone known to have episodes of becoming “psychotic” – in this case, no other possible cause makes sense, because no one in their “right mind” could have done something so heinous. Just as there is also no known evidence to support an assertion that some lesser, maverick military officer made such a stunning and intrinsically outrageous order on his own.’
As Nelson summarizes, this is one of the least examined episodes in LBJ’s presidency: that in 1967 he “personally ordered” Israel to bomb and destroy the USS Liberty and its entire crew of 294 Americans, a false-flag attack that had been planned months if not up to two years prior! And when the mission failed and Sixth Fleet Commanders ordered the rescue of the crew, LBJ personally ordered that rescue operations be called back, “at least twice”. He wanted the ship sunk! As we’ve seen, against all odds, the plan failed. The U.S. government “accepted” Israel’s explanation, after which a massive cover-up ensued, orchestrated by LBJ and his secretary of defense Robert McNamara in league with none other than (then) Admiral John McCain Jr., (current Senator John McCain III’s father) and kept under official wraps since.
Although much more will be explored in our next installment, taken together with his previous work, what Nelson’s new book demonstrates is the following:
— the undeniable impact of LBJ’s ascension to power and the treasonous, treacherous methods by which it was achieved;
— the ongoing and profound legacy of his malevolent and disastrous tenure; and
— the critical need for resolution and closure on this lamentable chapter in the history of this Sometimes Great Nation.
That these “methods” were totally at odds with everything that America ostensibly stands for — and purportedly continues to fight for on its own behalf and that of the rest of the “free world” — makes this an existential imperative for all stakeholders if the frequently undervalued principles and ideals of the republic are to triumph over the destructive self-serving ambitions of individuals and the inevitable perversions of empire. With such imperatives in mind, the Congress firstly should demand pronto the un-redacted release of all relevant records, reports, documents, and evidence, including those relating to the Six Day War and the Liberty incident and make this information freely available in the public domain.
Secondly, they should establish a new Commission of inquiry into the Liberty incident in particular, yet with terms of reference that embrace the true origins and causes of the Six Day War itself, and LBJ’s involvement. The Commission should include members approved by public vote to ensure transparency and credibility, with the overarching terms of reference being publicly decided by an independent panel of established academics, researchers, investigators, and historians.
If indeed the case of mistaken identity is upheld and then confirmed beyond any doubt — as I feel sure it will be — as a bonus, such an outcome will shut those dangerous, unpatriotic, and just plain irritating whack-job conspiracy theorists up once and for all. And whether in Washington or Tel Aviv, those folk still wedded to the official findings can have the last laugh knowing full well they were right all along. What’s not to like? Not much from where I’m standing.
But if the inquiry proves otherwise, then that’s whole different ball-game altogether, for the U.S government, Israel itself, and its supporters Stateside. At least it should be! Official acknowledgment of the reality of the Liberty – and dispelling the attendant myths — should then be the order of the day, accompanied by a rewrite of the history books, and adequate compensation for and recognition of the crew and their families accompanied by formal apologies by both the Israeli and U.S. governments. This should have a three-fold outcome.
— it should diminish some of the ‘halo effect’ Israel enjoys in Official Washington and even take down a peg or three those who like to automatically label folks “anti-Semitic” when criticizing Isreal or taking its government to task over its policies, its motives, its plans, etc.;
— it might well give some pause to those folks inclined easily to dismiss or disparage otherwise thoughtful, genuine people who legtimately and bravely query the government’s official explanations for anything as conspiracy-mongering looney-tooners; and last but not least
— come the next time we have to listen to some politician, public figure, media personality, pundit or military honcho banging on about how much respect they have for “our men and women in uniform”, some of us might even be able to convince ourselves if only briefly, their rote platitudes actually count for something.
Oh and we might get to have ourselves a bonus here. A more realistic picture of the man who occupied the Biggest Chair in Washington from November 1963 until January 1969, and the still ever so consequential nature and character of his presidency. There’s still plenty of lessons in there for all, but for now,” class dismissed” as it were! We will see you back for Part Two. If you’re up for it that is! In the meantime, don’t forget your homework, clean up your room, and be good to your mom!!
End Part One – Of Treachery, Treason, Terror, Truth, and Liberty Forsaken (An American Tale)