By Irwin Connelly
There was a time in our country when in the face of tragic events, for a while we would all pull together. We would take time to mourn with and pray for the families that had lost loved ones who died in service to our nation. Some time later, there would be reviews and investigations aimed at identifying mistakes and procedures which may have led to (or perhaps have prevented) the particular tragedy.
For example, early on Sunday morning, October 23, 1983, a bomb-laden vehicle breached a very ill planned and weak security perimeter and drove into a hotel in Beirut, Lebanon. The building served as a makeshift barracks for the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Second Infantry Division. The detonation of the truck bomb killed two hundred twenty Marines, eighteen U.S. sailors, and three Army soldiers. It marked the deadliest single-day death toll for U.S. Marines since the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Many more Americans suffered injuries in the blast. (At the same moment, a suicide bomber’s blast killed 58 French paratroopers ion their barracks two miles away.)
In the days and months that followed, our shocked nation paused to mourn with the families of the heroes. A non-partisan task force, made up of military leaders and civilians later investigated and reported on the tragic events. Recommendations for corrective action and procedures were offered.
Although our leaders, including our President, Ronald Reagan, vowed that those responsible for the attack on our troops would be brought to justice, there was no action taken. Within a few months we simply retreated from Lebanon. Our policy then seemed to be that we’d prefer not to dwell on the matter. We did, however, immediately celebrate our invasion of the small island nation of Grenada – an invasion which was ordered in the middle of the night just hours after we had learned of the tragic events in Lebanon. That “invasion” dominated the news and became the symbol of our successes in foreign policy and military might.
Likewise, after the horrors of September 11, 2001, our nation came together and spent time mourning and comforting each other. Heroes were honored. Not since Pearl Harbor and World War II had our nation come together as we did following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. In time there would be investigations and recommendations for actions and policies leading to protecting against such terrorism.
Then, something changed. Near the end of President Obama’s first term in office the tragedy of Benghazi occurred. Four Americans lost their lives in the event. Even before there was time to understand just what had happened, before the bodies of the victims could even be brought home, there was a well-organized and savage partisan outcry for removal of the President and his Secretary of State.
Despite persistent accusations against President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, seven investigations by Republican-controlled congressional committees did not find that they or any other high-ranking Obama administration officials had acted improperly.
I happened to be out at a campaign site the morning after the tragedy and witnessed the joy of several GOP sign holders. This was within hours of the event. One had already rigged up a billboard on the back of his truck, calling for Obama’s impeachment. They were congratulating each other because they finally had their long-awaited 9/11-type incident that they believed would bring down the President. I had gotten to know (and respect) several of that group. I asked if we should perhaps take a moment to give some thoughts and prayers for the families of the victims. No one responded. They moved a little away and then continued their celebration.
Again, with the suicide bombing in Afghanistan in the final days of the American withdrawal, the first reaction of the right-wing elements in the media and in our communities has been to push a well-organized and immediate response–calling for the downfall of our leaders. This is at a time when our troops were still on the ground serving the nation. Rather than bringing us together, these events now pull us apart. Loyalty to the “Party” now prevails over loyalty to our service personnel and to our country. The bitter recriminations started well before any investigation and before we could come together in the hopes of giving some comfort to the families of the heroes.
As best I can tell, the change in who we are as a country has been caused by partisan leaders being willing to rally their minions for any purpose so long as it might lead to demolishing their opposition. The good of the country no longer is even part of the goal. I still believe most in our community are very good souls. Let’s hope their good will can prevail over hate.
Irwin Connelly is a Flagler County resident.