In his piece on the tragedy of the U.S.S. Liberty (Cultural Revolutions, January), Matthew Rarey engaged in the type of blatant distortion and misrepresentation that is only too common in the mainstream media.  I am sad to see it appear in Chronicles.

Mr. Rarey suggests the possibility that Israel intentionally attacked the Liberty during the Six Day War with the purpose of sinking the ship and blaming the attack on Egypt, in order to draw the United States into the war on Israel’s side.

If Israel had intended to sink the Liberty, however, why did she break off the attack before the job was done?  Mr. Rarey states that the ship’s captain, William L. McGonagle, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for “heroically saving the ship from destruction.”  No doubt Captain McGonagle did behave heroically, as did his crew, but nothing he nor his crew did could have saved the Liberty, since the ship was essentially unarmed.  The impression that Mr. Rarey leaves to those who are unfamiliar with the incident is that the Israelis were beaten off, when, in reality, they suddenly ended the attack with the Liberty perfectly helpless.  The obvious explanation for this is that the Israelis stopped attacking when they finally recognized that the Liberty was an American ship.  And what evidence justifies Mr. Rarey’s assertion that the Israelis “evidently monitored the ship’s communiqués with Washington”?  In point of fact, Israel was not notified that the Liberty was to be in the war zone and had no way, other than visual identification, of determining the national origin of the vessel.  Under the stress of actual combat, not war games, there is a natural tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.  I am not saying this to exonerate the Israelis, but there is a world of difference between misfeasance and malfeasance, and not all the misfeasance in this tragic episode was on the Israeli side.

As far as the conspiracy theory goes, it is not plausible.  Israel did not want or need American involvement in the actual fighting—not so long as the Soviets did not intervene on behalf of the Arabs.  What Israel needed from the Americans, in addition to logistical support, was political support at the United Nations in order to stave off a resolution that would have forced a cease-fire before Israel could destroy the Arab armies that threatened her.  The attack on the Liberty could have turned public opinion in the United States against Israel.  This, for the Israelis, would have been a calamity of a magnitude comparable to direct Soviet intervention on the side of the Arabs.

What bothers me most, however, is the strong tendency among paleoconservatives to blame our troubles with Muslim extremists on a pro-Israel foreign policy.  Mr. Rarey’s piece is typical of this attitude.  We are hated by Muslims not because of what we do but for who we are—or, at least, who they perceive us to be.  President Clinton waged a war against Christian Serbia to benefit Kosovo’s Muslims.  The Muslim world sent us a nice thank-you card on September 11, 2001.  And just how pro-Israel has U.S. foreign policy been?  Since 1967, Israel has returned the vast majority of the land that she acquired in the Six Day War.  Israel went along with this “land for peace” process under pressure from one American administration after another.  The land is gone, but how much peace has Israel enjoyed?  And after which of our wars did the United States pursue a land-for-peace policy?

Israel, with its socialist bent, is far from perfect.  In the great war of civilizations between the once-Christian West and the still-Muslim East, however, the Israelis are on our side, and they can fight.  These are not inconsequential considerations.  We will not gain favor with the Arab world, our natural enemy, by stabbing in the back one of our few friends.

        —John A. Collins
Pembroke Pines, FL

Mr. Rarey Replies:

I wrote about retired Navy legal counsel Capt. Ward Boston’s affidavit, which accuses Israel of deliberately attacking the U.S.S. Liberty and Lyndon Johnson’s team of cravenly covering it up, not as a prejudiced critic of Israel.  Nor am I the flip-side of that warped record—the come-rain-or-shine apologist who refuses to acknowledge even the incontrovertible instances in which Israel has betrayed her best ally when it has served her interests.  Rather, I reported on a controversy that has been allowed to simmer for over three decades because it has never been faithfully investigated.  Why?  Because evildoers prefer darkness or, in this case, classified documents and the sealed lips of serpentine souls—sealed during their time in office, at least.

For a disinterested account of the Liberty controversy, I recommend James Bamford’s critically acclaimed history of the National Security Agency, Body of Secrets.  Another good source for Liberty-related information is  Photos of the ship after the attack—which was launched following visual reconnaissance, lasted over two hours, wreaked a 70-percent all-American casualty rate, and destroyed the Liberty’s surveillance capabilities, thus making it unnecessary to sink her—speak more words than this response can accommodate.