Friday, July 3, 2009

Iran Air Flight 655

The terrorist attacks of twenty-one years ago today probably won't be much recalled in the American press. The anniversaries of other large scale attacks are commemorated with somber front-page reflections on the savagery of the aggressors and the quest of the victims' families for justice. But the attack of twenty-one years ago, which left two hundred and ninety innocent civilians dead merits no such mention. The attack isn't worth recalling not because of its scale or significance, which is consistent with other major attacks, but because the victims and perpetrators are of the wrong nationality, the attack is inconsistent with the prevailing ideological framework. The personal tragedy of the victims deserves acknowledgment, so to does the reaction to it in the west and what this says about our political culture.

On June 3, 1988 Iran Air Flight 655 departed from Bandar Abbas, Iran for the 28 minute flight over the Straight of Hormuz to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates with 290 people from six nations including 66 children on board. As it took off Flight 655 approached an American missile cruiser, the USS Vincennes, engaged, in Iranian waters, with several Iranian vessels. The American ship fired a heat seeking missile at the airliner, sending it crashing into the sea. For days afterward Iranian vessels pulled hundreds of corpses from the water. There were no survivors. Reacting to the crisis then U.S Vice President George Bush declared "I will never apologize for the United States — I don't care what the facts are." That has remained the consistent position of the American government which has refused to even accept responsibility, insisting that a financial settlement with Iran was merely the result of American benevolence. Indeed, when the ship returned to the U.S its Captain was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer" and its crew were also decorated for their heroism.

It does not take much imagination to see how different the reaction in the U.S would have been if the situation were reversed. If it was an Iranian warship in American waters that shot down an American civilian airliner, if the Iranian government refused to accept responsibility and saluted the courage of the commander of the vessel, if the Iranian Vice-President declared he
This elementary thought experiment underscore the hypocrisy of not only the American government, but also of the intellectual establishment, as they berate others for violent actions which disrupt their interests.


nindee said...

It's sickening, how people can be so hypocrite..

Paul said...

If there was no adequate inquiry as to how this disaster occurred and by that I mean was the Captain and others court martialed then that is appalling. Is it terrorism though? Arguably yes as it targeted and killed innocent civilians. However it was not terroristic as the destruction of flight 655 was not induced as part of an ideological or religious cause. Unlike Lockerbie it did not form part of a Jihad. Nor was it counter-terror like the assassinations of Al Qaeda/Hamas/Black September/PLO (take your pick) leaders carried out by US/Israel (the UK don't do this). What was it then? The simple and horrible truth was it was self defence. At least that was the motive, the US Navy shot down a perceived threat. They shouldn't have done of course but they decided they couldn't risk waiting to see whether a blip on their radar was going to launch a missile or not.

There are similarities to recent events in Iraq. US and UK troops manning check points would open fire on approaching drivers who drove erratically and ignored warnings. The alternative could be to wait and see if what he or she was driving went bang. A horrible situation of course; and one that like the destruction of flight 655 gravely exacerbated the overall situation.

Young Activist said...

Great to see you again nindee :), the hypocrisy of the intellectual culture in the U.S, and I would imagine in any other country, can be incredible, though it is not incredibly surprising.

Thanks for stopping by Paul, I always enjoy, if I don't agree with, your thoughts. I'm not really sure what the difference between terroristic and terrorism is, I don't appreciate a moral distinction between the killing of innocent civilians for distinct motives. One can imagine the how different the reaction would be if the situation was entirely the same, but the victims were worthy. If it was an Iranian vessel in US or UK waters that shot down a civilian airliner. If those remarks came from a senior Iranian official. If the captain of the Iranian vessel was decorated for his meritous conduct upon his return. Western politicians and intellectuals would probably still be seething about it on a daily basis, and the explanation of certain Iranian apologists would not be given the slightest consideration. It's an illuminating thought experiment.

However, I don't think the U.S ship was acting within the justifiable parameters of self-defense. It was gross negligence at best, the captain knew, or should have known, that the plane was a civilian airliner, and at any rate a nation does have a right to use force to repel an incursion of belligerent foreign vessels into its territorial waters.

I'm glad though, that you recognize that this was indeed an act of terrorism, though, as I have noted previously that is primarily a political term with debased meaning. Many states, and virtually every major state is a terrorist state. That's true for the U.S, it's true for Israel, it's true for the PA, it's true for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it's true for France and the UK, to name a few. Indeed the example you cited of assassinations by the U.S and Israel are often (though not always) acts of terrorism, particularly when civilians are killed (as they almost always are) and when political figures are the targets (as both the U.S and Israel have done repeatedly).

Good to hear from you again mate. I haven't been around much lately, and I've missed lots of stories such as the coup in Honduras and the kidnapping of the crew of the Spirit of Humanity. But my challenge to debate you re: Iraq still stands if you're interested.