You want a conspiracy theory to haunt what should be a solemn remembrance of America’s war heroes? A “not really” would be many people’s answer to that type of question. But the Washington Examiner in it’s article on 13 heroes who received the Medal of Honor – and who we should know about as they put it – brought into that list a haunted ship and a troubling story.

One that more than likely is about the fog of war. But may be about much more than that.

The story of the USS Liberty – a converted WWII supply or victory ship that served as an intelligence gathering unit – took place during the Six-Day War in June 1967, between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. It was a spy ship, under the control of the NSA apparently, and it was captained by William L. McGonagle. It’s exact mission off the coast of the Sinai peninsula as the brief conflict broke out is not exactly clear. To gather intelligence, but on what armed forces? The Soviets? Who were in the Mediterranean but only monitoring the situation. The Egyptians? Or the Israeli forces themselves?

Over roughly a 24-hour period on June 7 and June 8, 1967, Israeli planes buzzed the USS Liberty and may have directed what is termed fire-control radar at the Liberty. The radar crew on the ship may have passed it off as Israeli engaging in subtle games with them. Unless the Israeli pilots were both preparing the groundwork for a possible assault on the ship, and warning the ship at the same time. This was as the Liberty changed course and approached the Israeli coast.

After more survelliance flights the next morning by a variety of aircraft, the attack finally ocurred in the afternoon of June 8. First by fighter jets, then later by torpedo boats. The torpedo boats were coming in for a third wave of attacks (this took at least an hour or so – maybe more – in total) but turned around suddenly. It may have been the IDF received reports of approaching US fighters from the 6th fleet. 34 crew were dead, and over 150 wounded.

There is the official story – it was a ghastly mistake – and there are conflicting conspiracy theories. It was deliberate because the USS Liberty was sending information on the war to the British who were sharing it with the Arab forces. Or, it was deliberate in order to prevent information on IDF troop movements to the north to prepare for the assault on the Golan Heights – then part of Syria. We may never know the truth. Most if not all surviving crew members seem certain the attack was planned and deliberate.

There are many tragedies in this story, but one that rankles is the enormous bureaucratic route that a frantic message from the higher ups for the USS Liberty to change course and get the hell away from Israel’s coast was never received by McGonagle and his crew. If the attack was indeed planned by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan – and vehemently opposed by Yitzhak Rabin who was then Chief of Staff – then it would have been logical that they would have first warned the USS Liberty, as they seemed to have done. The problem is that the IDF and Dayan especially, did not realize what an enormous organization they were communicating with. The warning seems to have got lost in the maze of communications channels and administrative hierarchies. A deadly mistake on both forces part, made in the middle of the fog of war.

This is all speculation based on books based on sources based on who knows what documentation. And some of the story tellers – like British journalist Alan Hart who has been waging his own hate-filled war on Israel and Zionism – must be treated with a very healthy dose of skepticism. If not a radiation suit and titanium pincers. In his description of the attack, he rails continually against the “mad dream” of zionism and a greater Israel; one that includes the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

In other words, Alan Hart is filled with rage because Israel dares to exist. It might be helpful for Hart and those in Europe who secretly – or not so secretly – feel that the mere presence of Israel is the cause of much of the region’s evils to remember something. Aside from the obvious fact that it is the region’s only democracy and that it has had to fight for every square inch, it is true that Israel is founded on a mad dream.

As the British Empire was founded on a mad dream that it’s smaller ships could somehow survive the terrible, massed forces of the Spanish Armada in the waters off their little clay-bound isle. As the people of the 13 Colonies had the mad dream that their isolated distant lands could somehow win a war against the armies of that very British Empire near the height of it’s power and influence. And as the Jewish people had a mad dream that they could finally, after centuries – nay millenia – of persecution, much of it in Europe, have their homeland.

Johnson and MacNamara should have realized that it wasn’t a brief skirmish between hostile Middle Eastern states that they were observing, but another step in the founding of a nation. Had they done so, the USS Liberty would have had strict orders to maintain a discrete and safe distance from Israel’s shores. Or at least, Captain McGonagle’s Medal of Honor would have been awarded at the White House, and not in a hushed up ceremony in a Navy Yard.

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