Time Period : 1975 - 1990
Beirut was considered the intellectual capital of the Arab world and a major commercial and tourist center until 1975 when a brutal civil war broke out in Lebanon. During most of the war, the city was divided between the largely Muslim west part and the Christian east. The central area of the city, previously the focus of much of the commercial and cultural activities, became a no man's land. Many of the city's best and brightest inhabitants fled to other countries.
Before the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), the country enjoyed a period of relative calm and prosperity, driven in part by the agriculture, and banking sectors of the economy. Lebanon also attracted large numbers of tourists to the point that the capital Beirut became referred to as the "Paris of the East."
The Civil War was a multifaceted civil war whose beginnings can be traced back to the conflicts and political compromises reached after the end of Lebanon's administration by the Ottoman Empire. During the course of the fighting, alliances shifted rapidly and unpredictably. By the end of the war, nearly every party had allied with and subsequently betrayed every other party at least once.
In the mid-1970’s Syria sent some 20,000 troops to support Muslim Lebanese in their armed conflict with Christian militants supported by Israel during the civil war in Lebanon. In June 1976 30,000 Syrian troops entered Lebanon. The invasion was an attempt by Syria to claim Lebanon, which it never recognized when Lebanon won independence from France in 1943.
As fighting escalated, it was quickly apparent that non-Lebanese citizens had to flee the country. The U.S. Sixth Fleet was called on to assist in the evacuations which took place in two phases.
President Gerald R. Ford conducts a National Security Council meeting to discuss the evacuation of Americans from Beirut, Lebanon
following the assassinations of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Francis E. Meloy, Jr. and Economic Counselor Robert O. Waring
Location: The White House Cabinet Room. Clockwise from left:
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General George S. Brown (seated)
National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft (hidden behind Gen Brown)
CIA Director George H.W. Bush (standing on left)
Chief of Staff Dick Cheney (partially hidden behind L. Dean Brown)
Special Emissary to Lebanon L. Dean Brown (in light colored jacket)
President Gerald R. Ford (standing, extreme right)
On June 17, President Gerald R. Ford met with CIA Director George H.W. Bush, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney and Special Emissary to Lebanon L. Dean Brown, and others, during a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the evacuation of Americans from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.
June 18, a group of approximately 200 American and Lebanese Nationals, assembled at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut to prepare for departure. Their lives were in danger. The group was transported via landing craft to the USS Coronado that day.
On June 20th the U.S.S. Spiegel Grove LSD-32 removed 276 persons from Lebanon. This first group consisted of 110 Americans along with 166 foreign nationals who were taken by the Spiegel Grove to Piraeus (Athens) Greece. On June 20 President Gerald R. Ford announced:
"The evacuation operation in Beirut today was completed successfully without incident. The success of this operation was made possible through the combined efforts of our Armed Forces and State Department personnel both here and in the field.
I want to express my deep appreciation and pride in the outstanding performance of all the men and women who contributed to this effort. We are grateful as well for the assistance of other governments and individuals that facilitated the evacuation. The United States will continue to play a positive role in seeking to restore stability and bring peace to Lebanon.
I would like to express to all those who played a part in the success of this operation my heartfelt thanks."
On the 27th of July the U.S.S. Coronado LPD-11 evacuated about 300 additional persons, including approximately 150 Americans. These evacuees were also taken to Piraeus Greece.
During both evacuations, the U.S.S. Little Rock CLG-4, the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, along with other U.S. Navy warships stood off the coast of Lebanon to provide protection and assistance if needed.
The Crew Remembers:
"I remember those two evacs.
When we went on the first one people were pumped up, and worried. We didn't know if the Syrians would be coming over the mountains or not. Down in the control room we had someone on the screens all the time and word was we had live birds in the mouse house already finned and ready to deploy and fire if needed. It was a bit tense and we were really pleased to see the evac ship when she pulled up along side.
The second evac was another thing altogether. People were, to put it bluntly pissed. Grapevine was that some of the people that were evaced the first time said 'this is great a free trip home, I'll visit then head back' or something to that effect. So people were not happy getting put back into a possible hot situation because some people were too stupid to stay out of a war zone. We ended up with a smoker and a barbecue on the fantail (the only one I can recall) which helped bleed off some of the tension. I don't recall seeing the evac ship the second time around and frankly I didn't care about it either. I was just happy that nothing went down, either time.
Mark Severson FTM3, 1975 - 76
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Wikipedia's Beirut Page
Wikipedia's Lebanese Civil War Page
Little Rock Chronological History