The USS Liberty: Dissenting History vs. Official History

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The USS Liberty: Dissenting History vs. Official History

By John Borne, Ph.D., Reconsideration Press, 1995, 318 pp., footnotes, extended bibliography. List: $18; AET: $13.95.

Reviewed by James M. Ennes, Jr.

Soon after Assault on the Liberty was first released by Random House in 1980, I began to hear from readers urging me to write a sequel. The new book, they said, should describe all the incredible obstacles, lost orders, harassment, chicanery and just plain dirty tricks that supporters of Israel had used to frustrate sales of the book and to prevent survivors from telling the story.

I resisted those appeals. Having told my story and having seen the result, I had no illusions that a second book would have any better chance of breaking through the resistance. To illustrate, I cited superb books by Don Neff, Paul Findley, Stephen Green, Jim Abourezk and others, all frustrated in the marketplace and rarely displayed in stores. "No," I said, "no such book could ever overcome the resistance."

Now a new author has done the job that I was too timid or too disheartened to do, and has done a better job of it than I could ever have hoped. John Edgar Borne, an adjunct professor of history at Baruch and Pace Colleges in New York City, chose the USS Liberty as his topic of study toward the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History at New York University. Specifically, he chose to study the differences between the "official" version of the USS Liberty story and the very different version told by the surviving crewmen.

"What," Borne asks, "really happened? Is it possible to know? Why were crew members not protected from attack as they had been promised? How in a free society does a government present as fact a version of history that differs markedly from that reported by eyewitnesses? How is the dissenting version squelched? How can the silenced group overcome the tactics of a powerful and motivated government? Where is the press while these things are happening?"

These questions and more were the subject of Dr. Borne's meticulous study. The resulting doctoral thesis, now attractively typeset and printed in traditional book form, tells the story in persuasive, gutwrenching detail.

Following a brief description of the attack and the world political climate at the time, Borne reviews the actions at home. These include Lyndon Johnson's order to recall aircraft sent to the ship's aid, apparently because he feared "embarrassing an ally" by allowing American pilots to drive off the attacking Israeli aircraft. Other actions include the many appeals for Congress to look the other way because any public review of the facts would only serve the interests of "anti-Semites."

Borne reviews the peculiar performance of the Navy Court of Inquiry, ordered in writing to probe "all aspects" of the attack, yet privately instructed to restrict the inquiry to the performance and training of the crew and the adequacy of communications.

"Diplomatic and political" considerations were to be left to Congress and the Department of State, both of which chose to look the other way. Therefore, left unexamined was the key question of whether the attack was deliberate.

Borne then describes events during the several years immediately following the attack, a period in which the government's official version went publicly unchallenged. It was only after publication of Assault on the Liberty by a major publisher in 1980 that the survivors were able to present their "dissenting history" to the public. …