The late ’60s was a tumultuous time in both the U.S. and around the world. The Vietnam War was in full gear. A counterculture revolution was occurring here in the States and in June of 1967, there was the Six-Day War in the Middle East. A lightly armed American spy ship, known as The Liberty, that had been sent to monitor the war was attacked in international waters off the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces. It was a brutal attack that left many Americans dead or gravely injured. James Scott, a Wofford graduate and former writer with The Post and Courier, has spent nearly three years researching and writing a book titled The Attack on The Liberty that uncovers lurid details from that fateful day.
“I discovered a memo from the Chief of Naval Operations, essentially the CEO of the Navy–when (Robert) McNamara’s (Defense Secretary, 1961-68)office was ordering him to do this–He wrote, ‘much of this is extraneous and leaves me with the impression that we are trying our best to excuse the attackers. Were I the parent of one of the deceased, this would burn me up.I don’t subscribe to it,'” recounted Scott.
Scott, who makes Charleston is home, is the son of one of a former crewman and survivor of The Liberty.
While discussing his research, Scott stated that Israel’s official explanation was that it was a case of mistaken identity. He says this is highly unlikely. “Israel apologized for it (and) claimed that the attack was a terrible accident and a case of mistaken identity,” said Scott. “Many senior American officials including the president, the heads of the state department, NSA, and CIA refused to believe that.
“They thought the attack was far too sustained, far too violent, to have been a simple case of mistaken identity from a friendly-fire incident, if you will. But the U.S. government officially excepted Israel’s explanation and pretty much decided to make the issue go away.”
Scott says that American officials wanted to use this attack on The Liberty for their own political advantages. According to Scott they thought they could, “Capitalize on the attack to cool this pro-Israel fervor…dead Americans, a very mysterious attack on a U.S. ship, we could use this to our advantage. The Israelis were saying the same thing. They were actually coming back to the U.S. saying, ‘whoa,whoa,whoa, how dare you try to politicize this! You want to play politics? We’ll go public and we’ll accuse (Lyndon) Johnson of blood libel.”
The book, which was released on June 8, is available at most book stores. Scott is also currently working on his next book about the U.S. navy submarine forces during WWII.
Read Scott’s responses to questions about his book here.