PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

The Straits of Hormuz: Speedboats and Battle Groups by peaceprobe
January 16, 2008, 12:16 pm
Filed under: Iran, Viet Nam

Last week we learned that Iranian speedboats almost triggered a battle between US warships and Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz. The timing, just as President Bush embarked upon a trip through the Middle East, caught my attention. On the one hand Iranians might want to send a warning at this tempting moment. But, another view might be that the incident that occurred within range of Iranian coastal waters where the US warships were manoeuvring may have been created by some great power and its spin makers who were “tasked” to create an international incident at a time like this.  After all, President Bush has been focussed on Iran as a nuclear threat for many years.  

My mind went back 42 years to 1964 when I was in Nha Trang, South Viet Nam and woke up August 4 to learn of the Tonkin Gulf crisis. We were told that North Vietnamese vessels had attacked two US destroyers, the USS Maddox and the Turner Joy. At the time I was a rural education worker and due to the build up of US troops in Nha Trang – by then 40,000 in that city of 100,000 – I was just learning to see the limits of the ability of US forces to read or understand the intentions and complexities of the Vietnamese people. 

As a result of the incident , Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which gave the Johnson administration authority to give protection to any Southeast Asian country who was attacked by communist aggression. At the time I ignored my suspicions regarding the veracity of the event. I certainly didn’t fully appreciate then that manipulation of the truth of national security was the way things worked. 

The resolution was used by Johnson and his successors until the end of the war more than 10 years later to justify the US intervention in Vietnam. I don’t like to call anyone a liar, even governments, unless I have the facts. I filed the Tonkin Gulf incident somewhere in my brain’s system under the title “Tonkin Gulf, awaiting more evidence”. As it turned out the smoking file of evidence turned up in 2005 when  government classified material was released saying that the US destroyer Maddox fired first on August 2. And last week more newly released documents revealed that no attack by the Vietnamese happened on August 4. My hunch was correct – the Tonkin Gulf incident was invented by  the national security’s consent manufacturers. 

Last week just as my suspicion file got one item lighter, a new item has been added – the Strait of Hormuz speed boat incident. I don’t know if we will have to wait 42 years to resolve my suspicions. An old friend, Gary Porter recently completed a thoughtful reflection which nibbles at the facts of the incident’s report. Once a professor at Manchester College (IN), and now a historian and writer with Inter Press Service, Porter gives me the scaffolding upon which to hang my own doubts for this round of seamanship. 

Porter’s new information suggests that US officials may have spliced the audio recording of the alleged Iranian threat on to a videotape of the incident. In related findings, a former US naval officer reported that non-official chatter is common on the channel used to communicate with the Iranian boats. Knowledgeable sources also report testimony from the commander of the US 5th fleet that  indicates the senior officers of the US warships involved in the incident never felt the need to warn the Iranians of a possible use of force against them. In the Iranian report, the Iranian commander is heard saying, “Coalition warship 73, this is Iranian navy patrol boat.” and requesting the “side numbers” of the US warships. The US replies, “This is coalition warship 73. I am operating in international waters.” 

When I first heard the media reporting of the Strait of Hormuz speedboat incident,  the gears of suspicion were activated in my mind. How do speed boats attack a battle group that includes a frigate, a destroyer, and a cruiser? The report of what was thrown in the water seemed very vague. The speedboat operators reminded me of vacationers in this region getting rid of litter. The discarded material reportedly floated on the surface. We are not told that the US ships were put on red alert. 

In the winter wonderland where I live it is impossible to ice pick my way through this drama and get the incident out of the filing box which I now call Tonkin Gulf-like incidents. I can’t say with confidence that there was a hostile incident. Because of the way it was played out in the media, I believe I am being instructed to get ready for war by people whose job it is to help me know who my current  enemy is. Hollering at each other over a radio frequency is better than war. Holler away! But the problem is that the political interpretations and spin about the hollering can lead to something worse. 

The people who are doing the hollering from this side really do believe that Iran is an enemy. The little voice in my Tonkin Gulf file somewhere in my brain is warning me to watch out for this one. Somebody is looking for a way to show force and get popular support, at least from the American people and those  few remaining friends around the world who are inclined to think well of Americans. 

I have a better idea. How about sending a baseball team or soccer squad to Iran, perhaps by speedboat,  to see if we might be able to play together as professional sports rivals before we  make the decision to fashion ourselves into professional enemies. There may be Iranians who would like to learn to play baseball and I know there are Iranians who could teach us something about soccer. I know it’s a ridiculous fantasy. Bill Clinton might call it a fairy tale. But sometimes the ridiculous gets the blood pumping so that old ideas of teaching others a lesson are transformed into promising relationships. 

In my mind there is still a lot of litter that needs to be disposed of regarding this incident at sea. I really wanted to get my “suspicions awaiting more evidence folder” closed for good. Now I have to keep it open, perhaps for 42 more years. In that amount of time we could certainly organize more than a single match. Working together with Iranians, we could put in place a new league with new rules. War ships and speedboats could be recycled into solar collectors because there just would not be any use for them anymore.  While we are in the recycling business our two countries can recycle all our uranium into clean and safe products.  This would make our sports matches more appealing to all of us.


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