Anniversary of US shooting of Iranian civilian airliner

On this day in 1988, a US warship in the Strait of Hormuz shot down a civilian Iranian passenger airliner, killing all 290 people on board. After being found culpable by the International Court of Justice, the US paid reparations but never apologized for the shooting, with then vice-president and later president George H. W. Bush famously saying, “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” Because as god’s chosen people and nation, we are never wrong.

I wrote about this back in 2005 as an example of a remarkable piece of government propaganda, where the US tried to make it look like it was all Iran’s fault for deliberately aiming their airliner at a US warship, and the US media faithfully reported this bizarre theory, along with the suggestion that those evil mullahs did it just to make us look bad because we know they don’t value life the way we do.

And we wonder why they hate us.


  1. ollie says

    Screw ups in wartime are more the rule than the exception.

    The sad thing is that the results are often tragic, as this one was.

  2. Shawn Smith says

    I remember seeing a show on PBS that talked about this incident. It might have been POV or Frontline, but I really can’t remember, and it was more than a decade ago. It protrayed the crew on the bridge, but now that I think about it, that doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, the thing that struck me most is that all of the sailors in that room seemed awfully young (about 20-25, and barely old enough to shave regularly.) When they realized they had shot down an airliner instead of a fighter, the mood in the room went from one of exhultation to subdued stoicism. It looked like they realized they fucked up big time.

    And now we have the endless beating of war drums against this same country. I think we’ve gotten our pound of flesh from Iran for the ’79-’81 hostage crisis. Hell, we gotten it back many times over, at least as far back as Mosaddegh.

  3. Ze Madmax says

    Sunny @ #3:

    “I don’t care what the facts are.”

    Yet he was elected twice.

    George H. W. Bush was only elected once (as President, at least). Are you getting him confused with his son?

  4. says

    we wonder why they hate us.

    They hate us for our freedoms!! In this case: our freedom to have warships in the Strait of Hormuz behaving as if they are in US coastal waters. Provocation, indeed!

  5. says

    Addendum -- there’s an implicit acknowledgement that the Strait Of Hormuz is a dangerous place for a naval vessel to get cornered; they’re sitting ducks against anti-ship missiles delivered from the ground or by aircraft. Don’t forget that the US Navy had already engaged and destroyed Iranian naval vessels there, 4 months before the jetliner was downed. That was in retaliation for the Iranians’ mining a part of the strait and blowing a great big hole in a US ship. What triggered that? The US was engaging in military maneuvers with regional allies. So, with some fairness, the shoot-down may have made sense in the context that the US was engaging in deliberately provocative maneuvers in the Iranians’ back pocket, had asserted its right for its naval assets to be there, and killed a bunch of Iranians -- they had reason to expect a counter-attack. It was those nasty Iranians’ fault for looking like they might be trying to defend themselves further.

    I wonder how the US would react if some other navy went cruising nuclear-armed vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Actually, I don’t wonder at all.

  6. says

    Good morning Shawn,

    Here’s a scary image for you.

    On 1 January 1976, at age 20, I reported on board the USS Bainbridge, CGN-25, as a seaman apprentice/striker for Gunner’s Mate Missiles following my completion of a year’s schooling on the Terrier missile system at Great Lakes Naval Station north of Chicago.

    Within two years I had risen to petty officer and was named the work center supervisor, at age 22, for the after missile battery of the ship. A key part of my responsibilities was the day-to-day supervision and security of not one, not two, but eight, yes count them eight tactical nuclear weapons.

    My division’s attitude towards the nukes (or baby killers as we fondly called them) was so cavalier that we once contemplated marking our division’s softball jerseys with an image of a mushroom cloud and the words, “Made in America, tested in Japan,” blazoned on the back. (Fortunately, when our chief petty officer heard of the plan he quickly nixed the little scheme.)

    I have no reason to believe that 2012 is any different than 1988 or 1978,

    Sleep well.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,


  7. says

    Good morning Marcus,

    The confrontations in the straits go back at least to 1979 when as the ship’s after battery engagement controller, I reacted to my one and only real Missile Stations on board the USS Bainbridge, CGN 25, by loading two live missiles in preparation to shooting down an approaching Iranian aircraft that had the potential to carry at least one of the Harpoon anti-ship missiles we had sold the former government of Iran months before.

    We ran down to t-minus 30 seconds, held (both the missiles and our breaths) and fortunately the plane kissed our envelope and turned away.

    If the American public really understood how often this kind of deadly serious cat-and-mouse game is played, we might not be so willing to taunt those who have the capability to “bring it on.”

    Do all you can to make today a good day,


  8. says

    The naval cat/mouse games (especially involving nuclear-armed subs) have always blown my mind. There’s this weird paradox in naval operations that we have the most professional and expert seamen in charge of these things, etc. Which just serves to justify an even greater degree of autonomy. I admit that the USN has been pretty amazingly professional, but mistakes happen. Putting more responsibility on the commanders just makes the mistakes bigger when they do happen.

    I recall reading about how, during the height of the cuban missile crisis, a USN frigate was engaging a USSR sub with depth charges. Just the thing you want to have happening when the whole world is waiting for the launch order. (And simultaneously, a U2 was off-course from a polar mission and blundered deep into Soviet air-space) …

    I think that if “most people” knew the kind of pointless, irresponsible militaristic games the powerful play with their lives, there would be a general revolt.

  9. Arthur says

    “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” Interesting that you add “Because as god’s chosen people and nation, we are never wrong.” I guess you somehow are drawing this conclusion from some of his statements elsewhere or is this a wholly unsubstantiated claim? This is not a very scientific assertion. This is most assuredly drummed up out of your desire to malign this coutry. I also like how you like “the pursuit of happiness” and say that the founders had sound minds while glossing over the fact they believed that this right was endowed by a creator. They would then have been deluded believers in the make believe god but with good minds?

  10. Mano Singham says

    That last sentence captures them accurately. People who are deluded in one area of thought can be quite capable of good insights in another. The pursuit of happiness can be thought of as a good thing even though god is a delusion.

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