This exceedingly rare, large format map depicts all of Beirut and its suburbs and was made by the Defense Mapping Agency, the special American governmental organization that made cartographic works for the CIA and U.S. Military. It was published in 1978, early in the Lebanese Civil War (197590), when Beirut was a hotbed of espionage and major faultline in the Cold War. Importantly, the map depicts Beirut as it was before it was largely destroyed later on in the conflict, making it a valuable record of what was once of Middle East’s most beautiful, modern culturally and sophisticated places. The map notes so many militarily sensitive locations with precise accuracy that its dissemination was restricted to pre-authorized U.S. military and civilian personnel; it is labelled ‘Distribution Limited – Destroy when Not Needed’.
The map shows all of metropolitan Beirut, extending from the old city in the north, an ovoid area with its dense warren of streets, down south through its suburbs to include the International Airport. The image is one of a modern city very much like many in Europe, the result of sophisticated urban planning, with the ‘Guide to Numbered Features’ (lower right), labelling 316 sites divided into ‘Major Commercial and Industrial Establishments’; Major Educational Buildings; Embassies and Consulates’; ‘Major Government Buildings; Hospitals; Military Installations; and ‘Utilities’. The map labels all manner of streets, with many named on the ‘Index to Streets’ (right side), as well as recreational facilities, parks and ‘Refugee Areas’ (Palestinian Refugee Camps).
However, a close look at the map, beyond Beirut’s modernity, reveals signs of the sectarian cleavages that ultimately led to its destruction. The city was divided into mainly Muslim and Christian parts, with the Palestinian refugee camps (a major source of political instability) interspersed across the metropolitan area. By the time that the map was made, the city’s neighbourhoods were each ruled by various militias, and many of the major edifices and facilities depicted would within four years hence be levelled by the conflict.
The map was ‘Compiled in 1978’ from the best available source materials and was issued by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, a special organization created in 1972, by merging the U.S. Air Force and Navy’s most advanced aerial, satellite, and hydrographic surveying capabilities. It was specifically tasked with making customized maps for the use of the CIA, the armed services and the Executive Branch. Most of its publications were either classified, like the present work, or were top secret. The organization was renamed the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in 1996, before becoming the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 2004. Labelled as ‘Series K921, Edition 8-DMA’, the present map is part of a sequence of continuously updated maps of Beirut made for the U.S. Defense Department, this being the ‘8th Edition’. All editions are today rare; we can only trace references to the 7th, 8th and 9th editions. The Unites States had a very deep and ultimately tragic involvement in the conflict in Beirut, and so the wartime editions of the maps were of particular value.
The present edition is very rare, as examples were only issued in very small print runs for limited official use, while most were subsequently destroyed. It does not seem that examples were ever made available to public libraries, and while OCLC references 2 institutional examples, the related links produce references only to the 1983 (9th) edition of the map.
The Lebanese Civil War and the Destruction of Beirut The Lebanese Civil War (1975-90) was one of the longest and most pointless conflicts of the 20th century. At its conclusion, over 120,000 people were dead; Beirut, considered by many to be the Middle East’s most beautiful city, was levelled; and while some parties technically came out with more power than they possessed before, nobody really benefitted at the end of the day.
The war was so complicated and involved so many players, both foreign and domestic, with continually changing alliances, that the conflict is nearly impossible to summarize here. To generalize, Lebanese politics had long been dominated by rivalries between the country’s Maronite Christian and Sunni Muslim communities, which inhabited the coastal cities, while the Shiite Muslims and the Druze occupied the interior of the country. For generations, foreign players sought to manipulate these internal cleavages, with the Cold War bringing the tensions a fierce vigour.
The influx of Palestinian refugees (most of whom were Sunni Muslims) in the decades after Arab-Israeli War of 1948-9 upset the traditional balance of power in Lebanon, which was hitherto 55% Christian. In 1975, Civil War broke out as the Christians felt the need to protect their political position, while some Muslim groups believed that it was the perfect time to seize power. France, Syria, Israel, the Soviet Union and the United States all took sides (and, in some cases, changed sides), as the country was viewed to possess great geostrategic importance. Militant organizations, such as Hezbollah, the PLO and the Christian Falange took over various Beirut neighbourhoods, transforming this city into a patchwork hell.
The conflict waxed and waned, with periods of intense fighting interspersed with times of relative calm held by fragile truces. The present map was made around the time of the ‘Hundred Days War’ (February to April 1978), an especially severe bout of fighting that resulted in a new level of carnage. The present map would have been of great use as an operational guide for the U.S. clandestine services’ innumerable agents and assets in the city.
The war in Beirut escalated when the city was besieged by Israeli forces, in league with their Christian allies, from February to September 1982. During this period the city was heavily bombed throughout. Of note, the Camille Chamoun Stadium, which was used by the PLO as a base, was bombed by the Israeli forces, while the Israelis allowed Christian militias to attack the nearby Sabrah and Shatilla refugee camps, slaughtering many civilians. Israel under international pressure, was eventually compelled to withdraw, with Beirut coming under a very uneasy peace enforced by international peacekeepers, led by the United States.
The peace mission did not last long, as the U.S barracks at the Beirut International Airport were attacked by truck bombs on October 23, 1983, resulting in the loss of 307, mostly American, lives (the responsible party has never been definitively identified). The U.S, forces soon withdrew from Beirut, although the CIA continued to run assets there in an attempt to salvage any advantage from the situation.
The war finally ended in 1990, leaving Syria as the dominant player in the country. However, Lebanon, and Beirut, in particular, was nearly totally destroyed, and almost all the parties were left in a materially worse condition than before the war.
Beirut has since been rebuilt, and is today, once again, a highly attractive city. However, Lebanon continues to be haunted by economic and political instability.
References: OCLC: 13216350 and 1046549946 (Citing the present edition of the map, yet not linking to confirmed examples in libraries).