For much of the early-mid 20th century, and to a lesser extent to this day, the coast of Syria was the center of Christian life in the Middle East, its Christian population (mostly Maronite with some Greek Orthodox) having been under French protection since the 19th century. After World War I, Lebanon and Syria were granted to France as a League of Nations mandate, with the French proceeding to carve out the area around Mount Lebanon on the southern Mediterranean coast as a "safe haven" for Christians. For some reason, this Christian zone included large amounts of surrounding land inhabited chiefly by Muslims. The mandate fell under the rule of Vichy France in 1940 after the fall of France to Nazi Germany, before they were kicked out by a combined British/Free French force the following year. Lebanon declared independence during World War II over the objections of the Free French forces, who attempted to arrest the pro-independence government but backed down in the face of international pressure. The last French forces withdrew in 1946.
Lebanon took part in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and provided its Arab allies with supplies, artillery fire and logistical support, but played little role in attacking Israel itself outside minor border skirmishes. However, it did take in over 100,000 Palestinian refugees, a move that was opposed by the Christians, supported by the Sunnis, and generally not given a shit about by the Shiites. While the consequences of this would make themselves readily apparent in later years, in the immediate postwar period Lebanon appeared to be a beacon of stability in the Middle East. Despite coming close to civil war between Christians and Muslims in 1958, Lebanese life was prosperous outside the refugee camps in the south of the country. Beirut, the nation's capital, earned a reputation as the "Paris of the Middle East."
Within the camps, however, the Palestinians were radicalizing, organizing themselves into the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and launching attacks on Israel. By 1975 the PLO's activities were too much for Israel to ignore, and they launched attacks against the camps. The Lebanese reaction was split along sectarian lines, and soon erupted into civil war. Lebanon was divided into a Muslim-controlled south and a Christian-controlled center and west, with the Syrians invading the north and east for good measure. Beirut, likewise, was split between a Muslim east and a Christian west. The war lasted fifteen years, finally ending in 1990.
From the time between 1990 and 2006, Lebanon returned to stability. War-battered Beirut was largely rebuilt, as was much of the rest of the country. Syrian troops withdrew from the occupied territories in 2005. Unfortunately, in 2006, the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, seeking revenge against Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1981 (almost forgot to mention: Israel invaded Lebanon in 1981) and with its chief benefactor having withdrawn, launched rocket attacks into northern Israel. The result was the Israel-Lebanon War, in which the Israelis bombed southern Lebanon and Beirut in order to take out Hezbollah. Now Beirut has to be rebuilt again.
The long and bloody civil war created a diaspora of (mostly Christian) Lebanese to other countries, who number about 12-15 million — several times the population of Lebanon itself.
In 1983, at the height of the civil war, suicide bombers attacked American marines and French soldiers who were part of an international peacekeeping force in the country's capital, Beirut, killing 299 people. The courageous American President Ronald Reagan, confident in the abilities of his troops and sure of the support he enjoyed from his electorate, responded heroically by
going after the people who had planned the attack, reminding American forces of their duties in an inspirational speech and doubling down on America's commitment to a vital element in regional security withdrawing US troops from Lebanon with their tails between their legs.