re: Semper Fi
Twenty Marines gone, in twenty four hours. Where are the black horses, the backward boots, the Commander in Chief? This is no World War. This is a Chickenhawk War, claming the lives of honorable men and women who swore oaths and who still believe in such things. This is a war fought for men who know nothing of what war is, and think being a soldier has something to do with your genitals, instead of those other important organs---your brain and your heart. Irony has layers in this tragedy. During the second World War, casualties of hundreds of thousands were common, especially amongst the Marines. When Chesty Puller was surrounded, he gloated: ""They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29:1. They can't get away from us now!" It's thanks to those sacrifices and that attitude, though, that we feel these losses. The military has become a different force, arguably one that has learned from its tragedies. We feel each loss. We understand its weight. Tragedy guides our actions, the tragedies of the greatest generation. We no longer need throw thousands of lives at an objective---at least military lives. We weigh and measure. And yet we forget how that change came about.
You have to have some illusions about the military to be in it. You have to hope more than see, believe more than boast. People talk about courage without recognizing what it is: fear, vanquished. Terror, conquered. So many other things lie defeated as well, barely named, barely recognized. We don't like to admit it, but then there's than military attitude toward responsibility that keeps getting in the way. Own up, and you can rectify your mistake and fix it. You'll get punished, you'll get embarrassed, and then....you'll get forgiven. You'll learn, and you'll do so in front of your mates, who've done the same thing themselves. How can you not feel for someone going through the same clueless screwups that you have? Hide it and deny it, and it will only grow and grow and grow. This is why military scandals---hell, any scandals---must be fixed by those that cause them. This is the basis of the military character. You did it? You own up. That's why that kid from Abu Ghraib is a hero.
You can hide; look at the scandals in the business world. But standing up is the basis of the military. You stand up and take responsibility. You stand up and take your hits. Once you get used to that, you look around. Some people can't do that, but they might be able to, if you help them. That's where you come in. You stand up for those who can't. Sometimes that means standing up to shield those who can't shield themselves.
I only knew maybe seven Marines in Iraq. When a thousand insurgents surrounded us, the Marines got us air cover and had to be restrained from charging in---all seven of them---to rescue us. The Major in charge measured his air strikes because he knew locations from rolling out into the town. "I knew the families in those houses," he told me later on, after I shook his hand and thanked him and his Marines for saving my life. "I knew they were probably lying on the floor, their hands over their heads, terrified." This is a Marine, thinking like this in the course of a bitter war. Those families, who happen to dress differently, have a different culture, a different language. Yet he felt for their fear, and tried to stay as much of it as he could.
Another Marine found fault with this. Younger and harder, he wanted to charge in. His mother, a Sunni Muslim, saw tragedy on all sides. She prayed for everyone, Iraqi and American, Muslim and Christian. His mother and his major had the same fears and recognized them in others. From the Major to the grunt, a whole spectrum, a whole mosaic, undiscovered and unfinished.
When that suicide bomber in Fallujah targetted women, and female Marines at that, it was the Marines that spoke bluntly of their service. "They're doing the job. We need them. They're an integral part of the force," said one commander. Change a few pronouns, and it might just as well have been Gloria Steinam.
Being in combat means you can swap stories with the other services. You can see the light dawning in their eyes, sometimes uneasily. Sometimes there's a kind of recognition. It reminds me of childhood, of innocence. It makes me remember what it was like to be ten years old and confident, when boys were my buddies and kissing was icky. Once a Marine knows you've got his back, there's no going back.
A friend of mine spoke of the Marine in Fallujah, who dead checked the wounded insurgent. There was no black and white to him, only shades of gray, and he feared it would be lost on a public used to color saturation. HOw do you explain to the public which demands of you this service, how ugly it will be, how it might destroy you in the process? Do the people that demand war understand their own desires? Do they understand the consequences that must be borne?
Always faithful is the motto. It might as well be, We believe in you. We, the soldiers in the military, believe in the public that sends us to die for their desires. We believe. We believe in you. Twenty Marines paid for that today.
Ask us, and we will serve. Look at these numbers and know the cost. Know, too, that none of us regret it.
There should be an answer to "Always faithful." It can only be, "Never forgotten."
Will you remember?