Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Some of the best people I have ever known were and are United States Marines. However, some of the most despicable people I have ever known were also United States Marines. The same elite fighting corps that attracts the most patriotic, courageous, honorable, sacrificial, and brilliant men and women also attracts some of the most cowardly, selfish, and ignorant people as well. Some are marines in every sense of the word, some want to be marines in every sense of the word, and some just want others to think they are marines in every sense of the word without ever having to be marines in every sense of the word. The pretenders are not just low ranking privates either. Pretenders span the ranks all the way up to those with stars on their collars.

There is a fine line between tough and mean. There is a fine line between discipline and obsession. There is a fine line between brilliance and insanity. There is a fine line between strong leadership and abusive control. The best marines approach all of these lines without ever crossing over any of them. Some of the worst do not have the will or ability to determine when a line is being crossed. Some of the worst know they are not up to the challenge and never even attempt to approach any of the lines.

I do not know what happened in Haditha anymore than what has been reported so far. My gut instinct is to be suspicious of what has been reported and my nature is to want to defend the accused marines. Reporters with an agenda could be getting the story completely wrong, good men could have cracked under pressure, but it is also possible the stories are correct and a group of marines did murder innocent civilians. Furthermore, cowardly officers may end up making scapegoats of the accused marines in order to save their own tail. Quite frankly, Haditha, though rare, is probably not an isolated incident.

I would like to believe every soldier was noble all of the time, but I know better. I would also like to believe every conflict could be resolved peacefully all of the time, but I know better. Those who commit atrocities need to be punished, but an atrocity during a military conflict is not a reason to abandon the military action. It is an almost unavoidable consequence of the world we inhabit. May God protect the innocent and punish the guilty.


Anonymous said...

Great piece David. I hope the answer--if there ever is one--is more Breaker Morant than Lt. Calley.
Derek Simmons

David M. Smith said...

Thanks Derek,

Part of the idea came from your comment at Rob’s site.

I did have trouble clicking the publish button though. Very, very, few marines fall into the despicable category, but they do exist. Most marines have integrity and are doing the best they can.

Rick and Gary said...

Dido -- really great post.

It's interesting to look at the U.S. occupation of the Phillipines as a historical reference -- the last time (and only time, I think) where we had a long-term occupation with a major insurgency. There were major atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers (Marines, I think, but not sure). I think it's the nature of a situation that's hard for any of us to grasp, even Vietnam veterans. Even the best people (which certainly includes the Marines) can withstand a toxic situation for so only long -- and we're talking three years now. The human mind has its limits.

I wonder if that's why Eisenhower, MacArthur et al. were so careful to preclude an insurgency in Germany and Japan. I wonder if the lessons of the Phillipines weighed heavily on them. (MacArthur's father was governor-general of the Philipines during part of the occupation, after all)

Hammertime said...

Honestly, as a former Army officer, I'm more surprised it doesn't happen more often. Considering the stressors these men are under every day, never knowing who is on their side and who is not, it is a testimony to their discipline that they are not capping civilians left and right.

Unfortunately, the left will use this episode to demonize the war effort and subsequently, servicemembers. After all, anti-war IS anti-soldier, whether you like it or not. If you disagree, you are likely either 1)anti-war and seek to justify your position and/or 2) not a servicemember.