good way to set the hearts of neo-conservatives fluttering is
to gush over the military, especially the Marine Corps. Since
most of this hawkish crowd received their only military training
while watching Full
Metal Jacket and engaging in, to borrow Bill Kauffmanís
felicitous phrase, "grad-school nights of pizza, beer and
Risk;" the real world of the armed services is obscure to
them. Occasionally, however, they manage to dredge up someone
with a bit of first hand experience. National Review Online
just published a brief report from Marine Corps officer candidate,
Ledeen. Ledeenís just completed six weeks of Marine officer
training may be scant, but they make him a veritable Storminí
Norman Schwarzkopf when compared to National Reviewís conservitwerps
like Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg.
credits Marine training with instilling "selflessness, determination,
courage, loyalty, dedication, and integrity," and illustrates
his point with several examples from his unit. I have some idea
of where Ledeen is coming from, because I served in the Marine
Corps Reserve from 1985 to 1991 with brief active service during
the Gulf War; rising to the rank of Sergeant. I had plenty of
opportunity to observe the values that the military instills.
I particularly identified with the officer candidate Ledeen refers
to as "I." "Candidate Iís problem was that the
four weeks of training had wreaked havoc on his feet, leaving
them blistered and bloody just before the final round of evaluations.
Each day brought on new blisters, until they covered his toes,
heels, and even formed a large fluid-filled patch on the bottoms
of his feet. Candidate I had a choice: He could request to report
to sick call to treat his feet and miss the four evaluations in
the next three days (effectively eliminating his chances of passing
the first phase of training), or he could keep quiet and push
on for two more weeks." Candidate I endured the pain, of
course, and completed his training with his peers. I had a similar
experience while in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Mine involved a leg injury that caused me to endure great pain
for the final three weeks of training. Both candidate I and myself
internalized values that gave us the strength to endure pain and
privation in order to achieve goals larger than ourselves. Stripped
of lofty language, what the Marine Corps instills is a combination
of discipline, fear of failure, loyalty to the organization and
suppression of individuality in young men seeking a sense of belonging
and a chance to test their manhood.
Are No Liars Here
values that Ledeen talks about form an important part of the Corpsí
image. I talked to an Army recruiter before settling on the Marines.
He stressed the economic benefits that would come with military
service. The first Marine recruiter that I encountered talked
about values. He acted as if the sole issue was whether I was
worthy of his Marine Corps. He told me that there were no liars
or thieves in the Marine Corps. He was lying, of course, a fact
I discovered when another recruiter invited me to shade the truth
on some of my paperwork about the amount of pot that I had previously
smoked. One of the first things that I noticed at Camp Lejeune,
North Carolina, where I went for training after boot camp, was
the pervasive petty theft. The powers that be dealt with it by
punishing people who failed to keep their valuables locked away
from temptation. All of the rooms were equipped with warning signs
about the theft problem.
boot camp, we were required to take a test on the history and
traditions of the Marine Corps. Avoiding the possibility of failure
by some academically challenged recruits, the drill instructors
passed out copies of the test and spoon fed us the correct answers
to circle on the multiple choice exam, leaving nothing to chance.
Ledeen Meet Thomas Ricks
article calls to mind the pro-Marine Corps boomlet created by
Thomas E Ricks with his articles in The Wall Street
Journal, Parade Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly
in the mid 1990s. Ricks is a reporter who followed a platoon
through Parris Island several years ago and collected his account
in articles in the aforementioned publications and in the book
unfortunately failed to bring enough skepticism to bear while
observing recruit training. He gave far too much credence to the
new Marines who were disgusted with their old friends in the "nasty"
civilian world a natural reaction after three months of
indoctrination in a totalitarian environment. Even more absurdly,
Ricks quoted several who were appalled by civilian drinking. One
complains that all his old friends want do is "get smashed."
It should be obvious to any casual observer that getting "smashed"
is central to the culture of the Marine Corps. When my reserve
unit was on active duty in South Carolina during the Gulf War,
my friends and I did little else than drink. After a few weeks,
we didnít even bother to go out to bars, we just went back to
the barracks and started drinking.
reviewers often displayed the same credulous tone. In The American
Enterprise, an Army combat veteran, who should know better,
worried that outside influences not undermine the Marine Corpsí
"high moral standards" and fretted over the possibility
of the broader American culture dragging the military "slouching
purpose is not to disparage the Marine Corps, an institution with
a proud history and great heroes such as Smedley
Butler, Greg "Pappy" Boyington and Lewis "Chesty"
Puller. But the notion that this organization, whose purpose is
organized mayhem and violence, can be a repository of high-minded
virtues, is nonsense.
wish Gabriel Ledeen well in his future in the Marine Corps. He
has a long, difficult road ahead of him that may ultimately include
service in the "War on Terror." But he should be forewarned
ó if his service leads him to become skeptical about Americaís
role as global policeman/nanny (as it did for me) then his friends
at National Review Online will denounce him as a sniveling
wimp like Colin Powell and those Pentagon weenies who keep throwing
cold water on the war plans of Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, Victor
Davis Hanson, etc.
Stooksbury served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve and
writes for The American Enterprise, Chronicles: A Magazine
Of American Culture, and Liberty.