20 January 2012


by Andy Weddington
Friday, 20 January 2012

"Discipline is simply the art of making the soldiers fear their officers more than the enemy." Claude Adrien Helvetius

It's been an interesting week since posting the brief missive about U. S. Marines urinating on dead enemy in Afghanistan. Hence a bit more about Marines, cockroaches, and cameras.

Last week, well knowing the matter is more complicated than meets the eye (at least to Marines), I opted for brevity taking a stance that if not for the 38 seconds video stupidly released to the world there would be no brouhaha at the top levels of our government (nor the Marine Corps) and the matter would have been handled at the company level; perhaps battalion if extenuating and mitigating circumstances called for such. And I disagreed with the remedy(s) offered by retired Army lieutenant colonel and sitting U. S. Representative, Allen West (R, FL).

But, like it or not, handy cameras and the ability to instantaneously share with the world changes everything--sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. Sometimes both--and this may prove to be one of those times.

Everyone who's broached the subject with me during the past week or so stands firmly behind the Marines. They don't see the big deal. In fact, one woman wrote a shoulder-shrugging, ho-hum questioning type thought that males pee on everything don't they? Noted. I remember, as a boy, soaking ants--and more than once. And probably did so a time or two, inadvertently (is all I'll admit to), while training in the field. Anyway, all the email I received from readers, less one, were behind the Marines. More on that one momentarily.

Everyone has an opinion. Articles across the web were mixed--from what's the big deal to good on them to incensed Marines would do something like that and all should be sent to courts martial. And, some officers, too, should be queried as to what they knew when. Undoubtedly they will be.

The one dissenting email came from a longtime Marine friend--we go back just shy of 30 years. His angle, briefly stated, seemed off point so I replied he was wrong. A day or two later he came back with a thorough argument using ample command experience to support. His logic was solid and position well articulated.

In short, he said it was not the act of urinating, in and of itself, on dead enemy that angered him. Rather, it was what appeared to be premeditated failure to follow, to obey, established rules that was of concern. And, that their conduct may be an indicator of a bigger problem. Bottom line, there was a breakdown of good order and discipline. Quite simply, Marines failed to follow orders.

Agree, that's a problem. No argument. And it's the point I opted not to address last week. But its been on my mind since and especially after the exchanges with my thoughtful old pal.

On the flip side of extenuation and mitigation he pointed out the Marines were snipers--not young first-termers (e.g., privates, PFCs, lance corporals, corporals, etc.) behaving foolishly following the adrenalin rush of a firefight. No, these were more senior Marines (from his comments I assume up to gunnery sergeant, maybe higher) and this not likely the first incident of willful battlefield misbehavior.

He offered some parallels from personal experience and suggested an analogy to recruit training and drill instructors and recruit abuse. Though not a perfect example and without going in to his particulars, he made his point, and a few more.

The investigation continues. Who knows what all will be uncovered. There's always more. Having done an investigation, or two, once tugging on a dangling string things start to unravel, and there are more strings to pull. Typically it gets worse.

I don't know the ranks of the Marines.  I don't know the extent of their combat experience (but if more senior Marines probably extensive--in Iraq and Afghanistan). I don't know if their group urination was planned or impromptu. I don't know the circumstances of the firefight. And I don't know if lower level unit commanders knew about the incident, dismissed it, or have already doled out disciplinary action against the miscreants. Frankly, I don't know anything other than what I saw on the video and the tidbits my friend offered for consideration.

What I do know, as do those familiar with the military and practically everyone else, is that if not for the video there would not be an issue--at least, most likely, not beyond the battalion level.

My friend was blunt. He feels the Marines are 'holes' (his three letter 'a' word omitted in the name of decency). They may be. If it turns out they are sergeants and staff sergeants and more senior still and their actions premeditated then I agree and wonder about them as Marines, as leaders. Who set the tone, something that comes from above, for this type of conduct?  From whom did they get this example? What else have they done? Who has been following their example? Accordingly, have they been not only accepting but encouraging like behavior from subordinates? Did they completely lose sight of their role to set the example for younger enlisted Marines and to guide young officers (lieutenants)? Apparently. And the questions continue.

I do not like what the Marines did. I was disgusted by what I saw. I understand--I think--though I'd not have done it nor tolerated it.

So I wonder what happened to Honor. Courage. Commitment.--our Corps values? And then there are our leadership traits and principles--taught to all Marines during entry level training. As to traits, dependability, courage, integrity, loyalty, bearing, and judgment first come to mind. And for principles, set the example. Then there's our motto: Semper Fidelis.

Adjudication is going to be interesting. Though I still believe an officer, a captain, entrusted with the responsibility of leading Marines in battle should first address the misconduct at NJP (non-judicial punishment). Any captain worth his salt, if indeed the Marines turn out to be more senior and their behavior premeditated, knows the appropriate arena for justice rests with the experience and authority entrusted to more senior commanders. Unfortunately, because of 38 seconds of video, that bit of usual protocol is unlikely.

Akin to the above thought, I also wonder how the mindset of those Marines evolved to the point they thought urinating on corpses was a good idea. And I wonder if, if not caught on camera and whatever discipline and punishment forthcoming notwithstanding, they have regrets.

Though America reveres her Marines and we Marines hold Marines to a higher standard of conduct lest we forget Marines, like those they protect, are just people; a truth sometimes hard to believe. But Marines, private to general, are a breed who must always be held to that higher standard--it goes to our history, culture, and ethos. Otherwise, why in the world have Marines?

Last week was not so much a matter of taking a wrong position but knowingly taking a hasty one. My friend called me on it. The whole matter really does boil down to obedience to orders--so simple. As offered in this forum before, one of my favorite author unknown adages is, "The best defense is to not be there."

Being a Marine is tough.

Leading Marines is tougher.

Post Script

And my friend and I agree that "artists" who urinate on crucifixes, "Constitutionalists" who urinate on our colors, and "Freedom Loving Occupiers" who urinate on police cars, despite what they're protectors and advocates think, are 'holes.'

Author's Endnote

All your notes and thoughts last week appreciated. Thank you for opining. One comment submitted to the Commentary was not posted--not for breach of civility but for fouling my name in the remarks. I have to draw the line somewhere.

1 comment:

Hilton Head Dad said...

To whom it may concern,

I still think this is a company problem. I am sorely disappointed in the actions of those Marines. It is always wrong to desecrate a body and no excuse or exception can ever make sense. But, the Secretaries of Defense and State have weightier issues to address and a company commander can address this one.
I do not feel comfortable taking this as a leadership failure beyond that small unit. If there were Staff NCOs there, at least one should have had common sense.