30 November 2012


by Andy Weddington
Friday, 30 November 2012

"How much longer the Marine Corps?"

Today's comment, bumping another planned but that will keep for a few days, is a by far from comprehensive complement to Wednesday's addressing women in direct ground combat. Thoughtful reader emails with stories and phone calls concurring with the conclusion, warnings of far bigger woes, and a happenstance or two led to additional thought drawing on the general semanticists' concept of time-binding. 

A giant of our Corps, Major General John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant, published a message on 01 November 1921 that he ordered read on the 10th of November (U. S. Marine Corps Birthday) and each year thereafter on our Birthday. His intent - to remind Marines of our rich heritage, the heavy price paid in battle for achieving that rich heritage, and to carry on in the same proud tradition that distinguishes Marines.   

So in compliance, the general's message has been read annually since. And Marines have guarded their legacy and continued to distinguish themselves in battle thereby adding to the rich heritage of our Corps.

For example, "The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years."

That was the opinion of James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, noting the importance of the raising of our Stars and Stripes atop the high ground on Iwo Jima - by five Marines and a Navy Corpsman on Friday, 23 February 1945. That fight against a formidable Japanese force for a tiny but key, sulfer-stinking, pork chop-shaped spit of real estate in the South Pacific was a bloody, costly one - and forever an iconic one thanks to a dumb luck photograph by an AP photographer named Joe Rosenthal. 

But despite that exuberant moment and Secretary Forrestal's prediction, less than a handful of years later President Truman tried like hell to disband the Marine Corps. He failed.

Others have tried. And they, too, have failed.

A couple decades ago our Marine Corps was called an 'extremist cult' - our commandant kindly affirmed the charge and thanked that attacker for the compliment. That attacker faded away.

Though the smallest of the armed services, the branch that does the most with the least, and is ever ready to respond to crisis, our Marine Corps is still under attack.

But the attackers have changed strategy - frontal assaults have given way to social, cultural, and political schemed envelopments that eat away at the core. It's working.

In June of 1991 a retired commandant, a decorated combat veteran of three wars, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding one of these envelopments - women in combat. That general sternly warned the Senators that if they proceeded with allowing women to serve in combat, especially direct ground combat, it'd destroy the Marine Corps.

General Robert H. Barrow's 13 minutes and 17 seconds of filmed sworn testimony is leadership at its zenith - for what he said so concisely and eloquently, the conviction with which he said it, and mostly for the principles at heart. A Marine Corps Order directing its play at every Birthday ceremony, following the reading of Major General Lejeune's message, makes good sense. And the video ought to be incorporated into every leadership training program of instruction - starting at recruit training and OCS through flag officer seminars. In fact, as relevant today, it wouldn't hurt for the video to be on a continuous loop in the commandant's office. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy--whDNNKk

Eighteen months after General Barrow spoke, January 1993, Major Art Corbett (now a retired colonel) published a controversial but powerful article in the Marine Corps Gazette about another envelopment - open homosexuality. He opined it would be better to disband the Marine Corps. To say more would be a disservice to his principled and articulate argument so a link provided. It only takes a few minutes to read. Digestion will take longer. 

Not surprisingly, Major Corbett's article caught the eye of General Barrow, and stirred him to pull out a sheet of his four-star stationary and write the major a one-word note: "Bravo!" 

One of those happenstances - yesterday General Barrow's son, a retired Marine, spoke to Colonel Corbett about his article and that note his father had penned (that he happened to see when written). And the colonel mentioned the note could not have arrived at a more opportune time - for he'd been under great pressure from leadership for writing the article. Does anyone doubt General Barrow knew that - and wisely provided a rare piece of paper for short-term authoritative moral support and a forever keepsake?

Wednesday's short commentary - 'Quit Pussyfooting Around, Put Women In Direct Ground Combat' - was written in response to four female service members, including a Marine officer, filing a law suit (on Tuesday) against the Pentagon's ground combat exclusion policy.

The closing part of that commentary...  

"Quit pussyfooting around!
Put the dopey idea of assigning women to direct ground combat units to a no nonsense test - reality. And let's put the matter to bed once and for all so the Pentagon can turn full attention to national defense and be rid of the burdens of social experimentation (that many, far more experienced than yours truly, argue is degrading combat readiness).
A simple directive: Marine Corps (and Army) - form and train (if possible) an all-female infantry battalion. Target date for deployment - January, 2015.
If able to achieve standards, same as males, and meet all predeployment combat readiness evaluations then order into combat - without deference to complexity nor difficulty of missions.

Pass or Fail.
Publish the results in an ALMAR."

Why so strong and bold an approach?

Because Ariela Migdal, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the women, cited Secretary of Defense Panetta's approval of opening up thousands and thousands more combat positions to women as not enough. She said, "These tweaks and minor changes on the margins do a disservice to all the women who serve." And she said, "It falls short...it is not enough."

Their argument is exclusion from ground combat blocks women from promotions and other assignments open to men that serve in combat.

As General Barrow clearly stated, women in combat is not about promotions and assignments. The issue is most assuredly about, "...combat effectiveness, combat readiness, winning the next conflict, and so we're talking about national security..." and he goes on, "...exposure to danger is not combat..." and, most importantly, that combat is, "...finding, closing with, and killing or capturing the enemy...it's killing, that's what it is...it's uncivilized and women can't do it."

His most definitive remark and germane to current events, "If you want to make a unit combat ineffective, assign some women to it."

I could go on but will not - will leave that to the general.

A couple of years ago, despite the majority in uniform (especially combat arms), when surveyed, recommending against repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and some senior leadership supporting the field's voice, the policy was ended. Homosexuals now serve openly. The survey and hearings were not even a thinly veiled circus - the decision known, and made, beforehand regardless. Envelopment successful. Practical problems? Too early to tell. The greater, and ignored, problems go to morality and good order and discipline and morale and combat effectiveness and efficiency and more - that eat at the core.  

The current envelopment to jam women into ground combat units continues. A crucial element of the strategy is if women can't perform the heavy lifting required of Marines in the ground combat specialties (not surprising some testing has so proven), reality based requirements, then change the standards. That is, gender, not reality, is to drive standards development.

It's been little more than 67 years since Secretary Forrestal mentioned another 500 years of life for the Marine Corps. That's not going to happen. If only he could bear witness to what's going on today. The way things are going the Marine Corps will not make it another 33 years - to one fifth of the prediction.

Sooner rather than later provided the current path and speed, when the Marine Corps is no longer the world's most elite and feared force - expert at killing bad actors and breaking things on a moment's notice, the question is going to be asked, "Why do we have a Marine Corps?" There will be no justifying answer. Nor need for further attacks. And remaining will be faded colors that rightfully should have been furled and cased before irrelevance - not a pretty nor fitting end to the revered heritage Commandant Lejeune held dear.

Yet in the greater scheme of things not only is the Marine Corps fighting to maintain its core so it goes for the other branches, or so I read and hear from credible folks in the know. What's the domino effect? America, once powerful almighty, becomes a nation unable to impose will, support allies, and defend self?

Accordingly, the questions once asked by presidents when trouble flared around the globe, "Where are my carriers?" and "Where are my Marines?" will be preserved as a bit of history painted on a museum wall atop a diarama or etched in a piece of granite decorating the entry or courtyard.  

Returning to the idea of time-binding, applying specificity - date subscripts - to our Marine Corps, elevates the sophistication of the discussion. That is, the Marine Corps1921 was not the Marine Corps1991 was not the Marine Corps1993 and is not the Marine Corps2012 and will not be the Marine Corps2025 - if colors still flutter.

However, have the experiences and wisdom of a couple of commandants, their timeless lessons of philosopy and understanding of the realities of nature - largely shaped by the horrors of combat and combat leadership - and so reflected in our Core Values (Honor. Courage. Commitment.), been rendered irrelevant? Hardly. These Marines are our heritage.

So a country that consciously opts, for whatever reason, to not recruit, train, equip, and field the absolute best military force possible is not long for this world; though the geography may endure. And nor will it be any other way - for after all, the law of nature is survival of the fittest. To think, believe, and act otherwise - social, cultural, and political experimentation be damned - is illogical. And reckless. And dangerous. And dooming.

In closing...

For now that's not to say the remarkable performance of Marines in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the globe, noteworthy. The sacrifices - dead and wounded and deployment after deployment - beyond mere words for fitting tribute. And that goes for their families, too. Thus the rich heritage of our Marine Corps, though under great strain, only continues to be enhanced by their selfless service. And Major General Lejeune's message pertains still.

But for how much longer will Marines at the tactical level not be overwhelmed - combat readiness and efficiency and effectiveness compromised - by social, cultural, and political agenda? And, as General Barrow predicted, how long before the Marine Corps is destroyed? It depends upon to whom you talk.

The haunting question: How much longer the Marine Corps20xx?

And with that troubling candor, I remain haunted by three words - words that arrived at an opportune time - General Barrow penned to me, "Keep the faith!" It's not so easy, but Marines have never had it easy. Ever. Semper Fidelis!

Post Script

Though decades apart, generals Lejeune and Barrow grew up practically within spittin' distance of each other in southeast Louisiana. Small world. Smaller Marine Corps.

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