23 July 2013


by Andy Weddington
Tuesday, 23 July 2013

"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare." Mark Twain

Today's commentary could easily have been written as a personal but public follow-on to my public letter, published a month ago yesterday, to our commandant. But I opted to craft it otherwise as the greater audience of Marines, friends of Marines, and the public seemed more fitting as addressee; the Commandant of the Marine Corps one amongst us. Perhaps he will read.

To begin...

Whatever the language and tone, is it disrespectful to speak truth?

I've posed that simple 'yes or no' question to many and not one person has hesitated replying - No!

Truth is never offensive.

Anyone can be elected to congress or president - past and present officeholders proof. That is truth.

Not anyone can be a Marine - as it should be, as it must be. That, too, is truth. But is it true anymore?

So to continue with truth...


The ethos that built America - freedom; hard work; perseverance; upward movement; religion - belief in God; self-reliance; and akin ideas - is in shambles. Government destroyed it. Purposely.

Leaderless, America is floundering.

What about the ethos of the U. S. Marine Corps?

Let's analyze.

What is ethos?

How does ethos come about? That is, what gives birth to and nurtures and matures and sustains and allows ethos to flourish?

Can ethos be directed? 

Or, does ethos emerge from a blend of hodge-podge qualities - the precise recipe of which defies defining, graphing, diagramming or charting? 

Are there identifiable elements of ethos?

Are common morals; beliefs; values; principles; ethics; hard work; order; discipline; truth; sense of purpose; camaraderie; bonding; excellence; confidence; trust; respect; and more still, critical elements of ethos?

Are good order and discipline, impeccable personal conduct, and head-up, squared shoulders and chest-lifting pride observable manifestations of ethos?

Do all these quite real attributes of the human psyche that fuel ethos and behavior in turn affect cohesion?

Is the breakdown of good order and discipline, personal conduct, and pride a sign of ethos and cohesion gone afoul?

Can words possibly capture that ethereal something, that spiritual believed almost reverent something - that ethos that binds human souls?

Webster classifies ethos as a noun and defines it as follows: the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.

Is that an adequate definition?

The Marine Corps ethos (or what once was) - not dress blues and other sparkling décor first catching the wandering public eye - is what inspired me to become a Marine. The way Marines carried themselves; spoke amongst themselves; oozed a sense of brotherhood; and adored their emblem pulsed ethos. All of that and more represented something mysterious and special - realized only through heritage. 

That emblem spectacular - it forged upon the shoulders and backs and from the sweat and blood and headaches and heartaches of Marines - earned about battlefields across the globe and aggregated over centuries. Time and sacrifice the irreplaceable variables.

I, like many before me, wanted to be one of these unique warriors. I wanted to be challenged and tested - physically, mentally, and morally - to extremes to see if I had the mettle to stake claim to the title "Marine" and rightfully wear that eagle, globe, and anchor. It's as simple as that.

When writing our commandant a month ago, ethos was ever on my mind. But I failed miserably trying to deliberately include ideas and sentiments so the futile efforts were trashed.    

Thinking about ethos since, and after reading my letter a time or two, it's now clear ethos permeates every word. If you will, an ethos weave - a natural aura of living life as a Marine - holds the letter together. Thus, the obvious at the time of writing was not obvious. It is now.

Is it possible for ethos to change - without changing that which it defines? It's a confounding question. 

Specifically, can an institution once made up of a cohort that shared far more in common than not, that unwittingly built an ethos, maintain that same ethos when the institution morphs into a microcosm of society-at-large? That is, when standards change - when standards are compromised?

Has our Corps' ethos - that which built our Corps - changed? Has our Corps' ethos been destroyed?

It depends upon whom is asked the question.

Changing our ethos is - not just tinkering with but traumatizing the sensed, the felt, but undefinable balance is disconcerting. For instance - open homosexuality; women in combat; uniformed Marines authorized to appear at gay pride parades; DoD celebrating LGBT month; gender-norming; women Marines wearing male style dress uniforms; et al., are all disruptive quirks. For they are contrary to history, tradition, culture, and ethos. And, most importantly, all are about something called "equality" with nothing to do with the mutually exclusive requirement to strengthen military readiness and warfighting capability.

So what's the point? Ah, the answer is the question. And one day we will pay for the error of our ways.

And yet peculiarly, at least for the time being, amidst ethos chaos the remarkable performance of today's young Marines - under the strains of preparing for battle and battle - defy existing laudatory descriptors. Creativity required, where are you - inventors of new grander words? 

At the same time, are troublesome and degrading moral misbehaviors - like sexual assault, self-destruction, suicide, and whatever other emerging disciplinary problems - indicative of a collapsing ethos? 

Are ordered social experiments - that conflict with core morals, beliefs, and religious practices of the majority in uniform - being forced upon our Corps eating away at our ethos? 

Fact is, the ethos generations of Marines built - and fought under, and that inspired others to become a part of - is no longer.

What attracted me 35 years ago, and I endeared with great pride for more than 26 years in uniform, and still do, is no more. It bears repeating, the ethos that bound generations of Marines together is today not recognizable to many Marines. As to that unfamiliarity, how can any seasoned Marine of sound mind and conscience in good faith recommend - to youth - military service, especially in the Marine Corps?

Today, huge formations of men and women who honorably served, representing all branches, stand silent - not comfortable recommending military service. Some are vocal. Why? Ethos.

Who can explain the logic of, make a compelling case for, destroying a time and battle-tested ethos by purposely introducing deviance - that weakens and divides - thereby alienating the very likes of the men and women, the majority, who built the time and battle-tested paradigm? And, whilst there is no military justification for such - who can explain?  

Therefore, does it make any sense whatsoever to impose policies and directives and orders and stand downs and training and education upon Marines (and their families) for the objective of strong-arming their compromise of core moral, spiritual, and religious beliefs and values?

How does such an approach strengthen ethos? And foster cohesion?
Should young Marines - NCOs and officers - be expected to lead while also forced to deal with the most difficult and challenging of human dynamics, dynamics their seniors never faced and never will face?

Who's responsible for minding our Corps' ethos? Whose duty is it to look out for the welfare of our Corps?

Who's responsible?

Faceless and clueless bureaucrats - few who have served a single day in uniform and fewer still who possess what it takes to be a Marine. That's who. Yet these types are commonplace in congress and elsewhere in government and the citizenry - destructive their agendas. And they are the protected.

And, the generals - from commandant to the newest brigadier. And senior enlisted Marines, too. For they all man the front line - they are the seasoned Marines temporarily entrusted with safeguarding our Battle Color; to preserve Corps history, tradition, and heritage. They are the custodians charged to preserve ethos. They are the protectors.

And where are the colonels!? Yes indeed, where are the colonels?

Those are, essentially, the questions Marines - all generations and ranks - sickened by what they bear witness to today - are asking.

What to do?

Continue sounding the alarm - of fire and disorder!   

It takes but a spark to ignite a raging wildfire. 

So goes making for change in all things human - the spark being a single morally courageous voice or act of rightfulness. The aim to turn the citizenry into an angered but civil raging 'wildfire.' 

What follows is akin to that necessary spark - as it relates to ethos and cohesion and 'A Public Letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.'  

Why? Because the readership on that letter is still raging like a wildfire. And I continue to receive moving, thoughtful notes of concern, some of despair. Marines are distraught. Such a note I received this Sunday past morning.

That note, with use of an alias, follows. My reply is thereafter.

I wanted to take a moment to write you regarding the letter that you sent to our Commandant titled, "A Public Letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps."  I found it to be accurate, relevant, and thought provoking.  Almost one year ago, I watched General Barrow's testimony to the SASC regarding women in combat units, and like you, his words and passion have haunted me since.  I can only hope that as we move forward, our Corps will take a stand against those who seek to destroy it, or I fear that we will be deemed irrelevant and unnecessary.  Semper Fidelis.

Very Respectfully,


In reply...

"Dear 'Chance',

Good morning, Marine!
I just sat with a cup of steaming coffee and slice of toasted homemade Irish soda bread topped with whipped cream cheese (the real stuff not lite) to relax - a usual morning routine - and opened email; yours meriting first to be answered.
Thank you, kindly, for tuning in to my Commentary, however you stumbled upon my recent letter.
I appreciate, Sir, that you felt strongly enough to dedicate a moment of your valuable time to write me. I'm flattered and honored  - Thank You! The count as to how many notes I've written in reply to those moved and responding to my letter, honestly, I've lost count; dozens and dozens. But answer each and all I do, personally; I must.
The readership of my letter to our commandant, considering the venues I've since learned have republished (not to mention those I do not know to date), is likely into the millions - and still growing. As I type, hundreds and hundreds are reading; this I know. A recently retired four-star, who has been sent the letter dozens of times opined: My receipt so many times is proof the letter is resonating and that it is compellingly persuasive. I know that Marine, once worked for him, but I've not heard from him; his assessment sent to me by a longtime mutual friend. Frankly, I was uncertain as to what his sentiments. Pleasantly surprised, I was. Though it would not have mattered - doing what I believed right. And still do; adamantly.
Will my letter matter? That's the mega-million dollar question. I don't know. That, I believe, is largely up to the public-at-large - whether they awaken; aggregate; contact their elected officials; put their foot down; and demand, with threat of vote, to end the nonsensical social experiments being imposed upon their military, their Marine Corps - their ultimate protection from evil. Yes, it's personal - to self and family. The problem is theirs for action. But the letter certainly would not have mattered if not written and published in the public forum to ensure our commandant, and our citizenry, saw it. Otherwise, it, challenging the prevailing winds, would have been quietly preempted and shredded. No doubt. Anyway, our commandant has seen, or so I assume. Now the public, too, has seen and must act!
Never did I imagine the magnitude of the public response - so far, only as to reading and passing along. Actions yet to be realized. May they happen! And soon. They must! Let us pray so. Danger lurks.
My aim was merely to report to our commandant what I was observing, hearing, learning, and what has been on my mind - gnawing on my conscience to the point of sleepless nights - for some time. It was a situation report - SitRep. I did not have to look any further than our General Orders for guidance. And such reporting I see as my sworn duty, though a retired Marine (I still receive government compensation albeit retired pay) - 'Once a Marine, always a Marine!' pertains. Accordingly, a 'Colonel of Marines' is not only my title but a distinct treasured privilege that comes with inescapable serious responsibility(s); "retired" or not.
Parlous times we live. But my instinct is that nature, regardless of what the public does or fails to do, inevitably, will prevail. As will our Marine Corps. Though with that course, frustrating, turbulent, painful, and damn ugly times will - senselessly - be faced, endured, and conquered. For keep in mind, man is the only beast of God's making capable of contemplating his own death and destroying himself - all whilst working, tinkering - even stupidly, to that end state. That path, sadly, we are clearly afoot thereby challenging the belief, the assumption, that despite our unique cerebral cortex, man is an "intellectual." In reality, man is his own worst enemy. History shows we prove that over and over and over again. We're now proving it, again. Thus, it's nothing short of miraculous Homo sapiens still walk earth - God and Darwin, not strange bedfellows, our friends; but for how long?
"Keep the faith!" - as General Robert H. Barrow, USMC - 27th Commandant - was known for saying, and once offered me.
And, "Press the attack!" - as Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC - an indisputable hero of our Corps - charged his Marines.
But do both while ever being the utmost of a gentleman. Much can be achieved through respect and civility and dogged perseverance and unyielding patience. Can one person, one Marine, possibly make a difference, make for change? Positively! The laws of non-linearity relevant. But nothing so challenging can be attacked without first staking claim to the metaphorical high ground and exercising moral courage. Only when all else fails is violence the distasteful option; victory never assured.
In closing,
Perhaps more than you expected in reply but such was an opportunity for me to clarify, to rightfully exploit for the greater good of the - our - cause.
Ah, I just noticed my coffee is cold as is the once warm soda bread that's now with curdling whipped cream. But it's been worth my time, absolutely, to properly respond. Again, thank you for writing!
Now, finally, be a messenger, a connector. Duty!
For-ward, March!
Semper Fidelis.
Andy Weddington
Colonel, U. S. Marines (Ret)
Post Script: Though my reply was written personally to you, 'Chance,' you are most welcome to share with whomever you wish. In full disclosure, I decided to bcc a few key folks - of notoriety of influence - who I believe merit awareness and who, too, can act as, Malcolm Gladwell defined - "Connectors." For after all, educating our fellow citizens and stirring them to action, and victory achieving what is right and proper, is our collective mission - complemented with tending to the welfare of our Marines, of course. Those two goals of leadership - accomplish the mission and welfare of people, Marines - germane; to practically everything in life."
And, a few closing thoughts...

Many Marines and others, too, have taken time to write me - concurring with my letter's content. Words of praise for the courage to write and publish, they offer. But as much as I appreciate the kind words, I do not believe it takes courage to do what is right. One acts!

Along that same train of thought but on a lighter note, there have been mumblings a glass-encased, highly-polished pair of brass balls are inbound - suitable for tabletop display. Mentioning that rumor to a friend he asked, "Why do you need a second pair?" An excellent question. For the God-given originals were not used in the first place. Action was taken - doing what was right for the right reasons. That action, in truth, was to ethos. 

Furthermore, those who know me well know privacy is my way - preferring to side-step attention. My purpose for writing our commandant was out of sense of duty to file a report that no one else, to my knowledge, was willing to submit. The spotlight was not my objective. Some savvy seniors have advised that though I did not seek the spotlight the spotlight, whatever the illumination, found me. Do not shun it, they said. Of course, I will not.

My way has always been to stand aside and allow Marines to enjoy the spotlight - while quietly basking in the glow of their success. Yet my way also is to leap between them and anyone aiming to criticize shortcomings - perceived or real. For the work of Marines is ultimately the responsibility of their commander, their leader. That goes to cohesion. And most certainly to ethos. 

As for writing our commandant - what needed to be said was said.

And that said, may the regal ghosts of General Barrow, Colonel Ripley, and Marines of all times, as well as those now in the mortal state endowed with moral courage, incessantly pester those Marines entrusted, temporarily, with stewardship of our Corps (and country). For great history and tradition and culture and ethos is theirs to preserve, or to allow destroyed. 

As today's missive opened with truth might as well conclude with truth.

Since truth has proven to not be a core trait in the White House, and offices throughout the Cabinet, is it logical to assume there's lack of truth in the Pentagon?

That yet another terribly troubling realization and question to ask. But asked, it must be.

That said, what about the traditional military mess night toast, "Long live the United States and success to the Marines!"?

Will the United States live long?

The United States will endure provided we rediscover truth - return to the ethos that made America great; a world power without peer.

Will the Marines enjoy success?

America's Marines will enjoy success provided truth and the ethos that built the fighting force unlike the world has ever known is, too, rediscovered. 

I opt not to consider the alternatives - for they are terrifying.


Post Script

The closing words of Chapter 23 - Personal Affairs - from 'The Marine Officer's Guide' 4th Edition (1977)...

Three things come not back: the arrow that is flown, the spoken word - and lost opportunities. Omar Ibn, 581-644


Jim Bathurst said...

Sir Andy! Once again, a missive that goes to the heart of all things Marine. Well done Sir!
Semper Fi, Jim Bathurst

Tom H. said...

Where to begin, that's the dilemma. What are we to think - and conclude - when the Commandant of the Marine Corps sits silently by and watches events detrimental to the Corps unfold? Events which, left unchallenged and uncorrected, may well spell the beginning of the end of the Corps as we know (or knew) it?? How can a man of his rank, position and responsibility sleep at night, knowing full well his choice to do nothing,will be the the shot heard round the Corps as the act of cowardice which may destroy an institution so revered by millions round the world? Are the comforts of the office, and the perks enjoyed therewith, so important that they take priority over acting on principal and the courage of one's convictions, to tell the bobble-heads not only "no," but "Hell No!!"
If this Commandant lacks the courage, will, or strength of character to do what so clearly he should have already done, then he must step aside and let a man better than he do what must be done. At least, that would be one small gesture of class and courage.
Having heard or seen nothing from Gen. Amos up to this point, I cannot reasonably expect he will now do what he has failed to do since his appointment as CMC. Sad...very, very sad.