17 February 2014


by Andy Weddington
Monday, 17 February 2014

"Everyone is bound to bear patiently the results of his own example. Phaedrus

Bankruptcy means reduced to financial ruin. 

Bankruptcy also means lacking in or deprived of some essential. That is, bankruptcy can mean reduced to ruin not only in regard to finances but ethics, morals, and leadership, too.

'Morally bankrupt' is an en vogue term to mark wrongdoers. Wrongdoing - in government; in business; in religion; in sports; in entertainment and elsewhere - is rather a big problem these days. 

There was a day the Ten Commandants guided the way. But the tablets are under assault. Yet for Marine officers there's history, there's the clear path to success, captured in a Guide, to preclude bankruptcy - of all sorts.

Recent commentary - 'Another Public Letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps' - was sparked by a reader alerting to Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps (HQMC) sudden sour attitude and foul posture towards the Marine Corps Times. In short, the popular and favored independent source of information about all things Marine for Marines was going to be removed from storefronts and relegated to store middles, store backs, and maybe storerooms.
The timing of HQMC's action looked bad. And smelled worse. The appearance of retribution for unflattering reporting on the commandant's self-inflicted woes (under investigation for undue influence and possibly criminal actions) apparent to a deaf, dumb, and blind mule. A more sensitive detector still - the proverbial 'lance corporal sniff test' - could not headquarters pass.

Scrambling generals - denying and retracting and offering silly alibis in the name of "professionalizing" points-of-sale (for rescinding a hasty decision) - surely makes DoD and HQMC look like a Chuck is in charge, but Hollywood's Barris (of 'The Gong Show' fame) not President Obama's Hagel (Secretary of Defense - Pentagon). Thus lightheartedly surmising, the most often posed question at HQMC, to obscure comic identity, these days is, "Who has the brown paper bag?"

As respectfully and gentlemanly noted in commentary, it's time for officers, more so seniors, to dust off 'The Marine Officer's Guide' - beginning with a read of Commandant Major General Lejeune's fatherly letter to his officers (page 5).

Further, two chapters - perhaps best described as tips for avoiding "bankruptcy" - merit dedicated attention: Chapter 11 - You Become a Marine Officer and Chapter 16 - Leadership.

After reading, again, the material is as relevant now as when written - and published and republished. There's a reverberating message of history and tradition - experience and wisdom passed from generation to generation of Marine. That is, that what makes the Corps distinct.

For example, from Chapter 16, page 370: Devotion to the Marine Corps and its traditions begets equal earnestness and devotion from subordinates. Take the Marine Corps and its time-honored ways with full seriousness, and so will your command. That is the Marine Corps attitude.

Note the word "commandant" (nor any other rank nor billet) does not appear in those three sentences. But "Marine Corps" appears three times and is twice implied.

Some, especially lesser ranking Marines, believe the commandant is beyond criticism. That is wrong. Critical of the commandant is not attacking nor disrespectful. The commandant, an appointed public servant, whatever his actions in office, is absolutely subject to scrutiny. If questionable in the performance of duties (or even the appearance thereof) causes concerns amongst the citizenry, including Corps of Marines, then there is likewise duty to sound off. 

Above reproach, the commandant is expected to represent the epitome of moral conduct - the example in thought, word, and deed - to follow.

Good followership, especially by officers, blind obedience and lockstep is not. So, inherent in followership is leadership - the two 'ships' inextricable. Both require courage - extraordinary courage, at times, to do right. More so when following.  

In recent days, several articles of good battlefield leadership and heroism have been circulating. The stories of remarkable actions by young Marines - officer and enlisted and infantrymen and aviators - hair-raising. Their amazing feats of clarity of thought and moral and physical courage while under fire beyond the imagination of most. But so are trained Marines.

High decorations awarded and some forthcoming. And rightfully so.

These Marines, and their like, deserve leaders - up to the highest level - of equal, and surely greater courage; particularly morally. And, the expectations of juniors should not be based on hope but exemplary reality (as practiced by seniors). Again, the philosophy of Major General Lejeune (gleaned from generations of Marines before him) pertains.

As goes what all Marines worth their salt well know - for good or bad, there is no more powerful leadership than example. 

More from Chapter 16, page 370: "You can't snow the troops" is an old Marine saying. If you are professionally able, your enlisted Marines will be the first to get the word. Conversely, they will be mercilessly quick to spot a fraud. Demonstrate competence and keenness as an officer, and your men will be content to be led by you.

In closing,

Every public servant, elected or appointed, if not willing to face rightful criticism is free to resign or retire; if not sooner forced from office. The institution endures.

Thus, may necessary criticism compel even closer attention to duty and excellence in leadership to preserve the institution or serve as impetus to find and entrust the capable.

As General Louis H. Wilson, 26th Commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote in the last sentence of his three paragraph Foreword in the Fourth Edition...

"The purpose and the substance of the book fit very nicely the title: The Marine Officer's Guide."

And finally,

Reviewing the Marine Corps University website that details the Commandant's Reading List (officer and enlisted), there are five breakout categories for officers - Entry Level Candidate to O10 (four-star general) and all ranks in between.

'The Marine Officer's Guide' (now in 7th edition) - the heart and soul for Marine officers - is not listed. Odd. Why not in each category and required reading at every rank?

Also conspicuously missing...

'Fix Bayonets!' the classic by Colonel John W. Thomason, U.S. Marine Corps (awarded the Navy Cross during World War I). Not only a warrior, he was an artist and writer.

'War is a Racket' by Major General Smedley D. Butler, U.S. Marine Corps (twice awarded the Medal of Honor). Professional development also means reading another point of view.

'The Great Game' by Peter Hopkirk - an especially germane book considering the past decade plus of fighting in Afghanistan. This gem should be required reading by every Marine, and every politician, too.

And, a couple of more that come as no surprise not listed but should be - 'The Liberty Amendments' by Mark Levin for his call to preserve our Constitution (note 'U.S. Constitution' is on the Reading List for chief warrant officers 2 and 3 and captains), and 'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson for his brilliance (e.g., completely reinventing the 'e-tool'). As different as two books could possibly be, each offers valuable lessons in analytical and creative thinking and leadership.

Last, there just may be some leadership lessons garnered by all Marines - private to general - in an old Marine colonel's career (he spent some time in enlisted ranks) - 'We'll All Die As Marines' by Colonel Jim Bathurst, U. S. Marine Corps (Retired). His book is a leadership tome. But Chapter 28, 'The Silent Majority' - not even 10 full pages - should be mandatory consumption by all Marines.

Marines are reading good books, though not necessarily all the right good books.

But first, 'The Marine Officer's Guide' - for high flyers, hoverers, haulers, humpers and hikers and whether wearing bars, leafs, or stars - makes for a solvent, well-rounded and well-grounded Marine officer. And, in turn, a truer Corps!

Post Script

Reader comments, that through circuitous ways came back to me, about 'Another Letter to the Commandant..." agreed. Good. And, young Marines offered that both commentaries, my two letters, gave them hope. Good.

However, there was one Marine - a longtime friend, who described me as more 'black and white' than gray. No argument. But more accurate is 'good and bad' and 'right and wrong' oriented am I. Confusion there's not - for between those positions there's not gray. And, there's not gray in life; only in death.



Anonymous said...


Tom H. said...

Another good read from recent years is "The Imperfect Leader" by Davis Taylor. For hose who beleve/know that values determine the quality of leadership, this book will give you something to chew on. As Mr. Taylor opines, "Values determine behavior, and behavior drives performance."
A solid read those who are values-based.