Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 25 2014: My friend, GI Wilson (combat veteran, retired Marine colonel, military thinker and reformer, distinguished academic, man of integrity and character) and clan.

“Hardness," I was learning, was the supreme virtue among recon Marines. The greatest compliment one could pay to another was to say he was hard. Hardness wasn't toughness, nor was it courage, although both were part of it. Hardness was the ability to face an overwhelming situation with aplomb, smile calmly at it, and then triumph through sheer professional pride.”

Nathaniel Fick

“Great Marine commanders, like all great warriors, are able to kill that which they love most -- their men.”

Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer

For a host of reasons, including extensive family associations, a military orientation in my education, and having been brought up in the shadow of WW II, I have long been interested in military matters—everything from military history to strategy and tactics.

To this day, I remain fascinated, intrigued, skeptical, curious—and constructively (so I would like to think) critical. The military do not handle criticism well regardless of the merits of what is said. They condition themselves to think they are the repository of all military wisdom and will do just about anything to preserve that myth. Their unwillingness to listen and learn is not a strength.

Either way, one would be foolish and ill informed, indeed, to deny the significance of war, and its warriors, in world events. In fact, without war, there would be no United States of America. Correction: Without war, there would be no U.S. in its current form. Who knows what would have happened with Britain over time. Canada, for instance, was not born out of a revolution. That thought is worth pondering.

This interest in matters military now goes back nearly six decades—and has led me to read extensively about such matters, to spend time with units whenever possible, and occasionally to put myself in harms way. But, for all that, I have never wanted to be a soldier (or even a Marine). I doubt I have the temperament, am ambivalent about my courage, and value my independence too much. I also have a problem following orders unless I respect the person giving those orders—and that is not the way the military work. In all too many cases, it is a not a merit-based culture. It is a mindless bureaucracy run, not infrequently, by mediocre people, which breaks things and kills people for morally dubious ends.

Look no further than Iraq to illustrate that point. The courage and commitment of our troops is beyond denial, but neither are the consequences of our actions and our occupation. Was this really a just war? Was Vietnam? Can we really stand behind most of our military adventures since WW II? I have the strongest doubts that we can, yet we have killed millions and inflicted untold misery during such wars (whether called such or not)

We need a strong military—and it’s a good thing that ours is the strongest in the worlds—but a strong military should not be confused with a system for extracting extraordinarily large sums of money from the real economy for the benefit of the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex) while neglecting the very real needs of the American public. And they certainly have been neglected. Whereas real household income has increased significantly for most in the developed world, most Americans have received a miniscule overall increase—and currently, real household income is actually in decline.

At the same time, the U.S. military world, at its best, can—and does—throw up some marvelous people, who somehow manage to overcome the innate limitations of their disciplined and structured world—and to think and act constructively, creatively, and courageously.

As a consequence of my research into the U.S. military in the Nineties, I have been privileged to meet many such people whom I’m now proud to call friends.

GI is such a one. He is a prince of a man.

I have been very tempted to phone him up and kid him with: “GI, is that all?” (referring to the size of his clan) but I’m not that brave.

They look delightful.

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