Thursday, July 27, 2006

Responsibility, Initiative, and Expectations

At what point do young Marines exceed civilian society with regard to taking personal responsibility and initiative, even under the most intense, life-threatening situations and who is that enables them to attain this level of personal productivity?

Are the time-tested methods at Parris Island and San Diego so skillfully implemented by our drill instructors that young recruits are molded into warriors, devoid of their previous civilian hesitancies and shortcomings, capable of thinking and acting for the good of their peers and themselves?

Is it the Noncommissioned Officer’s who train and teach junior enlisted Marines to become responsible, decision makers as they themselves have become?

Is it the Staff Noncommissioned Officer’s who mentor them, passing along the wisdom, leadership, and experience of their years, providing them the personal and professional tools to become self-sufficient at any level?

Those questions originally raced through my mind when watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I found myself making the comparison between some in the Gulf Coast area and the Marines I’ve known who took responsibility for themselves and their fellow Marines, even through the most trying of times. The Marines stood in stark contrast to those who appeared to have made poor decisions or even any decisions on their own behalf. I knew there were many storm victims who simply lacked the means or ability to exit the path of the storm. My heart went out to them. But I also knew there were those who had both the means and the ability, yet stayed, and then had full expectations for someone else to take care of them. Why?

And why were there expectations by so many observers that those caught in the storm need not take responsibility for themselves? They demanded that someone else (usually the entity farthest from them, the federal government) be held responsible, neglecting the concept of personal responsibility.

I kept making mental comparisons to a fire team, squad, or platoon of Marines caught in a life or death struggle during combat. No unit, at any level would simply wait around for the next higher command to come bail them out. They would start fighting immediately. The fire team doesn’t wait for the squad to show up before fighting when caught in an ambush. The squad doesn’t wait for the platoon, the platoon the company, and so on. They take responsibility and initiative. They shoot, maneuver, and communicate.

Some would say “that’s what they should do; it’s what they’re trained to do.” But, they also do the same when not caught in the life or death scenarios of combat. They do it in garrison. They do it under benign conditions. They find ways to make things happen. They take the initiative, “they improvise, overcome, and adapt,” as the Heartbreak Ridge movie line goes. As I reflected on those characteristics of the Marines with whom I’d served, they contrasted sharply with those of the individuals who possessed the means yet chose not to use them before Katrina hit.

I let the questions and comparisons pass, feeling judgmental, not having been in the shoes of those from the Gulf Coast. But, it was hard to let them completely escape my mind with the month’s long parade of stories blaming the government for the Katrina situation, while absolving so many others of any personal responsibility.

Those questions and comparisons recently resurfaced while watching the news coverage of Americans awaiting transportation from Lebanon.

The same decrees exempting them from any personal responsibility were made. Not so much by them, but by the observers here, especially those with political motives. The same demands were made for someone else to be held responsible for the plight of those caught in the fighting. There was an absolute oversight of the fact they had placed themselves into such a troubled, dangerous location.

Why was the immediate reaction to blame the federal government for not wiggling its nose and magically, instantaneously casting all 25,000 back to the states?

The coverage reinvigorated the questions I’d had about society’s expectations for personal responsibility and renewed the comparisons between Marines in combat and their civilian peers caught in a dangerous situation.

All of which leads me back to my basic, original queries: at what point are ordinary young men and women transformed into Marines who are responsible and proactive? At what point do they become more mature than their peers and the rest of society in terms of realistic expectations during times of difficulty and hardship? At what point do they become worthy of being held responsible for their actions while their civilian peers aren’t held to any standard during times of duress?

In the end, the answers to those questions are debatable and seemingly intangible. What I do know is that I prefer Marines be set apart within the American framework. I prefer that Marines be held to the very highest of standards, certainly far higher standards than the rest of society, and that we as leaders and American citizens expect extraordinary things from the Corps.

But at the same time, I have to ask, “How little have we, as citizens, come to expect of our fellow citizens?”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israel's Mistake

Israel made a mistake in attempting to work with Hamas and Hezbollah. The mistake was attempting to work with them at all.

Israel’s past concessions have not deterred or appeased either of these groups. In fact, those concessions have only worked in the opposite manner, causing more violence against them, not preventing it.

Those two groups view the willingness to negotiate as a weakness. In the end, Israel only emboldened Hamas and Hezbollah to act upon their Jihadist ideologies and react as their culture dictates they should.

Islamic extremists take advantage of weakness. It is part of the Arab culture from which their leadership and ideologies are derived. They only respect strength and courage, having no respect for anyone other than “the toughest kid on the block.” Jihadist’s view others’ readiness to make concessions, moderate positions, or bargain through a situation as weaknesses to be exploited. Any action by an opponent which does not clearly demonstrate resolve, strength, and power encourages them to exploit and attack that opponent. It’s a perfect living example of the old saying “You give an inch, they take a mile.”

In working with the Palestinian’s and Hamas, the Israeli’s have given concession after concession (as demonstrated by their abandonment of Gaza settlements to the Palestinians) in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict. Instead of being appeased and calling for a cessation of violence, Hamas danced in the streets, applauded the suicide bombers for bringing about a victorious reclamation, refused to recognize the right of Israel to exist, continued their attacks on Israel, and then kidnapped one of her soldiers. Do the Israeli’s think it was worth those concessions now?

Israel had been cautious in their activities on the Lebanese border, submitting to and abiding by the United Nation’s prescription for the area; a solution which Israel had to demonstrate moderation, and to some degree, appeasement. They withdrew further south than required, in order to exhibit unquestionable adherence to the U.N. mandates. Hezbollah saw this as a victory, moved in, later crossed the border, killed several Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. How many Israeli’s now wish they had not been so agreeable?

Now, it appears Israel’s desire to negotiate with or appease the extremists is gone, and rightfully so.

After all, how can they negotiate with groups who only see that same willingness to negotiate as a weakness to be exploited and therefore a reason to attack? How can they have diplomatic dialogue with groups whose ultimate desire is to have them wiped from the face of the earth? They can’t, nor should they.

Israel should continue to attack Hamas and Hezbollah and destroy as much of those two groups as possible. If they do not, the violence and extremism of Hamas and Hezbollah will persist, the threat to Israel (and the U.S.) will continue, as will the cycle of violence.

I agree with Secretary of State Rice that a simple cessation of violence is not the answer. That was the Madeline Albright approach, appeasement to end violence, and then stick your head in the sand, hoping for no future violence. Ultimately, it didn’t inspire either Hamas or Hezbollah to denounce their terrorist activities or change their charters; it was clearly not the answer. Ridding the region of the extremist elements that spark and act as catalysts for the violence is the answer. That’s where the efforts of the world community should be focused.

The efforts should not be focused on trying to get Israel to show restraint. In fact, Israel should ignore any demand for restraint if those demands are not coupled with the disarmament and dismantling of Hamas and Hezbollah. Past restraint has only lost them land, emboldened their enemies, and gotten them attacked at a later time. The opportunity for Hamas and Hezbollah to benefit from Israel’s restraint is gone.

Nor should any efforts be focused on blaming the U.S. for the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah. To imply that our presence in Iraq forced those groups into extreme action goes beyond ignorance. They were violent terrorists long, long before we entered Iraq. Anyone remember who killed over two hundred Marines in the suicide truck bombing of a Beirut barracks in the early 80’s? Answer - Hezbollah. I’ll paraphrase Secretary of State Rice who expressed the sentiment more eloquently than I, to imply that our presence in Iraq caused extremists to act extreme is a grotesque allegation.

Until decisive action (similar to Israel’s) is taken against Islamic terrorists, the threat from them will continue to exist. No amount of negotiation will work. It won’t work because their goal is for everyone to convert to Islam or be killed. That leaves no room for negotiation, a process which in and of itself only demonstrates weakness and thus gives them yet another reason to attack. In the end, there are very, very few options available for dealing with terrorists, the best of which is the course currently being pursued by Israel.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Noticeable Absence of Hollywood

The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Longest Day, Midway, The Fighting SeaBees, The Guns of Navarone…the list could go on for a page or more. All wonderful, patriotic movies I can’t get enough of when Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Veterans’ Day roll around. All movies which showed us the heroism of America’s warriors, recounted sometimes forgotten battles, or helped us relive some of America’s greatest victories.

One of the best things about those movies is that so many of them were made while World War II raged on, or were released shortly after the war. This type of support for our fighting men and women was incredible, and well deserved. It undoubtedly kept American’s focused on truly supporting the troops, which does include supporting their mission.

Hollywood obviously saw America differently then. They apparently felt a need to be patriotic, to be supportive, pro-American. But, that’s no longer the case.

“I support the troops, but not the war.” How many times have we heard that from the far left Hollywood types? At least too many to try to count on a Google search anyway.

No matter the count, I don’t believe them. I don’t believe, even for a little bit, that they support the troops. They don’t support them, but won’t say as much. They know the firestorm they’d find themselves in if they publicly espoused their true feelings about the military. So they stick to the cliché line, and leave others outside Hollywood, like Cindy Sheehan, to speak for them.

We never see or hear any of the "We support the troops,..." from them, but we get plenty of “…, but not the mission” from them.

If they honestly supported the troops we would hear it in their words, we would see it in their actions. Their support is conspicuously absent, but their anti-mission rhetoric and protests are plentiful.

If they supported the troops we would see them following in the footsteps of their Hollywood predecessors on overseas USO tours. If they supported the troops, we would occasionally find them taking some sort of action, or making some sort of speech reflecting that support. But none exist.

If they actually supported the troops, they would be making movies to tell the stories of their heroism. They would be reliving the battles of Afghanistan and Iraq on the big screen, showing the success we’ve had, the prowess and audacity of our troops, and sharing the courage and strength of young wives and families carrying on here at home.

But then again, their disdain for the military and its mission may have isolated them so far from what’s really happening in the war on terror they might not have any ideas for positive movies about this war. So I’ll give them just a few from a long list of possibilities.

They could relive the battles for Fallujah, highlighting the incredible feats of our Marines and soldiers who fought block to block, house to house, and room to room. Several of our warriors received some of our nation’s highest awards for valor in Fallujah. I think everyone should hear the stories of those Marines, soldiers, and their units.

The assault into Iraq, an army moving faster and farther than any before in the history of warfare, detailing the stories of the Generals and the units who led the charge would make an awesome movie similar to some World War II epics.

The victory in Afghanistan, working with local tribes and militias, succeeding where so many others had failed before is bound to be taught in military history, tactics, and strategy classes for years to come. It needs relived on the big screen.

Our Civil Affairs units who’ve been working diligently for the last couple years to assist with agriculture, rebuilding schools, hospitals, and public works projects is a grand epic. It might not be as glamorous as the battles, but it is no less important and has the potential to be a dramatic movie if done right.

I’m sure there’s an audience for a movie retelling the work of our military doctors working with Iraqi families to cure their children of crippling or life-threatening diseases, injuries, and birth defects. Their provision of medical expertise, unavailable under Saddam, in an effort to save so many children would be a heart-warming movie.

I think a movie paying homage to the family’s who endure the combat deployments of their loved ones, dealing with the rigors of suddenly finding themselves as quasi-single parents, and the challenges they overcome is absolutely needed.

But, I also know I have to be careful what I wish for. The current state of Hollywood, with its absolute revulsion of anything that might illuminate the success of our nation, and subsequently its leadership, would likely inspire them to make movies reflecting that sentiment.

But for now I’ll keep hoping they find the Next Greatest Generation worthy of having its stories told and Hollywood following through on its claims of “We support the troops.”

Monday, July 03, 2006

For God and Country

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…”

And so our founding fathers declared our independence, fully acknowledging that those inalienable rights came from the Creator. They understood their quest for liberty was dependent upon their reliance on Him.

Their words also foresaw the coming attacks on the foundation of that liberty, as expressed by Thomas Jefferson, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God?”

Many years later Ronald Reagan reiterated that sentiment with eloquence and simplicity, still seeing a specific need for us to remember from where our liberty is derived when he said "If we ever forget that we are one nation under god, then we will be a nation gone under.”
Despite the best efforts of those who insist upon our becoming a secular nation, the spirits and philosophies of Jefferson and Reagan live on. And they live on because of the commitment to preservation of our founding principles by those who value God given liberty.

I will be forever optimistic of America’s future knowing there are those among us who have not forgotten that liberty is God’s gift and have not turned from God. They refuse to succumb to the ceaseless attacks of those who endeavor to define our liberty as the fruit of man’s labor alone, not a gift bestowed upon us by the Almighty.

No matter the challenge, the humble defense of and concession to our Godly founding principles will provide perseverance in the face of far greater calamities than we’ve ever experienced. After the devastating loss of life at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln reaffirmed our endurance in the face of catastrophe, an attribute which still describes America, “…this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It is this type of leadership and the sacrifice of those who have not forgotten the origin of our liberty, who have committed themselves to this country’s guidance and its defense that have carried us through trial and tumult.

And this country will stand strong as long as there are those among us whose words and deeds are distinctly patriotic, distinctly American, and unquestionably reflect a love of God and country. There is no need for them to explain how or why their actions or words are patriotic, they simply are. They possess a transparency which lets all of us see their hearts and minds wrapped in the stars and stripes. They do not have to clarify each of the seven degrees of separation from patriotism they are to finally define themselves as such. All of us who hear their words and see their actions know we stand in the presence of a true patriot.

We see them standing silently through the entire “Star Spangled Banner” at football games with a tear running from the corner of their eye. We see them standing with hands over their hearts well in advance of the American Legion color guard marching Old Glory down the street during the hometown parade. We hear them speaking publicly to the best this nation has to offer, not forever finding fault with everything our country stands for. They do not blame America first, they are the first to stand and defend it.

They carry on the traditions of Patrick Henry, famous for the stand he took for liberty, “Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

I am confident of this great nation’s future because of those young men and women who unselfishly commit themselves to our liberty. We see this devotion living on in our young Marines and soldiers fighting through the streets of Fallujah and the mountains of Tora Bora. Daniel Webster spoke to their commitment to God and country when he said, “God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it.” As long as there are those whose love of country and liberty supersedes their love of self, we can all be confident the dreams of our forefathers will continue to be realized.

Those who comprehend, acknowledge, and then act in accordance with the triune of God’s hand in our lives, the liberties he bestows upon us, and translucent patriotism give all of us hope and ensure optimism for the longevity and strength of our nation.

“…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” As long as we firmly rely upon the Divine and have those willing to pledge their lives, fortunes, and honor to lead and defend us, those words written as a pledge in our Declaration of Independence will remain forever relevant and resolute.