Posted by: zhak39 | October 14, 2009

Semper Fi

For those who don’t know, the motto of the United State Marine Corp is not ‘let’s kick butt’ or ‘we rule, you drool.’  It’s Semper Fidelis, Latin for Always Faithful.  And I respect that sentiment.  Marines choose to be held to and to hold themselves to certain absolute standards.  They adopt a measurable life style which includes tests of physical and mental endurance but also immovable and unquestioning loyalty.   The Marine Corp has developed systems to bring concepts to the surface where they can be weighed and measured.  They are straightforward and controlled.

In the course of teenage individuation, young people begin to look at the possibilities and options in their world, to discuss them and move in general directions.  Sometimes they talk to me about their ideas.  It’s funny to watch them mull over how they should express themselves.  I watch their jaws move while their mouths are still closed as if they are literally chewing over words.  You see, many of them have the strange idea that I am a full blown flower power make love not war retrogressive throwback to a wild time well before their births and which surely their parents had no part of.  I love them all.

Anyway.  When a young man or woman talks to me about the possibilities and opportunities in our military I generally tell them this.

Joining the military is a choice usually undertaken not only for the side benefits of three squares and gi bill and shelter but for service.  A military man or woman makes the unshakeable pledge to be put in harm’s way for the sake of the safety and lifestyle of the people of the United States.  The result may be honor or it may be death, dismemberment or emotional fracture.  This is what you are putting on the table.  That is your stake.

On the other side of the table is the partner with whom you are making a covenant.  You are giving that partner the authority to put your life in harm’s way.  You are gifting that partner the power to choose for you.  That person becomes primary and everyone else, your parents and their well-meaning advice, your partner’s opinion, your children’s desires, your friends and community become not secondary but inconsequential.  That is the trust you are putting in that person.

That person is the commander in chief of the armed forces, the president of the United States.  Democratic or Republican, advised by civilians or generals, this is the single person whose outstretched hands will be holding your present and future.  Is this person going to treat every decision with utmost respect to your willingness to individually  sacrifice your life or well-being?  Are you sure?  Because once you make that decision there are no-backsies.

Not long ago I posted a picture of three marines in Afghanistan taken by embedded photojournalist Julie Jacobson and published by the Associated Press.  In it, two soldiers were giving aid to Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard who later perished of his wounds.  His family did not want this picture published.  I do feel for them.  But the Associated Press believed that the photo was important and newsworthy and in these times of sanitizing the sacrifices of war I agreed.

Yesterday the Associated Press printed a family picture and an article about the efforts Lance Cpl. Bernard’s father John Bernard has been making over the last several months regarding military strategy.   Here is the Bernard family from March 2007.

The late Lance Cpl Bernard with mother and father

The late Lance Cpl Bernard with mother and father

John Bernard is a former Marine.  He has been following policy and feels that the strategies in place will prove ineffective.  From the article.

Bernard’s criticism is aimed at new rules of engagement imposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, five weeks before Joshua Bernard was killed. They limit the use of airstrikes and require troops to break off combat when civilians are present, even if it means letting the enemy escape. They also call for greater cooperation with the Afghan National Army.

Under those rules, John Bernard said, Marines and soldiers are being denied artillery and air support for fear of killing civilians, and the Taliban is using that to its tactical advantage.

I will not comment one way or another on the soundness of Mr. Bernard’s suggestions or the current strategy of U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Stan McChrystal.  As an American, John Bernard has the right to express his opinion about such things.  I hope he understands, though, that the covenant is between young men and women who volunteered to be in harm’s way and the commander in chief.  Like the rest of us well meaning parents, friends, children, lovers, siblings, community members of service people, and the 2009 Ford Escape, he has no power.


  1. That’s a tough pill, Zhak.

    Your kids are older than mine so, it’s probably going to happen to you sooner than it will happen to me — becoming an in-law, then a grandparent.

    At those points in the future, let us see if you can live the absolutes of which you currently speak. Let us see if you can sit by and recognize that your opinions do not matter and that you do not have a dog in the fight when your kids’ marriages turn nasty and their child-rearing techniques — or those of their partners — are not yours. I do wonder whether you will be able to maintain the objectivity you suggest for First Sergeant Retired John Bernard and resist the temptation to say or do something.

    You are after all, a woman of action. And you do have strong convictions.

  2. As a former Marine I am sure Mr. Bernard understands better than most the agreement between soldier and commander. Bernard chose a lifestyle of absolutes. There is no room for relativism in the artificial constructs of the military. While soldiers can have an opinion it’s only the strategy of the commander that is enacted. Any former can be an armchair quarterback; this effort will not make him coach on the field.

    Semper Fi.

  3. A soldier gives up many “rights” when he/she enlists. One of the rights that they give up is the right of self determination. They trust that their leaders are weighing every option before placing their lives at risk. Events of the not so recent past have shown that not every option has been carefully weighed, and that our service peoples lives have been something to be taken for granted.

    They have endured shortages of up to date equipment, various diplomatic snafus, and have had their enlistment contracts broken. As pointed out a couple of blog entries ago, their deaths and maimings have been something to cover up, because it’s ugly, depressing, and we just don’t want to be reminded of what’s going on.

    Besides, Jon and Kate Plus 8 are on tonight.

    Our service people have no say in their fates, but I do. (As does John Bernard, and Cindy Sheehan… and so do you!) If they are fighting on our behalf, we at least owe them the courtesy of being sure that the wars they are engaged in are constitutional and are conducted in the most effective way possible. (They take an oath to defend the Constitution, not our Capitalism, something we the people can remind the folks that we elect, including the Commander in Chief)

    Service people are our relatives,friends and neighbors. Support or condemn the wars, until they come home safe, we indeed do have a dog in this fight.

  4. Guys,

    I have to apologize for my poor phrasing. I thought I edited but apparently the web has a long memory. I agree that every citizen has not only the right but the responsibility to form and express thoughtful opinions to our representatives. Heck, I once wrote some friendly advice to Richard Nixon because I thought he needed some PR help (I was eight and remember being proud to be using a pen instead of those fat pencils they used to give us in second grade).

    The meaning of the phrase ‘dog in this fight’ is to have a stake in the process and outcome. Wrong phrase. Mea culpa. Lo siento. I am sorry.

    It has been my experience that the only time what I have to say to my representatives on a local, state or federal level has any merit is when they were going to do what I was saying already. This is especially true in my adopted state of North Carolina which for years was represented by Uncle Jesse Helms. If you had a problem, something with the VA or trouble with your farm loan you could contact Uncle Jesse and he would set it right. But, he was fond of telling his constituents to not talk to him about foreign relations or defense contracts or other mighty matters. We citizens didn’t have the information or the capability of making decisions on such. Just trust him.

    Admittedly, I am pretty cynical. How about you? Do you honestly believe that anything that you or Cindy Sheehan or John Bernard has to say makes a particle of difference in actual outcome?

  5. What is lost in this conversation is a larger issue, and that is the difference in presidents and the difference in priorities. I say that because, I think underlying First Sergeant Retired John Bernard’s criticisms may be a feeling that, were the previous Commander in Chief in power, he would have more confidence in the direction of the war.

    I do wonder, given how the war in Iraq began — where the tactic was a “leaner and meaner” military, ill-equipped with, among other things, HumVees that lacked armor plating — and how the war in Afghanistan is beginning — not enough troops, not enough fire power.

    I think the instinct is correct, namely that yeah, we can all Monday morning quarterback this. And, we can feel free to invoke our political leanings (e.g. “You didn’t complain when we had no body armor and not enough troops in Iraq, where we went under the ruse of weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist and where we lost some 6,000 kids, but now, now that we’re going to where Al Qaeda actually is, you’re all up in arms). That may be Sgt. Bernard’s position because he doesn’t like having a Democrat in power when his son is at war.

    That seems to be a growing sentiment among the conservatives with whom I speak. They deride President Obama for military tactics that take civilians into consideration. They claim he shows weakness when negotiating, rather than “playing cowboy.” Muslims complain he’s in bed with the Jews because he wants to negotiate. Jews complain he’s abandoned Israel because he wants to negotiate.

    Meanwhile, he’s been in office for only 10 months and, not only is that too soon for him to have had a whole lot of effect on military strategies, aside from focusing more on Afghanistan than Iraq, but it is also too late to de-legitimize him as president and as the commander in chief.

    I think this whole “It’s not change I believe in” thing is the underpinning to why there is an article about what Sgt. Bernard thinks, at all. If he was a supporter of President Obama’s, there would be no story, it seems to me. Who wants to write an article about a former Marine whose son was a war casualty, and who goes along with what his president is doing?

    And that is what our “24 hour news” centers provide. “Us” versus “them.” That sells.

    Onto your point about whether our opinions matter. It seems to me that so long as you are outrageous, your opinion can get on the news. The more divisive, the louder you are and, the more you draw attention to yourself, with the message being a side light, the better chance you may get face time like John and Kate or, for that matter, the balloon family in Fort Collins, CO.

    I think our opinions do matter, but I admit a bias. I do think that for the most part, federal representatives will help you with the bread and butter issues like VA assistance and obtaining a visa when some federal cog mis-typed your social security number and the processing has come to a standstill. I do think that for the most part, your opinion has little effect on bigger picture issues where your representative’s campaigns have been funded by certain entities for years and your situation is at odds with those of the entrenched contributors, your voice is less heard.

    Having said that though, I know the power of connections. Here in Iowa, it’s nearly impossible to avoid them. My kids go to school with the Governor’s kids and I can talk to him at the “daddy/daughter” Valentine’s dance. My son was coached by a state court judge’s son in wrestling, and I have had conversations with her about her son’s high school career. I’ve sat in church with Federal judges and gotten to know them by conversations there and afterward.

    Federal judges are so incredibly politically connected that it’s ridiculous.

    My voice may be pretty unnoticeable. But my story, told by the right person, to the representative, carries a lot of weight. It is not so much who you know, as how compelling your argument is, and how you get it to the person who can effect real change.

    But if you are asking whether any of us sitting around, using terms like, “No-bama” and “Nancy Ferocious” and Senator “McDonald brain” and harping on the scandal dejure, brought to us by FoxNEWS or MSNBC, can do anything by just doing that? No, I don’t think so.

    You’ve got to make some noise. In the process though, it is my personal view that you should try and maintain some dignity when you determine how to make that noise. For me, anyhow, it is by quietly attempting to cater to the person’s more enlightened instincts.

    It is not always going to be successful. You had Jesse Helms. I have Chuck Grassley.

  6. “We always did feel the same.
    We just saw it from a different point
    of view.”

    I never thought I would be the more jaded.

    Thanks for the comments.

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