Friday, February 21, 2014

Semper Snafu! When some low-level Marines behave like crazy idiots and louts, even the top general starts acting nuts.

General Jim Amos justifiably
tried to kick butt over a scan-
dal  but instead kicked up an
even bigger scandal
Let me start by pointing out that the Marines enjoy something special that none of the rest of us can share.

I first saw it when, as a young man in my 30s, I worked in an advertising agency with old Marines from World War II who had never quite gotten over the experience. 

Their offices always had some kind of Marine memorabilia on display. They shared a bond that most of us could well envy, even if they had fought in different theaters of the Greatest Generation's war. And they shared that bond many decades after their service.

So the Marines, as a rule, have clearly done a lot right in terms of morale and cohesiveness.

That said, it looks as if Marine Commandant General Jim Amos rightfully tried to do something in reaction to the scandalous misbehavior of some Marines in an Afghanistan combat zone, and ended up instead falling into the mess face-first, making himself the focal point of the scandal.

What was the scandal about? The story isn’t pretty. Some Marines, who killed some presumably Taliban fighters, made a video of themselves urinating on the enemies’ dead bodies. Well, warriors do crazy stupid things in combat, but this is just the opposite of what you’d want to happen if you ever hope to win the hearts and minds – or at least not completely alienate the hearts and minds – of the people in whose country you’re fighting.

General Amos nearly had a meltdown.  I understand his justifiable ire, but he evidently did something improper in the course of trying to discipline his troops for this misbehavior.

I’m not going to wallow into the nitty-gritty of this brouhaha. I’m not an expert on military or Marine proprieties, and some of the details have already been reported here. But what happened next shows that misbehaving troops can set off an explosive mess that sends even a well-intentioned general off the deep end.

Seems the Marine Corps Times and other newspapers written for American military audiences saw a scandal in the general’s disciplinary actions and – no surprise here – reported on their findings.

Next thing you know, the General banned the Marine Corps Times from the checkout counter racks at all Marine post exchanges. Yeah, you can still find the paper, if you rummage around for it carefully enough, in the back of the store. But the decision is redolent with the strong whiff of a retaliatory message against a newspaper that reports things as it sees them.

Last I heard, the post exchange stores now “are only authorized to display Marine Corps Exchange promotional materials,” according to the new policy. Exchange managers were told to move the newspapers to make room for the commandant’s reading list and that of the “First Lady of the Marine Corps,” Amos’ wife Bonnie.

And what are some of the books on Marine reading lists? Well, they include some excellent war fiction like Stephen Crane’s Civil War novel, “The Red Badge of Courage.” But there’s also a piece of science fiction called ‘Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. According to the blurb for Ender’s Game ‘In this science fiction novel, child genius Elder Wiggen is chosen by international military forces to save the world from destruction by a deadly alien race.”

Hey, what’s more important to a Marine, deadly alien races or stories in the Marine Corps Times about “everything from career tracks, to pay and benefits, family and spouse issues, and employment after leaving the military?”

Now it’s General Amos whose image is in hot water, not the marines who desecrated enemy bodies. It makes you wonder what’s in another book on the reading list, “How To Excel in a Bureaucracy.”

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