LeRoy Collins Commentary 50

Commentary #50
27 May 2007

On military resolve

On this Memorial Day Weekend of 2007, I came across this sad article which may suggest that U.S. military victories on the ground may be impossible if our principle concern is the avoidance of "collateral damage" wounding/killing of indigenous civilians caught in the crossfire between our imperiled troops and the enemy hiding among them.

Can you conceptualize your spouse, child, relative having to deal with such deferential rules of engagement? No wonder the term Victory seems to be absent from our modern military vocabulary, ...and seems to be replaced by a more antiseptic objective of “containment”, which may tend to breed in the warrior, a sense of hesitancy, or worse...TIMIDITY. Timidity in battle preordains a losing battle.

/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr., www.leroycollins.org

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By Diana West
Published May 11, 2007

On the 60th anniversary of VJ-Day in 2005, Marine Capt. Randy Stone, a military lawyer serving in Iraq, became a presidential poster boy. Capt. Stone's two grandfathers fought at Iwo Jima, so President Bush, in a celebratory speech, turned the whole family into a gold-braided rhetorical flourish to depict the continuity of American character and courage from one war to another.

"Captain Stone proudly wears the uniform just as his grandfathers did at Iwo Jima," said Mr. Bush. "He's guided by the same convictions they carried into battle. He shares the same willingness to serve a cause greater than himself... Randy says, 'I know we will win because I see it in the eyes of the Marines every morning. In their eyes is the sparkle of victory.'"

That was then. I wish the president would look into Capt. Stone's eyes now as the officer finishes up his first week of Article 32 hearings, the military's equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, to determine whether dereliction of duty charges against him will go to trial.

What would Mr. Bush see? I can only imagine that if I were Capt. Stone, in the uniform my grandfathers wore, with their convictions and willingness to serve, that "sparkle of victory" the 34-year-old Marine once talked about would be lost in the hard-eyed look of the betrayed.

Capt. Stone is the first of four Marine officers to be charged with dereliction of duty for failing to investigate "properly" 24 civilian deaths in Haditha in November 2005. Having reviewed the facts -- what you might call his politically correct job as battalion lawyer -- Capt. Stone determined no further investigation was warranted. In other words, he came to a politically incorrect conclusion. (So did his superiors, but he's the guy on trial -- another story.)

Capt. Stone could get three years in prison. Three enlisted Marines are charged with unpremeditated murder. They could get life. At least eight other Marines may have been granted immunity to testify. The whole case exudes the terrible, rotting stench of eating our own.

Described in the heavy-breathing press as "the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq war," the incident sounds less like a war crime than, well, a war.

Here's what happened: A convoy of Marines trolling insurgent-riddled Haditha was hit by a huge IED. A Humvee was destroyed. One Marine was killed (split in two). Two other Marines were wounded (one grievously). There was a lot of shooting at an approaching Iraqi car. There was a lot of shooting at two nearby Iraqi houses, where Marines heard, as the New York Times put it, "the distinct metallic sound of an AK-47 being prepared to fire." As one Marine witness explained, "the squad leader thought he was about to kick in the door and walk into a machine gun." In the end, no additional Marines had died, but 24 Iraqi civilians, including some children, had been killed.

And here lies a hunk of the politically correct outrage fueling prosecutorial fires. According to a leaked report chiding Marines for not investigating further, Army Maj. Eldon A. Bargewell was apparently appalled by "statements made by the chain of command" that "suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business." Maj. Bargewell was also apparently exercised by the Marine consensus that "civilian casualties were to be expected" due to such insurgent tactics as hiding among civilians. "Although this proposition may accurately reflect insurgent tactics," he wrote, he heard it so often "that it almost appeared rehearsed."

Rehearsed? Notice the contorted way military brass disparages the exculpatory reality of the Iraqi battlefield.

Meanwhile, three cheers for the Marines. If only someone would mention to the Waugh-ian-named Maj. Bargewell that when the "business" is war, the chain of command darn well better consider "U.S. lives" more important than "Iraqi civilian lives" (many "civilian" in name only), or guess what? Too many U.S. lives will be lost and the U.S. won't win.

Victory, however, isn't the objective of our increasingly PC military. This is becoming more and more apparent as the war continues. It calls into question our very capacity -- not military, but psychological -- to wage war. It also calls into question our continuity with our forbears -- Capt. Stone's grandfathers, for instance. They might know the uniform, but, watching their grandson's show trial, I doubt they'd recognize much else.

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--------REJOINDER--------

HERE IS A TIMELY REACTION TO THIS COMMENTARY OF MINE...FROM A HIGHLY EXPERIENCED SENIOR USMC COMBAT OFFICER, WHO ALWAYS COMMANDS MY RESPECT. HE HAS SERVED WITH UNCOMMON DISTINCTION IN EXTENSIVE MODERN ARMED COMBAT. I WILL DEFER TO HIS MORE WISENED JUDGEMENT ON SUCH MATTERS ANYTIME. /S/ LC

Roy,

Sorry to disagree with you on this, but this article is wrong on a number of counts.

First, his job as a battalion lawyer has nothing to do with political correctness. He is/was a staff officer who provides advice and recommendations to his commander--who makes decisions. If, in the course of his duties he was found negligent, he will face the consequences. Fairly straightforward in the command/staff relationship--of any Service, under any conditions.

The "terrible, rotting stench" is not from eating our own. Stench comes from a system that breaks down and allows any and all to "do whatever is necessary" and holds no one accountable. (Torture? Why not--it just might work and if not, they're not like us any way. Shoot first and ask questions later? Why not--they're only civilians who were probably helping the enemy anyway.) We are better than this!

The incident "sounds less like a war crime and more like a war"? I'd like to know which war the author is describing and her experience in each. Mine is based on serving three times in Vietnam (all in Infantry assignments) and in Desert Storm as an assistant division commander. I truly saw war--but not war crimes. Maybe it was because my Marines knew what I stood for--and what I would not stand for. But we engaged in warfare, not war crimes.

The description of the incident is amazing in its brevity and absence of facts. "There was a lot of shooting and no more Marines died" is not just a simplification but an indication of a bias against facts that are not supportive. (Does she use facts like the drunk uses a lamp post--for support, not illumination?) Let's let the Marine Corps sort this out--it is very good at this. (By the way, the investigator is Major General Bargewell. Not sure why it's necessary to ridicule his fist name since he probably had no vote in that decision. Further, he is a highly decorated veteran who probably needs no advice on the "business of war" from the author--or anyone else!)

The return to the theme of a politically correct military makes me wonder if her agenda is how political correctness (does that include women in the military?) is detrimental to our military. My take is that we have never had a better military than the one we put on the field of battle now. I also find it strange that if our troops chafe under the current rules of engagement and find them so constricting and lead to timididity that Ethical Decision Making is the most sought subject from the Marine Corps University by units returning to Iraq.

I can't answer for Captain Stone's grandfathers but I certainly recognize the uniform--and have never been prouder of all the rest of it.

Sorry to be so wordy, but I just couldn't let this pass. Enjoy this special weekend.

Semper Fidelis,

(name withheld to protect the respondent. /s/ LC)

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/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.
www.leroycollins.org


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