Permissible Arms

Semper Fierce

Posted in us military by Karaka on 9 June 2010

I’ve come across a few interesting pieces to do with the Marines lately, starting with Victor Davis Hanson’s article in the National Review. “Marinistan:”

The Marines are now starting to redeploy to Afghanistan from Iraq and are building a huge base in Delaram. They plan to win over southern Afghanistan’s remote, wild Nimruz Province, which heretofore has been mostly a no-go Taliban stronghold. While NATO forces concentrate on Afghanistan’s major cities, the Marines think they can win over local populations their way, take on and defeat the Taliban, and bring all of Nimruz back from the brink — with their trademark warning “no better friend, no worse enemy.”

So, once again, the Marines are convinced that their ingenuity and audacity can succeed where others have failed. And, once again, not everyone agrees.

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, retired three-star Army general Karl W. Eikenberry, reportedly made a comment about there being 41 nations serving in Afghanistan — and a 42nd composed of the Marine Corps. One unnamed Obama-administration official was quoted by the Washington Post as saying, “We have better operational coherence with virtually all of our NATO allies than we have with the U.S. Marine Corps.”

Some officials call the new Marine enclave in Nimruz Province “Marinestan” — as if, out of a Kipling or Conrad novel, the Marines has gone rogue to set up their own independent province of operations.

Yet once again, it would be wise not to tamper with the independence of the Marine Corps, given that its methods of training, deployment, fighting, counterinsurgency, and conventional warfare usually pay off in the end.

Setting aside the initial impulse to belt out “ooh-RAH” after reading this, the Marine Corps has more than once undergone transformative change in order to better adapt to the battles its being tasked with fighting; the Corps will continue to adapt in the future, whether or not it gets formally titled alongside the Department of the Navy.

This interview with General Mattis is a worthy read, if only to gain some insight into a probable candidate for the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Though I find him a particularly fascinating human, myself.

Q. What are your capability priorities?

A. No. 1, we must be able to fight in coalitions. No. 2, we must recognize that the information warfare, the battle for the hearts and minds of the global audience, is just as heavy a priority as the military operation itself and the tactical events on the battlefield must feed the narrative: that we are living up to our values, that while winning this fight, we are saving the innocent people that we are out there to protect.

Somehow, we’ve got to tie together the capabilities to win the information war, at the same time working with like-minded nations to keep these experiments we call democracy alive against people who really don’t like them.

He’s an active proponent of small-unit counterinsurgency operating, and of giving more control to field units. Interesting stuff.

Lastly, by way of Exum, this comment by Rebecca Frankel comes as an amusing comparison of the Army/Marine Corps to Stanford/MIT. Good discussion here.

I’ll start with a non-sequitur which I hope to use to get at the hear of the difference between MIT and Stanford: recently I was at a Marine publicity event and I asked the recruiter what differentiates the Army from the Marines? Since they both train soldiers to fight, why don’t they do it together? He answered vehemently that they must be separate because of one simple attribute in which they are utterly opposed: how they think about the effect they want to have on the life their recruits have after they retire from the service. He characterized the Army as an organization which had two goals: first, to train good soldiers, and second, to give them skills that would get them a good start in the life they would have after they left. If you want to be a Senator, you might get your start in the Army, get connections, get job skills, have “honorable service” on your resume, and generally use it to start your climb up the ladder. The Army aspires to create a legacy of winners who began their career in the Army.

By contrast the Marines, he said, have only one goal: they want to create the very best soldiers, the elite, the soldiers they can trust in the most difficult and dangerous situations to keep the Army guys behind them alive. This elite training, he said, comes with a price. The price you pay is that the training you get does not prepare you for anything at all in the civilian world. You can be the best of the best in the Marines, and then come home and discover that you have no salable civilian job skills, that you are nearly unemployable, that you have to start all over again at the bottom of the ladder. And starting over is a lot harder than starting the first time. It can be a huge trauma. It is legendary that Marines do not come back to civilian life and turn into winners: instead they often self-destruct — the “transition to civilian life” can be violently hard for them.

Someone noted on twitter, when this link was spread this morning, that asking a recruiter for any opinion is going to get you this kind of propaganda. But I thought Frankel retold it well, with an interesting allegory to the two universities.

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2 Responses

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  1. Abbie said, on 10 June 2010 at 18:03

    I’ve been fascinated by the Marines since reading Tom Ricks’ Making the Corps in college. It was my first introduction to any service outside of the Army and, incidentally, my first introduction to the term “small wars.” What a difference a decade (or so) makes!

    If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. Ricks re-released it recently with a new afterward where he tracks down some of the men from Platoon 3086 ten years later.

    • Karaka said, on 10 June 2010 at 19:36

      I do have it, though it hasn’t managed to make it into the must-read-right-now pile yet. (That pile always seems to grow when I’m not looking.) I think I have an earlier edition, without the afterword, but I’ll have to sneak into the stacks at Powell’s to give the afterword a read.


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