Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Dirty Business

All together now – everyone put your hands together and wring them real hard. Now I want to hear you mutter such denunciations as: “We’re in another Vietnam!” or “This is a quagmire!” or “This is all about oil!” ad infinitum.

I have withheld comment on this vituperation for some time. But listen very carefully: War is a dirty business.

It is a given that we will always have those who see things differently; or for ideological reasons choose a position that is contrary; or have allowed themselves to be mislead by war stories that are often untrue, or at the least unsubstantiated. That’s simply a part of life. Opposition is okay, and can even be healthy, as evidenced in our recent electoral process. Just don’t get sucked into the negative press and hype that surrounds us on a daily basis.

Case in point – the young Marine who shot and killed a terrorist while clearing buildings one room at a time in Fallujah. No one would give this a second thought if the cameraman hadn’t been filming this particular moment. If the frightful scene played out on video is abhorrent to you, then that is a good thing. War is ugly at best. People die in ways that can only be classified as gruesome. War is a violent affair. The terrorists who were in the room being cleared by the Marines had been instructed to leave the area well in advance of the Marines starting their sweep. Just a day or two prior to this shooting, those same Marines had gone in to clear a room of terrorists, only to find one of them dead on the floor, but whose body had been booby-trapped by his pals so that when the Marines rolled him over the grenades would explode, killing more Marines.

Let me put it like this: if you have never been in such an environment, then at the very least withhold judgment. These Marines are well-trained young men. The Marines didn’t gain a reputation for being the best fighting force in the world by making nice to bad guys. At the same time, they typically give every opportunity for those same bad guys to give up the fight. If they choose not to surrender, then they will die.

Not quite a month ago, I participated in the funeral of a Marine who was killed in Fallujah clearing a room. Leading his squad room to room, he kicked in a door, but this time the terrorists were on the other side waiting for him. Only three days before his death he had been wounded in the leg and neck, yet would not leave his unit. They were his Marines, and they needed him.

I know these young men. I have worked with them; slept in tents and on the ground with them; eaten the same MREs with them (an MRE means: Meal Ready to Eat); and listened as they shared with me their concerns about having had to shoot and kill. These are mostly 18 to 25 year old men who must now live for the rest of their lives with the reality that they killed a man. It never leaves you.

While serving at our base in Djibouti, Africa in late 2003, one Marine came to see me for counseling. He had only a few months before been in Iraq. We talked for quite a while. I listened as he described for me in painstaking detail the experience where his unit had taken a town. He told me of seeing a terrorist, aiming his rifle, pulling the trigger, and watching the man fall to the ground for the last time. He spoke in hushed tones, causing me to have to lean closer to him in order to hear. After he was done, this nineteen year old man looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Can God forgive me for killing this man?”

Any time our nation is at war, we are asking our sons, and in more recent years, our daughters, to take up arms to defeat a threat somewhere around the globe. Because of the very nature of war, these willing warriors will never be the same. They will return home and take up their lives again, adjusting to civilian life with hardly a glance back. Some will wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat, having relived some horror from war that has violated them in the midst of their sleep. They will not speak of this, except perhaps to their spouse, or another warrior, or a chaplain/minister, and then possibly one time only. These are men who walk in our midst, sensing they are marked with a sign over their heads identifying them as killers. They wonder if people will accept them, or avoid them. War is an ugly business. Its residue is everywhere.

I know men who fought in World War Two who still wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, reliving their ghastly experiences.

This is why no president, be he Republican or Democrat, ever wants to choose war.

Let me encourage you to always honor those who must carry such a heavy load. As a nation, we have placed this upon them, asking them to do the nastiest of life’s business. At the very least, they deserve our continued support and respect.

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