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The Nobility of the United States Marine Corps

By Tom Bevan

"Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don't have that problem." - President Ronald Reagan

Do you share President Reagan's admiration of the United States Marine Corps? Do you believe the job Marines do is inherently good and worthy of high esteem? And if your son or daughter chose to join their ranks, would you feel an enormous sense of pride?

These may seem like silly questions, because I suspect to a large majority of Americans the answers would seem to be no-brainers: 'yes,' 'yes,' and 'yes.' But, in fact, there's a group of people in America - a small minority for sure, though no telling the exact size - who answer 'no' to those questions and who don't think that service in the Marine Corps (or any other branch of the United States military) is either honorable or noble.

Recent revelations about the incident at Haditha last November have only highlighted this distinction. Those who rushed to defend the honor of the Marines (and to urge the public to withhold judgment until all the facts are out) did so because, fundamentally, they feel the Corps possesses an honor worth defending.

This isn't to excuse any behavior that may have occurred in Haditha, or to deny the unfortunate reality that if such behavior occurred it will be a stain on the Corps for years to come. It's a reflexive reaction by those who believe in the honor and nobility of the U.S. military, by those who don't want to see isolated acts by small numbers of individuals used to tarnish the other 99.99% of enlisted personnel, and by those who believe that when it comes to sorting out the types of claims like the ones made at Haditha, U.S. troops should be given the benefit of the doubt and not tried and convicted in the press.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who immediately took the allegations at Haditha as confirmation of every dark thought or paranoid fantasy they've ever had about the U.S. military. To be fair, we should separate these people into two groups: pacifists who are virulently anti-military and opposed to all wars, and anti-war partisans who are virulently opposed to this war and this president, but who claim to support the U.S. military.

In some ways, however, this is a distinction without a difference: pacifists don't believe in the nobility of the military as an institution, and antiwar partisans don't believe in the nobility of the military's current mission. Both groups proved quick to believe the worst about our men and women in uniform, eager to draw unsavory historical parallels, and happy to use the allegations of Haditha as a tool to continue to turn public opinion against the war.

It must be pointed out that the media played its role as well, splashing allegations on the front page, incessantly invoking comparisons to My Lai, and speculating on causes for the "rampage" and "massacre." I wouldn't go so far as to equate the media with members of the far left who don't appreciate or honor military service (though I'm sure that description does fit a few members of the press), but I will say that for reasons partly ideological and partly institutional (i.e. controversy sells papers and boosts ratings) the media didn't rise up to defend the honor of the United States Marine Corps. That may be too much to hope for, but it certainly isn't too much to ask that the media treat the Marines fairly and handle the story with caution, restraint and respect. Many Americans would argue the media failed that test.

While there is undoubtedly public discontent over the war in Iraq, there is also a yawning gap between how the public feels about the honor and nobility of military service versus how those on the left feel.

We see it in the way military recruiters are treated on campuses all across the nation. We see it in Cindy Sheehan, the darling of the antiwar left, celebrated by the media and elected officials of the Democratic party, who said she was "devastated" when she found out her son Casey had enlisted in the Army. We see it in the huge ovations given to war protestors like Juan Torres, who recently told an ecstatic antiwar crowd in Chicago that his organization had prevented hundreds of high-school students from signing up to enlist in the military. These are not the actions of people who feel that putting on a military uniform representing the United States of America is a call to high service and an honorable thing to do.

Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans feel otherwise and continue to believe, as Ronald Reagan always did, in the courage, honor and nobility of the service of the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Email:

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