Evaluating the Apple

A good friend recently sent me a book review by Mark Bowden, which I can only assume appeared in The Atlantic.  Bowden is best known for writing Black Hawk Down: A story of Modern War.  The subject of Bowden’s review is a book titled Eat the Apple: A memoir, by Matt Young.

Bowden begins,

“The trouble with writing the unvarnished truth in a memoir is that it requires you to be hard not only on others, but also on yourself.  Matt Young’s inventive, unsparing, irreverent and consistently entertaining [book] is that, but it is also a useful corrective to the current idealization of the American soldier —or in this case a Marine.  Patriotism and respect for the military is so high in this country that we have lately held a national debate over whether professional athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem.  Men and women in uniform are given preference in boarding airplanes and are so routinely thanked for their service that the expression has become rote.  Each new season brings a crop of movies and glossy TV serials dramatizing the heroics of our Special Operations.”

“[Matt] Young see’s hollowness and potential harm in this.”

“Enforcing the idea that every service member is a hero is dangerous; like creating of generation of veterans who believe everything they did was good,” wrote Young.

Bowden tells us that Matt Young wants to warn us of the dangers in creating an army of fanatics.  “[Military] service deserves respect, of course, but it does not in itself guarantee stirring and selfless acts of bravery.”

24th Marine Expeditionary Unit table 3 rifle range shootI’m quite sure that I won’t read Matt Young’s book.  I already know about military service and I might even suggest that I completed my career long before Mr. Young enlisted.  Still, some things go without saying.  Given the nature of our Armed Forces, and the fact that the military services host hundreds of occupational specialties —all of which support the efforts of front-line forces— only  about one-third of our 1.4 million military service members serve in the combat arms … which is the place where we’ll find most heroes if we happened to be looking for them.  Nevertheless, courageous acts aside, very few of these selfless individuals are without sin.  A split second of bravery doesn’t make a soldier a good husband, a good father, or even a trustworthy friend.

Now about those fanatics Mr. Young is worried about.  I am unable to speak about the other services, but I can say that it is the purpose of Marine Corps training to turn every Marine into a lethal killing machine.  This is how battles are won.  If it is fanaticism, it is necessary to the success of combat units (and their combat/service support attachments).  If at some future time, as a matter of national policy, we intend to arm milquetoast youngsters with weapons and send them into harm’s way, then our nation will no longer deserve an elite combat force.

Nevertheless, the Marine Corps isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Roughly 40% of Marines reenlist after their first enlistment, which means that around 60% of everyone who joins the Marine Corps end up leaving at the end of their term of service.  Of those who end up getting out of the Corps, probably less than 20% later whine about their service as American Marines.  Once a first term Marine decides to leave the Corps, it almost isn’t relevant what it was that he or she did while wearing the uniform.  One thing does remain, however: this individual became a United States Marine —and he or she will always be a United States Marine— even if a chronic complainer.  If there is one thing that every Marine has in common, whether an officer or an enlisted man, it is the amount of complaining they do.  If you find a Marine who isn’t complaining about something, keep an eye on him —he’s probably stealing from the supply section.

Still, no matter what Matt Young says in his book, it isn’t enough to join the Corps.  Almost anyone can do that.  Moreover, almost anyone can end up in a combat unit.  What matters to me is an honest answer to these questions: Have you served honorably and faithfully in an extremely chaotic environment over an extended period of time?  During your service as a Marine, did you keep faith with your fellow Marines, past and present?

One will note that I didn’t say it was necessary that the Corps keep faith with us … only that we Marines keep faith with each other because this is the foundation of our brotherhood; this is what the Marine Corps has always been about.

0311-002I do have a bother, however —it is this: young Marines returning from combat, where they formed intense bonds with their fellow Marines, who suddenly find themselves isolated in a completely different environment.  Many of these young men are soon released from active duty and find themselves in the midst of a society that does not understand what they’ve just been through or the things they did for their country.  They are at a place where there is no safety net, and where no one is watching their six —a place where many young men and women struggle to maintain a sense of who they once were only a short time before.  We seem to have plenty of time for classes on gender and civility, but there appears to be no time at all for combat decompression.  Ours is not (and never has been) a good transition.  We (the Marines) could do a lot better in this regard.  Personally, I see this as a monumental failure of senior leadership.

Note:  The photograph that appears within my last paragraph is that of the iconic James Blake Miller, a Marine who fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah.  The photograph was widely published in the American press; he was tagged “Marlboro Marine.”  Jim Miller suffers from PTSD and is now in recovery.  In my opinion, senior leaders in the Marine Corps deserted this young Marine when what he needed from them was the kind of leadership espoused by Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune, our 13th Commandant.  We talk about this leadership annually as part of our celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday.  Apparently, modern leaders of the Corps would rather talk about it than to act on it.  In my opinion, Jim Miller is one of our greatest of men.


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8 Responses to Evaluating the Apple

  1. Kid says:

    Seems that decompression would come under the heading Welness or Preventative Care which always makes sense. What are some of the things that could be done to better transition ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mustang says:

      There are three rifle squads in a platoon. Marines know one another within that platoon, but the bonds that form exist within the rifle squad. There should be a program designed to decompress the platoon upon completion of a combat tour, but a secondary program, and perhaps the most important one, should focus on Marines within the squad because if there were any losses during that tour of duty, the Marines within the squad were most affected by it … and not only human losses. Perhaps a week for the platoon, overall, and another week for the squad … because it will be only a short time before these squad-mates are broken up and sent off in many directions. Some of these people will be getting out of the service, others transferred to new duty stations. Counseling them before this break up occurs is vital, as I see it. They have to anticipate the emotions connected to what is about to happen, they have to know how to deal with traumatic memories, and most important of all, how to relate to the “others” in their lives now that they’re back in a civilized society.


    • Kid says:

      That is sure not asking for too much !

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What caught my ear was the point about making all service people a “hero” and the “thank you for your service” that I find embarrassing.
    I mean, sheesh, I was in the Air Force after all. 🙂
    But anyone who signs up to put their life on the line deserves my respect.
    Reboot/Recovery might should become an integral part of decompression.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jersey Jack says:

    Brilliant and spot on a usual sir. But…canI ask Mustang, as a Marine and an O5 high ranking officer, couldn’t you round up a couple like-minded Marines to see this through? Seems to me sir that you know the innard workings far better than any dumb civilians or most especially a fornicating politician. Then set up some funding arrangement by appealing to General Mathis? It’s clear you know the answer and has the passion for your Marines.

    And to ED….just Air Force? Come on man and fellow airman….I’m proud of my service and every branch of the service has the same purpose and functions…even if we approach it differently it has one goal in mind and we’ve done it seamlessly. The Marines need a football team though. LOL


  4. Baysider says:

    Ed, I DO like the phrase “thank you for your service” but only use it when I can explain what I REALLY mean. Every person in uniform – regardless of service branch, specialty, and what some stupidhead in Washington called them to do – is part of the defense line that keeps other people from coming to take our lives and our stuff. The civil authorities who share the responsibility for civilian action at our borders have abandoned us which makes the job of the military harder in my view. Without this ‘service’ we are at the mercy of the grievances and thieves around the globe. (Too bad they can’t do anything about the grievances and thieves in the university.)

    Excellent piece Mustang!

    Liked by 1 person

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