The United States doesn’t need a Marine Corps. Its officers innovate to remain funded for the next generation.
Adventuring in the Caribbean for Woodrow Wilson they developed skills that proved useful in the Pacific. Not long after Iwo Jima a junior officer was already talking with the French about helicopters in Indochine.
In Viet Nam the USMC tried fighting with less air support and artillery, an aspiration that has persisted through the terror wars. Their reserves at home raised funds for civic action in Viet Nam.
Now all our militias are fighting overseas after most of them ignored the hot parts of the Cold War. But one USMC innovation from Viet Nam remains avant-garde and that is candor.
While in command of all Marines in the Pacific Victor Krulak spoke to our president against the conduct of the war. David Shoup retired as commandant and joined with the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War in their dissent.
Former lieutenant Daniel Ellsberg finished first in his class at Quantico, married a general’s daughter then rose high in national security where he revealed the “History of United States Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy, 1945–1967” as the Pentagon Papers. Colonel Robert Heinl announced the demoralization of American armed forces everywhere by their interference in Viet Nam.
These days officers of all branches are more likely to remember nonsense about hippie girls spitting on soldiers. But our Marines from that war are still telling the truth.
Lieutenant Colonel Ronald H. Spector arrived at the siege of Khe Sanh with a doctorate from Yale and is still writing history. Captain David Marr began with after-action reports to narrate Vietnamese anti-colonialism from 1885.
Captain Ernest Spenser provided a rare account by a fighting commander. Lieutenant James Webb’s novels mention the unspoken conflict between the Viet Nam generation and their fathers from World War II.
Lieutenant Robert Anderson left Yale with the fighting class of 1966 and kept notes for his novel Cooks & Bakers and the more fanciful Service for the Dead, which I name because they should be in print. Lieutenant Philip Caputo broke through for all Viet Nam veterans with his Pulitzer prize.
Combat correspondent Gustav Hasford wrote an entire novel in the disassociative slang of lethal teenagers. Sergeant W.D. Ehrhart has built an oeuvre in prose and verse addressed to young men as want to join up.
Sergeant Wayne Karlin joined with a People’s Army correspondent he may have fired on to bring out in English more fiction from Viet Nam than anyone else. Corporal Peter Brush earned a history degree and got a library job from where he exposes error about a war which all sides get wrong.
Private David A. Willson USA, son of one Marine, bibliographer of dozens, thinks that so many from that small corps have published so widely because they were told they were special. An entire force cannot be elite but disregarding logic feeds the publicity that keeps an optional branch funded by our democracy and builds morale.
The institution teaches confidence to enthusiasts and idealists. Rifle instructors used to brag on Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman, both Marines.
Fewer recruits would have heard of Paul Moore. Still many learned to fire with hope in despair.
But my explanation lies rather in what Marines think is ordinary. They have certain expectations.
The USMC began celebrating its birth about the same time the Foreign Legion began marching around relics from Algiers and Indochine and the very halls of Montezuma, when apartheid became a word and colored-only signs went up over the United States. No one knew they were living through the last hurrah of white rule.
Whiteness in settler societies excludes the colored to fence in a utopia where every man is known by his deeds and will tell anybody what he thinks. There was nothing normal about that.
Lots of people would have liked to rise on their merits and say what they thought. The Viet Nam generation of Marines lived through the opening of this franchise.
The affecting quality of Quang X. Pham’s memoir of his father, a Republic of Viet Nam pilot, lies in this Marine from Desert Storm relating as a comrade to men from the whites-only world. Already in Viet Nam they had put Ernest Spenser, a Korean American, in command of fighting men.
But there was nothing easy about the change and Ernie won’t shut up about it. No one is shutting up, in itself a huge change from the men of the Pacific who sent their sons off without a word.
It is hard to imagine the American people now sending thousands to die on some island we don’t need, to freeze in hundreds around a reservoir of no strategic value, to lose even dozens in a siege by rockets in the middle of nowhere. The men from Viet Nam have been talking too much.
One of their sons, Captain Rye Barcott, has been innovating already. His adventures starting a soccer league in Nairobi’s shantytown on break from the terror wars may be what all Marines do next, now that everyone may claim the rights of a settler.
Many happy returns of the day.