Jewish World Review Feb. 9, 2005/ 30 Shevat 5765
The Marines: A few sensitive men
In the 1998 movie "Soldier," Sgt. Todd is talking to the woman who nursed him back to health when she asks: "What are you going to do?"
Todd replies: "I'm going to kill them all, sir."
Excellent. Just the sort of response we expect from a soldier and by which we understand that his spirit, if not his body, is intact. War is hell, but somebody has to prevail and preferably that somebody is "us."
Or maybe not. Given the breathless reaction to Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis of the U.S. Marine Corps, who had the audacity to speak candidly admitting that he sometimes enjoys his work maybe we'd be happier if Todd said something (cue violins) along these lines:
"Actually, Sandra may I call you Sandra? I've been thinking about that. As soon as I'm all patched up, I'm going to get some therapy and seek forgiveness from those who left me for dead."
Whereupon Sandra says, "Oopsey-daisy, we're fresh out of painkillers."
That's a joke, I hasten to add, lest the bow-tied brigades of humorless harrumphers unleash a Deeply Offended jeremiad my way.
That I have to say so ruins the joke, of course, but so it goes in the briar patch these days. I do not personally wish to inflict pain and suffering on anyone, but if I may speak candidly I don't mind if a few murdering Islamofascists cease contributing to depletion of Earth's precious oxygen supply.
Oh, chortle, chortle. If only Mattis had said some such, or thrown out some "attic humor," as humorist Christopher Buckley once put it. You know, the sort of bon mot that elicits precious titters from the studiously dowdy. Why, then, Mattis would be the darling of dyspeptic America instead of the barbarian anathema he's become.
But, alas, Mattis isn't a parlor boy; he's a kick-down-the-door Marine who, as a military friend defines the job, "takes human life on behalf of the nation." Mattis doesn't speak latte; he speaks spit. So instead of making some arch remark about how to conduct warfare against terrorists, he ignited a national snit by saying that he found killing the enemy, in so many words, not unpleasant.
His precise words were: "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. … It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling." Mattis told a San Diego gathering that included military personnel, many of whom reportedly laughed.
Then Mattis went on to clarify who "some people" are.
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
Hear, hear. With all due respect to sensitive Talibanistas, who, in addition to routinely killing women for walking down a street unescorted by a male relative, also aided and abetted Osama bin Laden, I find Mattis' attitude neither too cold nor too hot, but just about right.
Nevertheless, his comments have provoked scathing editorials and calls for his resignation. His boss, Gen. Michael Hagee, commander of the Marine Corps, has declined to impose disciplinary action on Mattis but did counsel him about choosing his words more carefully.
Hagee also praised Mattis for his record as a warrior and leader. Mattis' resume is too long for this space, but suffice it to say he fought both in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, he commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade during Operation Enduring Freedom; in Iraq, he commanded 1st Marine Division during the initial attack and subsequent stabilizing operations.
He did not accomplish these successful military operations by being nice. My guess is he spoke candidly to his men, who from all reports greatly admire their leader.
The crux of the Mattis problem, aside from the obvious exercising of antiwar sentiment whenever possible, is our discomfort with the warrior culture. We want Clint Eastwood in the trenches and David Niven home for dinner.
Parfait. As soon as we get World Peace straightened out, maybe we can send Mattis for a weekend with Prudence. In the meantime, it seems neither shocking nor offensive that a Marine general might find some pleasure whether moral reward or winning the battle for survival in taking out a particularly despicable enemy.
As a woman trying to imagine living under a Taliban regime, I'd be whole lot happier to see Mattis coming to my rescue than any of those whose tiny feathers got mussed by his blunt talk.
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