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US Marines



Retired Marine Aviation General Michael Sullivan has forwarded a vehemently-worded article about the role of the Marines in Afghanistan, with this note: "Strong words coming from a retired, highly decorated Army colonel! However, both Marine Expeditionary Units now in Afghanistan are certified as Special Operations Capable. They get this certification after undergoing specialized training and operational testing in 12 to 18 special ops areas. They go to sea for 6 month periods after certification in an Amphibious Ready Group, which allows them to be near just about any developing trouble spot, since 71% of the earth's surface is covered by water. Also 50% of the world's population live within 50 miles of a coastline. They have ammo and supplies to last 15 days before being resupplied. There are six of Marine units on active duty and can marry up and become a Brigade as they have in Afghanistan. They're a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) consisting of ground combat, aviation combat and combat support elements".

The Marines are getting plenty of publicity. Their exercises have appeared on TV. At Hoover today there was a pile of FORTITUDINE, Bulletin of the Marine Corps Historical Program. It is now in its 29th volume. The cover is illustrated with a painting of Marines landing from three helicopters and charging across a field straight toward me. I surrender, hoping the Taliban will follow my example. Indeed, the Marines have landed in force at a base near Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold.

The issue has an article on plans to build a Heritage Center dealing with the history of the Marines. The US Marine Corps is modeled after the Royal Marines, who received far more public recognition than hitherto has the US Marine Corps. There is a slang expression "Tell that the Marines", meaning that's a tall story, The Oxford English Dictionary has a long article beginning: "c. colloq. tell that to the marines and variants: a scornful expression of disbelief. [See quote 1823. For an account of the 19th-cent. hoax attributing the phrase to a remark made by Charles II to Samuel Pepys, see A. F. Moe, in Amer. Speech (1961) 36 243-57.] 1806 J. DAVIS Post Captain v. 29 He may tell that to the marines, but the sailors will not believe him. 1823 BYRON Island II. xxi, ‘Right’, quoth Ben, ‘that will do for the marines’. [Note] ‘That will do for the marines, but the sailors won't believe it,’ is an old saying. 1824 SCOTT Redgauntlet II. xiii. 326 Tell that to the marines, the sailors won't believe it. 1864 TROLLOPE Small House at Allington xli, Is that a story to tell to such a man as me! You may tell it to the marines! 1902". This suggests rivalry between sailors and marines, the former viewing the latter as stupid and credulous.

In the US, the Marines have been less well-known. They are under the Department of the Navy, which is natural since they depend on navy ships, but they have their own representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now the Navy is under the Defense Department, which has cabinet-level Secretary. This is excellent as a means of reducing inter-service rivalries, a very real problem. At the same time, the veterans have a cabinet-level Secretary, to lessen the danger of a recurrence of the Bonus Army problem discussed in an earlier posting.

How will history remember the Marine intervention in Afghanistan? Will there be two versions, one Afghan and one American, like those on the assault of the Halls of Montezuma? This is less likely, since the US does not covet any Afghan territory. Just bin Laden, dead or alive-

Ronald Hilton - 11/28/01


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