Marines should make war, not goofy social policy


August 16, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

The Marines have saved us again. They didn't plant a flag this time. They didn't take a hill.

They didn't have to.

What they did was their little Marine-as-Neanderthal act. This one was a beauty, too. Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr., the commandant of the Marine Corps, issued a directive that new Marine recruits could not be married.

It was so dumb, so retro, so anti-family, anti-privacy, anti-human-rights, anti-everything-America-stands-for that Bill Clinton could safely stand up and tell the Marines where to go.

It was about time. It was Clinton's first win over the military.

The big, bad, brave, tough, lean and mean Marines had to back down. Of course, they did. Mundy offered an apology for not going through channels, although he didn't apologize for not understanding that someone might be offended by the whole idea.

That's what you have to like about the Marines. They're cool. They're cool in that scary, 19th-century, code-of-the-Corps way they have about them.

The essence of being a Marine, I'm guessing, is that they're different from everyone else. And in ways we don't even understand. That's why they'll take the hill for you. They're either braver than the rest of us or crazier than the rest of us. Or both.

I loved Jack Nicholson as the Marine colonel in "A Few Good Men." He was a zealot, a true believer, with eyes that look right through you to a place you've never been.

Nicholson probably could have played Gen. Mundy, who doesn't think the boys fighting for our country ought to be distracted by little things like wives. He said they should be "carefree" and not have to worry about anything back home while they're out saving democracy.

It's not a job. It's a priesthood, only with better uniforms.

How about girlfriends? Mundy didn't say. Although we're pretty clear that he doesn't want his Marines with boyfriends.

Mundy wants his Marines single, but he doesn't want them gay. He's very firm on that. He was very strong in the anti-gay-in-the-military resistance, although he did settle for the absurd don't-ask, don't-tell policy.

What does he want his man of action to do?

Rep. Pat Schroeder wondered if he thought maybe they should take a lot of cold showers.

Or maybe they should just visit that Tailhook convention.

It was men like Mundy and Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf who stood up to Clinton and told him that openly gay soldiers wouldn't work in the military. And Clinton backed down. He had to. He had to because, suddenly, the military has become a political force that even the president couldn't overcome.

This, to me, is scary.

I grew up in the '50s, soon after World War II, when America's armed forces had won their greatest victory, and what they taught us in school was that civilians ran the military and that's what made our country great.

I believed it then. I believe it now.

It was during the Reagan years that things began to change. Reagan, who enjoyed playing soldiers in movies, suggested that military greatness was synonymous with American greatness.

Then George Bush and Saddam finally gave us the high-tech, TV war we were looking for in the Persian Gulf. And now Powell and Schwarzkopf are the biggest American military heroes since Patton and MacArthur. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to name three generals who came between MacArthur and Schwarzkopf.

In any case, Clinton, the renowned draft dodger, had no chance against them.

Until we heard from the Marines. This once, they weren't proud and brave. They were goofy. With one directive, they marched to the very front of the they-don't-get-it guys.

Which is OK.

We don't need Marine commandants to set social policy in this country. We just want them to take the hill when asked.

Some day, if recent history is any indication, Clinton will ask. We've got Marines getting killed in Somalia now. Clinton would like to bomb the Serbs in Bosnia.

Other crises are sure to arise, and we remain in a time when military solutions are acceptable, so long as too many Americans don't get killed in the process.

How will those in the armed forces respond when Clinton gives the call?

At least we know one thing. The guys will be able to consult with their wives.

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