Sunday, July 02, 2006

Semper fou

The Bloomington Alternative: News

July 2, 2006

by James Alexander Thom

It�s more than half a century since I wore the green fatigues, but once a Marine, always a Marine.

Or, Semper Fi.

What�s a faithful old Marine to think about the news that a squad of Marines will be tried for the massacre of two dozen innocent Iraqis in a town called Haditha?

What I think about it is that I�m heartsick that it happened, and I�m mad as hell at the scheming fools who put those Marines and the Iraqi victims in that crazy situation.

�Crazy,� in French, is �fou.� In Scottish, �fou� means drunk.�

Semper Fou. That�s my revised Marine motto. Either fou is appropriate; I remember we got drunk any time we could. As for crazy, Let me just come out and say it:

To train a sane person to do what a Marine must do, you have to brainwash much of the sanity and the humanity out of him.

You must make him so obedient to authority that he�s willing to die on command.

You have to obliterate that key religious Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.

You certainly must rid him of most of the teachings of Jesus: blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers; turn the other cheek; swear not at all...

By walking on water, Jesus might have been good at amphibious landings, but otherwise he just wasn�t meant for the USMC. Sweet and mild thoughts like his are signs of weakness, and in Marine camps the Lord�s name is used mostly in vain. �Marine� rhymes with �mean,� and your comrades need you to be mean and brutal and quick to kill, because their lives depend on it. Semper Fou. Gung ho!


Gung ho is an old Chinese term calling for extreme peer pressure, and of course the Marines picked it up as their early version of Hooah! You don�t know what peer pressure is until you�re bonded into a squad of Marines. You don�t know what trigger-happy is until you�ve been brainwashed to hate all �gooks� or �greasers� or �ragheads� so much that you could wipe them out as easily as figures in a video game, with all the most ingeniously lethal weapons right at your fingertips.

And a big part of your Semper Fou brainwashing is that any synonym for Marine � Devil Dog, Jarhead, Leatherneck � evokes terror in any enemy. In other words, you�re trained to be a terrorist (but not against civilians � if you can help it).

Soon after 9-11, al Qaeda�s Afghanistan training camps were shown on TV, over and over: mujahedeen swarming over obstacle courses, blowing things up, firing assault rifles, marching� through hot sand. When I saw those film clips, I remembered Marine boot camp. I thought, those guys would make good Marines. They�re brave as lions and crazy as hell. If only they believed in Jesus, spoke English and loved the Red, White and Blue the way Jesus does, they�d be great Marines. Instead, they dress like Jesus but believe in some guy called Mohammed and hate our flag.

Now, thanks to the wizardry of our Crusader-in-Chief, those terrorists have moved their training camps to Iraq, where they�ve got our guys surrounded. The last George who managed a tactic that stupid was George Custer. (Unlike George W, Custer led the troops in, instead of sending them.)


After news of the Haditha massacre broke (that is, leaked out from its cover-up), Marine General Peter Pace demurred that it wasn�t Marine training that made those Marines murder those civilians.

Respectfully, general, the hell it wasn�t!

Put yourself in the boots of those Marines: There you are, trained to the eyeballs for the madness of war. Semper Fou, trapped in that trashed, gritty, Fort Apache burg in the desert. Most everybody in the country hates you for invading and wrecking their country, so you can�t stroll into town to flirt with Iraqi girls in a bar. But every few hours it�s your duty to go out among the hostiles and remind them who�s boss in their country: Donald Rumsfeld.

You know they don�t like that, so you�re expecting a blast or a bullet at every corner. It�s 114 degrees and you�re encased in heavy clothes and armor and loaded down with ammo and gear. You haven�t had a good night�s sleep in six months, and the damned Iraqis aren�t grateful for the great gift of Christian capitalist democracy you�re trying to bestow upon them.

You�re frustrated and scared and mad and your trigger finger is twitchy; this is the third tour of duty your unit has served in this mess, and you�re like a hot grenade with the pin pulled, and God help any hadji who messes with you and your buddies.

Then BAM! Your best friend becomes a one-legged, one-armed fountain of blood right before your eyes, and so you do what you�ve been trained to do � start killing everybody in sight who isn�t a Marine.

If you go berserk, that�s bad enough. If you go on killing methodically in a controlled act of vengeance, that�s a massacre, and you must be put on trial for murder.

It�s said that the massacre of those people isn�t such a big deal over there; the Iraqis say that�s just what Americans do. They shrug and point out the tortures and homicides at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons, and the tens of thousands of their people who have been killed in the crossfire since George W. Bush invaded their country.

Months ago, almost unreported in the American mainstream media, there came a study saying that as many as 25 percent of U.S. combat troops over there believe they have killed innocent people.

Imagine coming home and living the rest of your life with that ghastly belief.


Whether or not that squad of Marines goes on trial for murder, there�s another squad of Americans who should. Their names include Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle, Ledeen, Tenet, etc. Many of them make a big deal out of being Christian Soldiers, though they never were personally seen marching off to war. They calculated to start an unprovoked war, where real soldiers and Marines have to throw their own bodies and souls into the inferno.

Those high-placed connivers are the ones to put on trial. They�re responsible for the destruction of a country and the death of thousands, and for young American soldiers hitching along on prosthetic limbs or waking up quaking from traumatic nightmares.

That�s how an old graybeard ex-Marine feels about it.

Semper Fou.

James Alexander Thom is a historical novelist who lives in rural Monroe County.

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