I’m in Dallas, Texas, for a Heritage Foundation conference when who should march into my hotel but a battalion of US marines, ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan.
I’m in Dallas, Texas, for a Heritage Foundation conference when who should march into my hotel but a battalion of US marines, ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan. I watch, agog. The marines all look desperately young, even the ones who’ve done several tours of duty. Interestingly, though they all must have bonded intensely in the field, off duty they still socialise by ethnic group — blacks with blacks, Hispanics with Hispanics, and so on.
Later, I ambush a senior NCO and a rookie smoking in the garden. ‘Can I ask you a question?’ ‘Yes, sir!’ says the NCO. (They’re achingly polite and respectful, the US military.) ‘When you’re in the field, how many of you smoke?’ ‘Pretty much all of us, sir.’ ‘But doesn’t it interfere with your fitness?’ ‘No, sir. When you’re under fire the adrenaline takes care of everything.’
I suspected all this already, of course. Really, it was just an excuse to spend a few minutes imbibing the spirit of the world’s most magnificent death cult. And it is a death cult. Anyone who has read With the Old Breed or A Rumor of War or Jarhead knows that. US marines rejoice in the fact that they always get the shittiest assignments, be it taking Pelleliu or clearing Fallujah. They expect to die. And if they don’t, that’s the cherry on the icing on the cake of having served with the greatest of all martial brotherhoods. Semper fi.
But just because I have an almost pornographic interest in soldiering, military history and the grisly detail of combat doesn’t make me one of those armchair generals who thinks sending in the troops is the answer to everything.