I was reading this morning about how the US Marines are being the most aggressive in recruiting gays now that “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been dropped. This is a little odd since the Marines were the service most against “don’t ask, don’t tell” being dropped. What’s up with that?
As a child I wanted to be a US Marine. I have fond memories of me and my buddies (circa, 1963) reenacting the 1949 movie The Sands of Iwo Jima at the park across the street from where we lived. The coveted role was to be the John Wayne character, Sgt. John M. Stryker. We’d take turns doing the last scenes.
Our “squad” would take the hill after a hard fight and we’d be sitting back having a cigarette (cool Marines in the 60’s always had a cig hanging out of the corner of their mouths) like in the movie. The kid playing Sgt. Stryker lights up his when all of a sudden a Japanese soldier emerges from a spider hole and shoots our hero in the back.
Stryker’s protegé (a former loser type Stryker mentors into a man and Marine) runs over to the hole and before mentioned Japanese soldier is sent on his way to the land where the sun never rises again. Fighting back tears, the squad’s new Stryker, in the best tradition of the Marines shouts out something like, “let’s mount up Marines” and the movie ends with the Marines doing what they do best which is why they’ve always been a bit of an elite force within America’s military.
So when I read the article referenced above I had a hard time reconciling the imagery of The Sands of Iwo Jima with the idea that now gay Marines didn’t have to worry about anyone asking, nor anyone telling on them because they held hands at the mall. Call me old-fashioned but I have a hard time seeing Sgt. Stryker holding hands with another Marine strolling about the mall in search of a cappuccino. Classic, what is wrong with this picture?
Yeah, I know. Save your comments that I’m a homophobe, blah, blah, blah. I’m just saying Sgt. Stryker would not be holding hands with any Marine unless that Marine was of the female variety and even then I have my doubts. The guy just didn’t seem to be a hand-holding type of guy and that’s my impression of the Marines as a whole. They do not strike me as touchy-feely, let’s take a walk in the mall, go for a latte or cappuccino hand-in-hand types-ever, not ever, even if ordered to hold hands they’ll only do it to help another Marine cross a flooded river or form a barrier against the flood while their weather-beaten buddies with rifles over heads use them as a hand-holding bridges so they can cross the river and keep fighting.
Besides I know that gay soldiers or Marines are just a brave as anyone else. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with courage under fire. If it did then so many countries would not have so many women serving in increasing numbers in areas that are called combat arms. Every now and then I see some picture of the US female soldiers and they and they are toting man-size automatic rifles. I assume they know how to use them and are not afraid to do so. No, gender nor sexual orientation has anything to do with bravery or combat skill and obviously less and less with hand-holding.
Historically, there have has always been gays in the military, sometimes a secret, sometimes not and sometimes celebrated as a good thing.
One of the Greek City States called Thebes that celebrated homosexuality had what was called the Sacred Band. They numbered 300 and each was pared with his male lover. Like the Marines they were something of an elite within the larger Theban Army. Their reputation was that of fighting to the last man which they did against Alexander the Great’s dad, Philip. Philip was so wowed by their heroic stand he put up a monument in their honor. Those Theban Sacred Band guys were so well thought of no one cared if they held-hands off duty. It didn’t matter, when it came to a fight these are the guys you wanted on your side.
The Greco-Romans were a mixed bag when it came to sex. Most of the various cultures within Greece or the later Roman Empire tolerated sex between men and boys. These cultures didn’t see sex quite like we do but more in terms of who was dominate and who was passive in the arrangement. In other words it didn’t matter so much who was having sex with who as it mattered who was dominant in the relationship and in the case of man-boy sex homosexuality was okay because a man was always dominant over a boy.
Attitudes changed a bit when boys became men since there was an equal dominance thing going on (men were always dominate in male-female relationships and that was a kind of given) but the resulting bad attitude against homosexuality was always directed against the passive one in the relationship, never against the dominating.
The idea behind the Sacred Band Elite was to make a unit that would encourage the other Theban hoplites in bravery. It was reasoned you would be less likely to run away if you are fighting next to your lover. This of course makes sense since more losses were taken running away than the actual fighting. Let’s make the other guy run away as their unit cohesion falls apart while your cohesion is more together because you are fighting next to your lover. It was a pragmatic decision as opposed to the social engineering of the military we have today.
What this all says is something about unit cohesion. There is probably not a more important principle in military units than unit cohesion. Unit cohesion at some basic level means the willingness to stick together when the chips are down.
Patton once said he didn’t want his guys dying for their country. Patton wanted the other guys to die for theirs. The fact is however, soldiers or Marines of any country do not die for their country as any kind of primary motive. They will however die for one another. No one wants to let their buddy down and frequently that means taking risks that go above and beyond the call of duty. That’s unit cohesion. The Thebans pulled it off with a unit of 300 homosexual hoplites. They held on to unit cohesiveness till they were all dead.
Recently a US Marine by the name of Dakota Meyer received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Dakota is credited with saving the lives of 13 fellow Marines and 23 Afghan soldiers who had been ambushed by the Taliban. Dakota also disobeyed a direct order to not try to save them because any attempt was equal to a death sentence. Dakota’s response was the Marines were his buddies (unit cohesion) and he had to try even if that meant he would die in the process.
That’s the thing. It’s about the unit, it’s about not letting your buddy down. It’s not about gender, nor sexual orientation. It’s about risking your life for your buddy. It’s about sticking together when the chips are down. It’s about a kind of courage in sticking together most of us can’t fathom unless we’ve been there.
So why were the Marines the service most against dropping don’t ask, don’t tell. They feared losing the very unit cohesion they are famous for. How might they lose it with openly gay Marines.
Well, it probably has a lot to do with what Marine Corps idea is of a warrior. The Theban Greeks worked it out and the Sacred Band is the most famous example. The Greeks didn’t need to legislate sexual orientation simply because that as a culture most anything was tolerable including the above mentioned sex between men and boys. Legislating sexual orientation in our military is different because it’s social engineering in a culture that still retains something of traditional values that still treats sex between men and boys as a taboo. Who knows, maybe that’s next on the agenda of the social engineers.
So will the Marines lose unit cohesion because “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been replaced with open homosexuality. Frankly, I don’t know. My guess is that when the chips are down no one will give a hoot or holler who is sticking together to get out of the jam. On the other hand unit cohesion is much easier to begin with if soldiers all share the same basic values so it’s easy to see how social engineering can put all in danger. History will say one way or another but one thing is clear, the US Marines are not the same US Marines your dad and grandfather knew.
There is an extreme sense of irony here too. Our enemies of late have been Moslem. Yeah, I know Moslem extremists blah, blah, blah, but the fact is no Moslem Army of any sort, ever, would even be having this conversation. Does that mean there aren’t any Moslem homosexuals like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says?
No, it just means the homosexuals ain’t saying because if “they tell” they are dead.