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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

A letter to the editor: My brother the Marine

December 4, 2006

Dear Ms. Kemp,

Let me first begin by expressing my great appreciation for the change that has seemed to bring you and your family closer together. I too share in keeping my family close to my heart. They are irreplaceable, and offer a comfort that can only be offered by those of related blood. Know that I am an avid supporter of acquiring this recognition through whatever means necessary, even if it means through a group as malicious as the Marines.

Formalities aside, let us jump into the issue at hand. The Marines are a crack force used primarily by this government to storm or raid shorelines. They will overwhelm the enemy, kill the enemy and secure the objective. Kill the enemy, and survive, so that they can do it again tomorrow; that is what they do. In 13 weeks of training, recruits spend their time immersed in a program of desensitization that trains their minds to forget basic human principles -- the stuff that enables us to relate to one another with civility and courtesy. There is little or no time invested in the proper chivalrous techniques you suggest in your column.

Now, do not be quick to jump the gun and tell others that he is a hard-core killer after completing the rigors of Basic Combat Training. I say that because it is the obvious misconception the public as well as your column suggests.

"He has now completed the longest and most difficult military training in the world: 13 weeks of boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego."

Allow me to reiterate, these were the basics. There were no perilous mountains to be crossed, no impossible physical boundaries to be surmounted by ordinary mortals. No. In all cases, in all of the military, no non-commissioned officer, or drill instructor, is allowed to push a soldier beyond a certain extent. I could go days about how the military has made it impossible for soldiers to be unsafe in a wide variance of temperatures and conditions; I just don't have the time or temperament to school you on these DOD regulations.

However, it is important to say that the DOD has conformed its recruiting and training standards to today's youth. If they did not do this, no one would get in; this is how we keep combat readiness up when reporting to higher.

I can assure you that after a violent bout of retching during a PT run, there would be no "picking up the pace" as you referred to it. In fact, any soldier who vomits is a casualty, and is then being prepped for medical evacuation. And when rucking, a soldier would not exceed 70 percent of his or her total body weight. Again, this is a worst case scenario. The widely accepted rucking weight to be carried is 30 to 35 pounds. So, clearly your brother must have been a sizable Ironman contestant before his military adventures to be carrying 60 to 80 pounds per rucking event.

At boot camp, there is no rub with death; he or she is safe at all times. For this reason, I firmly believe that the soldier does not learn anything intellectually or emotionally there that he did not show up with.

"But he has now gained a deeper perspective on life."

If this is true, it is not because the Marines have created an atmosphere conducive to intellectual advancement amid the yelling of mindless cadences and drills. No. If this is true, it has been cultivated because your brother has been held against his will longer than he wanted. He missed you dearly, and he loves you more than he was able to know. Trust me, ideas are formulated at night, when you imagine how great life used to be.

The only part of your column I found believable was your mention of a growing patience. Well done, this was a home run! And if you think he is patient now, wait until he has his life threatened for the first time. Whether it be from the laws of physics, a close mistake, or the fast-traveling projectile from an unfriendly rifle. Only then can life truly be evaluated or appreciated in a different light. Everything beyond the safety of family is superficial.

I have not written to offend you or anyone else. My intent is not to stir anxieties, for your brother is on a path that is a great service to his country, should he use his training to help others later, after his enlistment. I truly hope he does.

I write merely to help you see that your column was highly misleading. This should instruct you to look further at the military, to see it for what it is, and what it has become. If you go where I have gone, and others have, I am convinced that you will find an institution that has, to put it brazenly, outlived its usefulness.

Zach Norton
Moline, IL

Click here to read the story this responds to: My brother's no longer a kid - he's a Marine.


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