Code of the Warrior: A Rant


Marines in Afghanistan

Many people don’t like the military or the military way of doing things. Yet they are quick to send our troops into harm’s way. The military, especially the Marine Corps, is about war. War is brutal and people die. Being in the military is not a “feel good” vocation. If you want to have a feel good job become a social worker. The naked truth is that the military is about killing your fellow-man. Think about that Mr. Politician the next time you want to start a war.

I just read an article about a young Marine who kept falling asleep on guard duty in Afghanistan, a combat zone. His fellow Marines beat him up and he later shot himself (committed suicide). The author of the article (a civilian) stated that the young man had been driven to suicide because of a “gaffe.” A pretty lightweight word for an action that could have easily gotten his comrades killed or maimed. When I think of the word gaffe I think of a social gaffe (this was no social gaffe). If I had been his Sergeant I would have beat him up too, or thrown him in the stockade.

In the old days falling asleep on guard duty was punishable by death, yes it really is that serious. At the very least it would have resulted in a Courts-martial. Believe it or not his buddies were doing him a favor. They were trying to modify his behavior without destroying his career. That he committed suicide as a result of being disciplined is sad, but not the fault of his buddies. He was not psychologically fit to be a Marine, and that should have been discovered long before he ever got to Afghanistan.

His “politically connected” aunt forced an investigation, and probably got those involved in what she euphemistically called a “hazing” Court-martialed (effectively ending their careers). The Marines follow the Code of the Warrior, you might not like it but it’s necessary. A Marine has to be able to trust his fellow Marines, bottom line, end of story. Without that implicit trust it all falls apart. It can be a hard, gritty life. What do you expect?

Stories like this piss me off. The movie “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise pissed me off. Cruise played the role of a panty-waist Naval lawyer (a role he was naturally suited to) going after a tough Marine Colonel (Jack Nicholson). Cruise was the hero of course (I’m sure it was in his contract), but I rooted for the Colonel the whole time. Nicholson’s best line in the movie was:  You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth. 

Civilians can’t handle the truth. They want their military to be politically correct, polite, gender-neutral and sanitized. It doesn’t work that way. My Marine Corps boot camp platoon started with over 80 recruits, by the end of 14-weeks that number was reduced to about 62. The rest couldn’t hack it for one reason or another:  physically, emotionally or psychologically. There was hazing, beatings and severe emotional testing (call it abuse). The weak were systematically weeded out and eliminated. Better there than in a theater of war (that’s what boot camp is all about).

War is not pretty. A civilized human being doesn’t kill automatically. A warrior justifies his actions to preserve his sanity. You must become less human to kill your fellow-man. To live by the Code of the Warrior is survival. You fight for survival and the survival of your comrades. If you don’t like the truth, the truth being that war is ugly, brutal and inhuman, then quit starting your goddamn wars in the first place. And don’t be so quick to send your sons (and now daughters) into quagmires with no exit strategy, and then refuse to fix them when they return home damaged. End of rant.

El Mochito Steve WEB

 Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer and World Traveler

Sergeant – U.S. Marine Corps

1965 – 1971

(Vietnam 1967 – 1968)


8 responses to “Code of the Warrior: A Rant

  1. As a child of the 60’s, I remember when my brother was in the Marines during the Viet Nam War. He was spat on and had a hard time getting a job. At that time, the military was despised because of what their government and leadership made them do. I have seen a change in this. There is an ability in today’s society to separate displeasure with what the government is involving them military in around the world from the actual individuals that serve. I am not in favor of all of the military actions that are taking place at the direction of this and past administrations, but I still have respect for those who serve. It is a voluntary service now. Our young people are not forced into harms way as they were during Viet Nam. I think we can still support our military personnel without supporting or liking what our politicians ask them to do. I find it amusing when I watch the Republican debate and hear them talk about a strong military when I know that the front runner used his father’s power to get out of serving.

    • I share your sentiments 100% Don. I hate war and everything it entails. And I agree there is now less confusion between the frontline troops and the policy makers (thankfully). We are way too eager to send our young folks off to fight “political” wars that have no bearing on our national security. People say all the time “I support the troops,” but when push comes to shove they don’t. If they did they would force their elected officials to support much needed legislation for veterans. Plenty of money to fight the wars, never enough it seems to treat wounded and sick (psychologically) veterans. Ugh. Makes me mad.

  2. Stephen, On August 2, 1967 my Marine friend was killed at Chu Lai in his hooch by another Marine (accidental homicide from an enemy rifle brought in from the nearby POW camp). Be chance do you recall this incident? I have often wondered what happened to the shooter or the other marine who brought the rifle into the hooch. What do you think?

    • Jean, I do seem to recall that incident. Most of our hooches were pretty close together. We rarely got any kind of update when things like that happened, but based on past experience I would guess that they were brought up on charges. Probably a General Courts-martial, and I would assume charges of involuntary manslaughter. However, the military is always reluctant to admit to friendly fire. Also suicides were often reported as hostile fire in an effort to spare families the truth (a dubious practice at best). We had a least one suicide that I remember, and I always suspected the family never got the truth of the incident (I could be wrong of course). The young Marine in question had just received a Dear John from home, and it destroyed him. I heard the gunshot and was one of the first on the scene, pretty ugly. The military is far from perfect (as I well know), but my beef is with people who don’t have a clue pontificating like they do. You see those kinds of folks everywhere I’m afraid. About 6-months later we lost more good men during the Tet Offensive. Ugly times I’m afraid, and for no real purpose as it turns out. Thank you so much for writing. Warmest regards, Steve

  3. Steve, Thank you for your response and reflection. Please, I would like to know as many details as you can remember and are willing to share about the incident. I was told that that the enemy rifle was brought into the hooch and kept on his rack and another marine came in, lifted it up and it fired and hit my friend. I don’t know if he was killed instantly or what happened. The casualty was listed as an accidental homicide. In another 3 months he would have been home alive.
    Yes, those were ugly times that continue to haunt us. Each of the 50,000+ lost lives has a story that would have been different if not for the Vietnam war. My email address is here if I have asked too much for a posting. Best regards, Jean

    • I’m very sorry Jean I just don’t have any more information. He was in a different outfit, if he had been in mine I would probably know more. If you know what unit he was in you might research veteran’s groups representing that unit (like annual reunions). Vietnam veterans don’t seem to be cohesive like WWII veterans, probably because we went to Vietnam alone, and then came back alone (not as part of a unit rotation). It was some crazy-ass replacement theory the Pentagon had at the time, it failed and they don’t do it anymore. Good luck with your research. Steve

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