Commentary Magazine


Topic: great war correspondent

Close-Up on the Marjah Offensive

Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, a great war correspondent, delivers the best pen portrait I have read so far of what the Marjah offensive is like for the grunts on the ground. As he notes, this is war the old-fashioned way: foot soldiers slogging their way through enemy fire, eating military rations, going weeks without showering, bedding down for a few brief moments in freezing temperatures under “thin plastic camouflage poncho liners,” often unable to even light a fire for warmth, then jumping up to fight again. Sounds austere, no? But the Marines love it:

There’s a bit of harrumphing here and there — the lack of hot coffee and the shortage of cigarettes prompt regular complaints — but all say this is why they got into the Corps….

“This is better than ‘Call of Duty,’ ” said Lance Cpl. Paul Stephens, 20, of Corona, Calif., referring to a series of shoot-‘em-up video games.

“This is what it’s all about,” Cpl. Mina Mechreki added. “We didn’t join the Corps to sit around. This is what we came out here to do.”

I might add that Chandrasekaran’s portrait tallies with the Marines I’ve seen in the field. I recall visiting Iraq in 2008, after the major fighting was over in Anbar Province, and hearing complaints from the Marines. They were bored and wanted to go where they could shoot bad guys. Now they’ve got their wish.

That’s why I don’t believe stories of America’s supposed cultural degradation and decline — a common trope on the Right. The grunts in Marjah may play video games but they are not so different from their forefathers at Belleau Wood or Tarawa. In the Korean War movie “The Bridges at Toko-Ri,” a character asks: “Where do we get such men?” The answer is: we get them from the same place they have always come from — American society.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, a great war correspondent, delivers the best pen portrait I have read so far of what the Marjah offensive is like for the grunts on the ground. As he notes, this is war the old-fashioned way: foot soldiers slogging their way through enemy fire, eating military rations, going weeks without showering, bedding down for a few brief moments in freezing temperatures under “thin plastic camouflage poncho liners,” often unable to even light a fire for warmth, then jumping up to fight again. Sounds austere, no? But the Marines love it:

There’s a bit of harrumphing here and there — the lack of hot coffee and the shortage of cigarettes prompt regular complaints — but all say this is why they got into the Corps….

“This is better than ‘Call of Duty,’ ” said Lance Cpl. Paul Stephens, 20, of Corona, Calif., referring to a series of shoot-‘em-up video games.

“This is what it’s all about,” Cpl. Mina Mechreki added. “We didn’t join the Corps to sit around. This is what we came out here to do.”

I might add that Chandrasekaran’s portrait tallies with the Marines I’ve seen in the field. I recall visiting Iraq in 2008, after the major fighting was over in Anbar Province, and hearing complaints from the Marines. They were bored and wanted to go where they could shoot bad guys. Now they’ve got their wish.

That’s why I don’t believe stories of America’s supposed cultural degradation and decline — a common trope on the Right. The grunts in Marjah may play video games but they are not so different from their forefathers at Belleau Wood or Tarawa. In the Korean War movie “The Bridges at Toko-Ri,” a character asks: “Where do we get such men?” The answer is: we get them from the same place they have always come from — American society.

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