Truth Unwelcomed

The recent flap about remarks by a Marine Corps general reminds me of a line from the great Michael Mann film Last of the Mohicans.

There is a scene during which the wilderness fighter Hawkeye tells the daughter of an English colonel: "My father warned me about people like you. He said do not try to understand them, and do not expect them to understand you."

Many Americans stick fast to the myth of the clean-cut Christian knight who goes forth to battle evil but is a reluctant killer. Lt. Gen. James Mattis, speaking at a public forum, told the truth from the warrior’s point of view: "It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. … Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. It’s a hell of a hoot. … I like brawling."

The general is lucky to be a Marine. Had he been a naval officer, the more politically correct Navy might well have ended his career, as it has ended the careers of a number of good fighting officers. The Marine Corps commandant did the right thing. He spoke to the general in private and let the matter drop. No doubt he warned him to be more careful about where he speaks the truth.

The warrior’s job is to kill people and destroy property. That’s what he trains to do, exists to do and, when let loose by the politicians, that’s what he does. That requires a certain amount of emotional callousness, or else the stress will cause a mental breakdown.

Furthermore, war is the ultimate sport. It is a contest in which the stakes are life or death. It is the ultimate high for adrenaline junkies. Even Robert E. Lee, who really was a Christian knight, remarked, "It is well that war is so terrible else we would grow too fond of it." I know several men, combat veterans, who do love war. They miss it. They love to reminisce about it. Nothing that peace has to offer can match war’s excitement. A man is never more alive than when he is face-to-face with death.

But many Americans today are addicted to lies and myths. You can see that from all the euphemisms that shroud the war in Iraq. Everybody in uniform is a hero. They are the finest people in the world. They are fighting for freedom. Anytime the ugly truth about war slips through the media shield, such as the torture of prisoners or the shooting of unarmed men, it’s immediately declared an aberration.

But it’s not an aberration. Brutality and violence are the norms of war. The American news media, for the most part, try to shield the public from the truth. The Bush administration hates Al-Jazeera, the Arab television station, not because it supports terrorism — which it doesn’t — but because it shows the true face of war. It shows the burned and mangled bodies of civilian women and children that the Bush administration prefers that Americans not see. After all, they are only "collateral damage."

Americans have always suffered from a split personality when it comes to war and the military. Once we are in war, no nation is more savage or brutal than we are. But at the same time, we always want to think of our soldiers as the ultimate do-gooders. This was typified to me when I was in basic training. We would go from bayonet practice, where we were instructed to shout "kill" as we thrust the blade into imaginary flesh, to a mandatory lecture by the chaplain, who would urge us to not curse or drink.

We need fighting warriors like Gen. Mattis, but they should not expect civilians, especially in the liberal media, to understand them. Like a good pit bull, they should be kept away from the press. God knows there are enough political generals who aren’t worth spit on the battlefield to hand out all the propaganda and heifer dust the administration wants civilians to hear.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.