20 October 2011

The Battle For Marjah

Released last month, The Battle for Marjah (available here) makes a strong case, at least for me, that Marine Corps officers are superior to Army officers. Delta Force member and retired CSGM Eric Haney once told me Marine generals were vastly superior to Army generals. Well, they gotta come from somewhere.

In the excellent documentary, Restrepo, Afghan villagers visit an Army outpost in the Kandahar Valley where they seek reimbursement for a cow that was accidentally killed, although not accidentally eaten, by paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne. The company commander, a young captain, argues with the villagers over the price of the cow. Dejected, the villagers leave mumbling and tugging their beards. Later, the same captain angrily accuses Afghan villagers of supporting the Taliban in a profanity laden tirade whose tone is that of a parent scolding a child.

I don't know what what the army thinks "Hearts & Minds" is about, but getting into a pissing contest over a $200 difference for a cow ain't it. Not surprisingly, the army abandoned their outpost, the captain was promoted, and he went home. The Taliban? They're still there. In Battle for Marjah, a young Marine lieutenant sees the problem for what it is when an Afghan tells him, "I don't mind Marines. I don't mind Taliban. I just wanna be left alone."

'Hearts and Minds' not only speaks to the simple strategy of winning them over. I always believed it had everything to do with securing personal freedom as well. In Vietnam, my father's SF team taught local villagers to grow strawberries. Those strawberries were then sold to the Army in a country where strawberries were non-existent. The Vietnamese refused to eat Bulgar wheat provided by US AID. So, the team created a fish farm and fed the wheat to the Carp. Even roof tiles made of clay by local villagers were sold to the Army for officer clubs. The upshot was the villagers wanted the V.C. and N.V.A. out, and why not? Not gonna get anything from them except conscripted.

The Marine Corp captain in Marjah seizes an opportunity and works to get shops open and trade resumed at a local market. He's also the first customer, his men after him, paying outta their own pockets. I'm not sure The Battle for Majar is a politically left or right film. It really doesn't matter. Truths come out that rise above political spin, but with an eerie deja vu. We've been here before...and it didn't turn out well.


TC said...

I agree that USMC officers are better than Army officers. And I say that as an Army officer with two tours in Iraq under my belt. (In fact, you could easily make the case that in most respects, the average Marine is head-and-shoulders above the average Solider.) Building a good officer corps is like building a good wardrobe: selectivity is essential.

JKG said...

Inevitably in a[-n almost] democracy, there are politics in methods of war-fighting. Tragically, there are sometimes dogmatic subscriptions to approaches to war, its overall utility, and the extent to which it can/should be waged.

As a (very) outside observer, though, with politics aside there seem to strains within both services of nostalgia for a time when we fought the armies of states (as opposed to those of factions or non-state nations), something we very rarely do anymore. That nostalgia seems sometimes to express itself as a desire to "simply fight" and leave the "nation-building" to the State Department, USAID, or the Peace Corps.

I don't know if that opinion is less likely to be encountered among the Marines. If it is, it may be because as a smaller and more frequently deployed service they are more practical and less dogmatic about how to avoid being killed by quasi-civilians. Without the vast apparatus of the Army, fewer among them have been able to avoid having their life at risk and in another's hands. That may tend to sharpen the mind.

Just some thoughts, just an impression.

Anonymous said...

Here's a theory I've heard regarding Marines officers vs. Army officers (although it only really applies to those Marines who come from the Naval Academy).

If a student at Annapolis wants to command a ship or a sub or be a pilot, his coursework is science and engineering heavy. Future Marines, on the other hand, gravitate toward the liberal arts (as much as one can at a service academy). The result is that Marine officers tend to have a more well-rounded world-view, and therefore tend to be more diplomatic and creative in dealing with the non-shooting part of modern warfare. (Not sure where this leaves Army officers--I'd presume that some of them have a liberal arts background as well.)

As I said, just a theory I read.

Neil said...

Ohrah. The USMC has called and I go active in early December as a Judge Advocate.

Some other differences between USMC and Army officers; only the Corps has its enlisted train it's officers at OCS; only the Corps takes form all colleges and has no academy of it's own. Each of these go to Anon 1539's point.

As you were.

Anonymous said...

Please please. Please. May we have some more lighthearted blogs from you? I am finding it tough enough to get through the day and some witty repartee would help. Please.

Jeff P. said...

Former Army officer here (OCS grad), seen some great officers and some poor officers in both the Army and Marines - overall however I would say Jar Heads are pretty squared away.

Anonymous said...

I saw this doc when it was on in the UK earlier this year- very good. Highlights the almost impossible task they have in front of them in Afghanistan.

It's incredible that in such a large conflict involving countries and armies, it comes down to the individual human relationships between USMC officers and men, and the local people in the warzone.

Without giving any spoilers, the scenes after a misdirected airstrike are compelling viewing.

tintin said...

TC- My grandfather retired a Command SGM and my father retired a LTC from the Army. I only worked with the Marines once while I was in the Army and it didn't go too well although I met a couple recon types in jump school who were great.

I'm not sure if I'm General Ising here or not but the attitude and insight from the Marine officers is certainly head and shoulders above the leadership portrayed in Restrepo.

JKG- When I fisrt entered the army in 1976, the training revolved around WW III. By the time I ets'ed in 1980, training was all about quick wins in small engagements. Looking forward, I wonder how useful tanks are gonna be.

Anon- Interesting theory. As a liberal arts major myself it makes a lot of sense. I applied to West Point Prep School after a year in the army and was accepted. I declined to go because I knew I couldn't get through the math and science. That and it would be a 10 yr commitment. In many ways I lived to regret that decision.

Neil- Ok, your knuckles are dragging. I was always curious when a cadet at the USNA had to declare Marine or Navy or if they make that decision upon acceptance.

Anon- No sorrow without joy. No joy without sorrow. No requests from the anonymous.

Jeff P- Just after I made hard stripe E-5, I was TDY at Aberdeen Proving Grounds when a Marine E-3 ran by me and bumped my shoulder. I didn't think much of it but Sgt Murphy turned and yelled for him to stop. Murphy turned to me and whispered, "Smoke his ass." It was the first ass chewing I ever gave. I remember telling the PFC he had to have shit for brains for joining a branch of the military that wore white t shirts with camouflage fatigues.

Anon- I think it's all about relationships. Especially in war.