'Intimate killing' - The Washington Times: Editorials/OP-ED - February 07, 2005

Intimate Killing:

Thanks to JHD, who sends this piece by a retired commander of the Army War College. It concerns General Mattis:

For those of you who might have the image of a knuckle-dragging troglodyte, let me assure you that he is one of the most urbane and polished men I have known. He can quote Homer as well as Sun Tzu and has over 7,000 books in his personal library.
One of the enduring cultural myths in America is the notion that the military is filled with uneducated, or undereducated, lackwits. This has most to do with Hollywood, I think, which seems to love to portray the military as filled with people who are largely disinterested in, if not hostile to, education and the cultured pleasures of life.

I think that the recent thread on orchestral music here at Grim's Hall demonstrates the untruth of that myth. This article about General Mattis does likewise. People forget that a substantial percentage of servicemen join the military precisely because they are interested in education, and want help paying for college, or advanced technical training that the military in many cases can provide. People are unaware of how much of the life of an officer -- whether commissioned or NCO -- is spent in school.

The military is one of the last bastions where at least a smattering of Latin is usually understood. The Army has a school of heraldry. The Navy and especially the Marine Corps have their own traditions, some building on foundations inherited from the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Corps. The effect is to foster a felt, a lived connection to the sweep of Western civilization: back through our American history to British roots, back from there through the Middle Ages, to Rome, and to Athens.

Marine Corps University at Quantico, VA (motto: Ductus Exemplo!) maintains a professional reading list for all Marines. Marine Corps HQ maintains another, large enough to be broken out into sections: Commandant's favorites, Heritage series, Leadership & Biography, Theory, Nature & History, Strategy, Policy, Operations, and on and on. Headquarters also posts lists to "over 2,500 free e-books" on the same page: classics, poetry, drama, literature.

Late last year, I argued that the military exists as a parallel structure to academia for the life of the mind. At its best, it is at least the equal of the Ivy Leagues at the real business of education -- the creation of capable men and women, schooled in both the liberal and the practical arts. I've known a fair number of both sorts of alumni, both Harvard men and servicemen. I've known plenty of military men who could discuss Homer and opera, as well as the pleasures of good whisky and a fine cigar. I've met one whose training enabled him to serve successfully as the provisional governor of an Iraqi province suffering from the ravages of war. I've yet to meet a Harvard man who was a decent shot with a rifle or a pistol, and Harvard is running in the opposite direction:
In fact, MIT claims to have 42 varsity sports, one more than even Harvard. Of course, Harvard scoffed snootily, "Hearing that MIT was claiming 42 varsity teams, officials at Harvard, which has 41, chafed. They point to MIT's varsity pistol and rifle teams as evidence of MIT's skewed vision of varsity sports."

Hey, wait a minute! I was ON the Harvard Rifle Team in 1973! The team capitan, a member of my "freak fraternity" and now owner of a software company in Houston, had the key to the Harvard rifle range and we would go down there in the wee hours under the effects of whatnot and invent weird games like hanging tootsie roll pops from shoelaces tied to the mechanized target holders. When we rolled 'em back down the range, the lollypops swung around wildly and were wicked hard to hit. Or even see, for that matter.

We lost all 12 matches that season. Most of the guys we were shooting against were steely-eyed vets with thousand-yard stares just back form Nam and trying to finish college on Uncle Sam, while we were just a bunch of Ivy freaks who liked to play with guns.
Time was, the Ivy Leagues -- whose alumni now cannot match the services' officer and NCO corps in demonstrating a real, liberal education -- were competition even for West Point and Annapolis. Harvard produced Francis Parkman, one of the finest historians in American history, who wrote:
[I]f any pale student glued to his desk here seek an apology for a way of life whose natural fruit is that pallid and emasculate scholarship, of which New England has had too many examples, it will be far better that this sketch had not been written. For the student there is, in its season, no better place than the saddle, and no better companion than the rifle or the oar.
There stands an indictment of the modern Ivy League from one of her own; but there also stands, unspoken, praise for the American serviceman.

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