George Will
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Still, no one becomes a Marine to collect garbage or otherwise nurture civil societies. And as one officer here notes with some asperity, there is "no Goldwater-Nichols Act for the rest of the government." That act mandated "jointness" -- collaborative operations -- by the services. Civilian agencies that do not play well together have fumbled the ball in Iraq, and the military has been forced to pick it up. This draws the military deeper into the sensitive responsibility for tutoring civilians who assign the forces nonmilitary tasks.

The political dimension of leadership training remains, however, secondary to instruction in military valor. The other services tend to teach leadership prescriptively, with rules. The Marines teach descriptively, with storytelling about what happened on the sea wall at Tarawa (1943), at Korea's Chosin Reservoir (1950), in Vietnam's Hue city (1968). But there is another story pertinent to providing military advice that can assure civilian comprehension of military functions.

Early in the Kennedy administration, when there was talk about a U.S. invasion of Cuba, Gen. David M. Shoup, Marine commandant, gave President John Kennedy and his advisers a tutorial. David Halberstam wrote in "The Best and the Brightest":

"First he took an overlay of Cuba and placed it over the map of the United States. To everybody's surprise, Cuba was not a small island along the lines of, say, Long Island at best. It was about 800 miles long and seemed to stretch from New York to Chicago. Then he took another overlay, with a red dot, and placed it over the map of Cuba. 'What's that?' someone asked him. 'That, gentlemen, represents the size of the island of Tarawa,' said Shoup, who had won a Medal of Honor there, 'and it took us three days and 18,000 Marines to take it.'"

Because of the dispersed battlefield in Iraq, company commanders must make instantaneous decisions that battalion commanders used to make, and corporals are making decisions that officers used to make reflecting -- and affecting -- the Marine Corps' ethics and core values.

Still, "it's a beautiful thing being in Iraq," says one officer, "because you aren't worrying about Corporal Jones stateside getting a DUI." That is the durable voice of the Marine Corps, which is "first to fight," and is happier when doing so than when dealing with garrison duties stateside or chores properly belonging to civilian agencies abroad.

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George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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