"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Happy birthday

Today (at least by our clock) is the 232nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps. This year's celebration was quite different than any I've attended before, or that many Marines and their loved ones will attend back in the homeland. Because the birthday falls near Veterans' Day, we usually get a three- or four-day weekend out of the deal. The ball is held at the best establishment the unit can afford after a year of fundraising; the Marines put on their dress blues, their wives (I'm sorry, spouses these days:) ) wear formal evening dress, and the first hour or so of the evening is devoted to pomp and circumstance. Our cake and flags are marched on and off to the music of the base band, addresses from past and present commandants are read, the guest of honor delivers a speech, and frequently there's a multimedia tour of Marine Corps history to remind us of the exploits of those Marines who went before. Once we've gone through the ceremonials, the eating and drinking begin and continue through the rest of the night (and usually on into the late hours of the morning). Colonels and corporals shake each other's hands and wish the other a happy birthday.

Like I said, this year's was a little different. Our squadron had its ceremony a couple of days early, when we could fit it in the flight schedule. It was held just after sunset, so that both day crew and night crew could attend. We were formed up, the cake was presented and cut, pieces given to the oldest and youngest Marine present, and then birthday speeches from Gen. Lejeune (the seminal Marine Corps commandant, whose 1921 birthday address is read every yeat) and Gen. Conway (the current commandant) were recited. And then, the formation was dismissed. Day crew went home, and night crew got to work, as we still had aircraft to repair and launch and supplies to deliver. The whole thing took no longer than ten minutes.

Because every day is the same here, it's easy to forget which days, if any, are special. Although it was over in minutes, this Marine Corps birthday was, for me, more special than the rest. All my previous celebrations have either been in training commands or fleet units that I hadn't deployed with. It was difficult to relate to the accomplishments of previous Marine generations, when the hardest thing I'd done at any given point was spending a few uncomfortable days in the field or study a little harder than usual for an aviation test. Nothing I'd done in four previous years was particularly noteworthy, or required unusual fortitude and suffering. The last four years, I celebrated our birthday by various sun-drenched beaches in nice cities with booze flowing aplenty, while other Marines were sleeping in the dirt of foreign lands without even the luxury of a hot shower. Oh, it was fun; but it never felt earned.

I've only been here a few weeks, only been "outside the wire" a few times, and those times I was high up in the air, far above the very real dangers and terrors that Marines continue to face out here. Many Marines have been here more than once, and faced greater threats than I will. Still, I'm over here, and have finally gotten a taste of what much of the Marine Corps has endured for the last four years. It's only a small taste (though more will come in the months ahead), and so the feeling inside is small and easy to overlook as the days blend together. But this year, this birthday, was nevertheless distinguished from all the rest. This year, for the first time, it finally felt earned.

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