Explaining the Inexplicable

The Marine Corps acted swiftly this week to begin an investigation of four scout snipers from 3rd Battalion 2nd Marines (3/2) who were shown in a YouTube video, apparently urinating on the bodies of three dead Afghan combatants in Helmand Province. Public reaction to the video has been mixed but for the most part is clustered at the extremes: either horrified condemnation or obscene justification of the Marines’ actions. It is difficult to maintain a dispassionate demeanor when observing desecration of the dead.

My own reaction has been less emotional and more professional. I served as a platoon commander in 3/2 from 2004 to 2007, during which time the battalion lost 17 Marines and sailors killed during combat actions in Iraq. One Marine died in my arms. I am no stranger to the unnatural passions elicited by close combat, stark terror and the gruesome death of blood brothers. Let me add some context to an otherwise wholly incomprehensible incident. Those who have not borne the burden of combat would do well to sequester their own reaction away from the court of public opinion: You simply don’t have enough evidence for an informed judgment.

Infantry Marines are enlisted for the purpose of, trained in the practice of, conditioned emotionally for, and recognized publicly for: killing. There it is.

The Marine Corps recruits young, aggressive men and subjects them to Spartan living conditions, draconian discipline, and months of charismatic indoctrination into a warrior culture. By the end of Boot Camp they have become more than men: they are Marines. In the Operating Forces new Marines are rigorously trained in the practical application of targeted violence. Their bodies are conditioned to endure the grueling hardships of war and their minds are conditioned to operate above a survival level in the most terrifying, brutal, and unforgiving environment known to man. The Marine Corps does this because it is expert at fighting and winning our Nation’s wars and it knows that in order to win you must have trained men who are willing and able to kill.

Even with all of the training, preparation, and conditioning, combat is a shock to the novice. It is surreal – at first – and the screaming violence takes an immediate physical, mental, and emotional toll. But good Marines revert to the training that was performed over and over and over and over so that it has become as natural as moving an arm or taking a breath. The mind finds comfort in performing the routine and the Marine Corps has ensured that the routine is good enough to win. So Marines kill – when they have to – and they win. And because they win, they do it again and again and again.

The challenge is that when we teach men to kill, we create loaded weapons. Loaded weapons must be handled with care, or else we risk damaging the weapon and injuring others. The Marine Corps has done its best to build a safety into each loaded weapon: the safety is a set of conditions that must be met before killing actions are triggered. Unless those conditions are met, killing is murder. But just because a set of arbitrary conditions is met does not mean that the Marine is able to rationalize the taking of a human life; the prohibition against murder is ingrained so deeply in our personal psyche and social taboos that it is nearly impossible for a sane man to ignore a flash of conscience when he kills. This is an emotional problem that has been addressed in one official and many unofficial ways.

Officially, the military has structured all of its infantry training into conditioning men to break the social taboo of murder by viewing the enemy as a “target”. Firing ranges have green “Ivan” silhouette targets so infantrymen learn to associate an enemy’s head and shoulders with a standard target shape and subsequent reward and recognition. This clean, clinical approach has much utility and has been an often-documented factor in the increasing effectiveness of the US military after World War II. The emotionally-detached prosecution of enemy “targets” within accepted parameters as stipulated by the local rules of engagement (ROE) is the infantry ideal.

Less ideal, but fairly common, is the unofficial but popular dehumanization of enemy combatants, usually through the use of pejorative or slang terms. In Iraq our enemy was “muj” or “hadjis” – rarely “man”, “woman” or “child”. Each of us is aware of the importance and influence of a label: our names are precious to us. By labeling an enemy with a derogatory term, infantrymen are able to simultaneously dehumanize him and begin to hate him – not as a human being, but as an object of wrath and the author of his own misery, fear and pain. Dehumanization of the enemy is effective at numbing the conscience and reducing emotional turmoil after a kill, but it also taps into primal areas of hate and rage, which are usually suppressed by the conscience and social conditioning. This might help explain how normally upstanding young men could act with mocking brutality after killing a dehumanized enemy.

I vividly remember a foreign correspondent rushing up to me on a debris-strewn street in Karabilah, Iraq on the fifth and last day of Operation SPEAR in June 2005. A Marine had been killed the day before and I was emotionally depleted, physically exhausted, and dutifully planning an assault on the last uncleared corner of the town. The reporter was incensed.

“Are you the leader of these men,” he asked belligerently, gesturing vaguely down the street.

“Some of them,” I replied, not at all interested in entertaining a reporter when I had an attack to plan.

“I just saw them run over a dead body in the street!” His tone was accusing and haughty; I decided that I disliked him. Peering down the dirty street past crumbled walls and the smudge of burnt out vehicles I couldn’t see the crushed body that he was pointing to.

“It’s a narrow street – military movement has priority. I’m sure they didn’t see it.” I didn’t really care if they had – what did he want me to do about it?

“I saw them swerve to run over it! It was brutal and unnecessary!”

An insurgent lies where he fell after fleeing from advancing US Marines in Karabilah, Iraq. June 18, 2005. Note the bullet holes in the truck cab and the AK-47 next to the body.

I stared at the man’s thin, angry face. Mine was impassive. Unmoving. It would have been difficult for him to report that I gave a shit.

“Huh,” I grunted. Then I left him standing angrily in an Iraqi street, cleared of Al Qaeda fighters by the same Marines that he wanted to condemn. His mistake was thinking that as an officer I was compelled to act on his assertion. If what he said was true, I strongly disapproved of the Marines’ actions. If I had seen something like what the reporter described, I would have grabbed the Marines involved and had a short, one-way lesson on right and wrong and maintaining the moral high ground. That would have ended the incident, preserved their respect for my office, and set an example for other Marines in the unit.

The YouTube incident is slightly different than my experience in Iraq. It is my professional opinion that the scout snipers in the YouTube video acted contrary to Article 15 of Convention I for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, ratified in Geneva on 12 August 1949:

At all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.

If the Marines hadn’t made and posted a video for the whole world to see, their actions would have filled the unwritten annals of the unknown wrongs committed by men at war throughout the ages. But someone recorded their actions and brought them into a glaring spotlight. There is no impromptu lesson that can ameliorate the damage done to the reputation of the Marine Corps, or assuage the anger of the Afghan people. With publicity comes public accountability.

Scout snipers are selected for intelligence, physical fitness, and uncommon self-discipline. I am certain that the four Marines in the video are personally courageous, generally upstanding, and, presently, wholly immersed in a tumultuous world of anger, shame and regret. Their actions in the video were wrong, but I do not think that we should condemn their entire character or pan the nature of their service. Seven of their brothers died during that deployment to Afghanistan – that says a lot about the nature of the battle and implies some of the reason behind the hate and rage demonstrated in the video.

It would be premature to assume the result of the Marine Corps investigation or the outcome of any judicial proceeding; however, likely charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice will be Article 92 “Failure to Obey an Order or Regulation” and Article 134, Clause 2 “Conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the Armed Forces”. I believe the Marine Corps will thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the actions depicted in the video; follow due process in any follow-on legal proceedings; and afford the Marines a fair hearing that is impartial to the howling condemnation of the world at large. Good Marines deserve nothing less. Justice demands nothing more.

About Nate

A 2003 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and former Marine infantry officer, Nate is the Chief Operating Officer of Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans get jobs. He holds a Master's in Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Nate lives with his wife and dog in Alpharetta, Georgia.
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104 Responses to Explaining the Inexplicable

  1. Steve Smith says:

    Thanks for writing this professional opinion, brother. It really helps me understand the context and filter out the hype. I appreciate you. Keep writing and sharing.

  2. Jack says:

    7 dead brothers is disproportionate to the damage the average “hadji” incurred, and I will bet my livelihood, and the souls of my unborn children, on our judicial system’s capacity to completely shit the bed when it comes to trying its own military.

    • Disproportionate? How so? I suspect you don’t come from a military background. As a prior serviceman, I agree whole-heartedly with what the author said. Our objective is clear: inflict as much damage as possible upon our enemy until they surrender or are all dead. America has the finest fighting force in the world, so any nation or organization that comes into conflict with us will always have “disproportionate” losses. As to your opinion on the judicial system’s inability to try its military: there are numerous cases of the military trying and convicting servicemen for actions contrary to the tenets and principles that govern our armed forces. Look up SSgt Calvin Gibbs or Sgt Lonetree if you need a couple examples. Like the author said, there many unspeakable acts that occur on the battlefield that are never reported, and those responsible never held to account. But we try our best to uphold the highest standards, and when possible punish those that would do otherwise.

    • EDHBryan says:

      Maybe you are trying to be too cute with words because I am not entirely clear what you are trying to say. However I would offer that you need to actually have some children in order to know what it means to wager their souls. As far as your livelihood, we have no idea what that really is…As far as our military, we have incarcerated many of our own, and its been no picnic for those who in fact are incarcerated by our/their own. The military prison system has far more freedom to restrict the rights of those convicted than we typically find in our state systems.

    • Al Strickland says:

      I was tried by a military court martial. Kangaroo court. We saw the judgment printed out before we went in to the court. If the officers in the court martial are Army, Navy, Marines, they will do their best to destroy these Marines, and imprison them for the rest of their lives, unless Marines really are different from the rest of our military. When they are above major, they become politicians, not soldiers. “I need another star.”

  3. Carol Smith says:

    Ever since I saw the news report of this incident, I was wondering what you would have to say about it. Thanks for your insights. You speak with great credibility in my eyes.

  4. Steven says:

    I’d like to know whose bright idea is was to videotape the incident, and then post it to YouTube. That action alone deserves a discharge from the military. Proves that the cameraman, at least, has no sane thought as to the consequences.

    • Woz says:

      It shouldn’t have been taped and it shouldn’t ever have been shared. I know nothing of being in wars or the armed services, but I know “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Great article.

  5. Pete says:

    If you dont support the US military, and you have never served for this country you should do your best to find a better country and kill yourself after failing to do so

    • are those our only choices? agree with the military no matter what, or go out and off ourselves? when did we lose our freedom in this country to disagree with our military? sorry, pete, but as far as i knew if the military does something unseemly (and gosh it seems to a lot doesn’t it?) then it deserves to be called on it by its citizens as much as the next. they say true character is shown when you do the right thing in tough situations, not easy ones. i don’t think anyone disagrees that the military is often in tough situations…but clearly this is one of many examples we’ve heard about where the character of the military was less than stellar. i guess if a foreign soldier peed all over your family members you’d just back up off it and say it was understandable, right?

      • John Kelly says:

        What “but clearly this is one of many examples we’ve heard about where the character of the military was less than stellar” are you talking about? There may be examples here and there but where are the MANY?

      • grunt0351 says:

        it happens on both sides though, whos to answer for members of our military and innocent american citizens being gutted, decapitated, publically hung, and having their bodies dragged through the streets? I was in afghanistan in 2010 as an assaultman with 1st battalion, 2nd marines. when you live war day to day, you harbor a pure hatred and disgust of the enemy, especially after bearing witness to a brother being cut down or ripped to pieces by an IED. but no matter how shocking this might, war is very emotional. as citizens you shouldnt say anything to criticize the militaries actions unless you have been there, your whole livelihood is based on the fact that men have suffered and died for you to be where you are. all aspects of war are dehumanizing.

      • Robert Clark says:

        So Jen, I guess you never watched the news or read reports of Americans being hung from a bridge, dimembered, set on fire, oh wait, you don’t have comments to make about those types of atrocities commited by our enemies………If the worse our warriors do is to piss on the bodies of those more than willing to take American lives then I hope they drink a lot of liquids…..less then stellar, how dre you make an irresponsible comment regarding these brave men and women of our armed services….and what exactly has been your contributions to the merican way of life??? I’m sure by your keen observtions here that you have never witnessed war first hand….

      • EDHBryan says:

        No, if a foreign soldier did this to one of my family members I would not like it any better than anyone else. However I would also have to realize that my family member was trying to kill that foreign solder. I would have to eventually weigh that as part of the reasoning process. I would also realize that no government of any foreign soldier would ever give the slightest thought or consideration to anything regarding me. That would be a reality in your reverse scenario.

      • Al Strickland says:

        Jen, grow up. Compared to what the US had done in this world, the rest are depraved. There has been more mercy shown by us than anyone else in history. We rebuilt Germany and Japan after the war, to the point that they have a better economy than we have. Everyone else in the entire history of the world, has destroyed their enemies. If you don’t like it here, you are welcome to leave.

      • Gregory Rush says:

        oh my God, pollyanna, grow the hell up. One you totally misread the comment you were responding to. It never said “agree with the military”. The message was clearly intended to mean if you don’t support the people that defend your very right to exist, and have not joined them in their efforts to defend this great nation, you do not deserve to enjoy the liberties and freedoms their efforts provide, and you are welcome to make use of the nearest exit.

        And what exactly do you call “unseemly”? Do you get your knickers in a twist when we prosecute an action against our enemies? Did you think you get to live the life you do and that no one ever had to pay the price for it? You are hopelessly naive.

        Our servicemen and women do things you can’t even imagine, and yet still must endure this monday morning quarterbacking from people like you that literally have no clue whatsover how the real world works. yes, you have a right to open your mouth and voice your opinions, no matter how uninformed they may be. But by putting them out in the public arena you also have opened yourself up to cross-examination.

        How dare you cast dispersions upon the character of my fellow Marines when you have clearly not walked a mile in their shoes? And what arbitrary standards of yours are the millions of American servicepeople not living up to, pray tell?

        And for the love of God NEVER EVER compare those terrorist dirtbags to uniformed servicemen again. They are war criminals, murderers, rapists, thieves and the lowest form of life on earth, and they do not deserve the same treatment as uniformed combatants. If the day comes that a uniformed soldier from a country that is a signatory to the Geneva convention ever commits an act against another uniformed soldier, then perhaps your whitewashed version of how things should be might apply, but for now stick to your fairy tales and leave the real world to the grownups, ok?

    • maimee03 says:

      AMEN! Some people take our freedoms for granted. If they find a new country to live in – try to voice your concerns there and see how far you get!

  6. Denise says:

    Thank you for this article. My son served under you, and I want to personally thank you for getting him home safely and for your service to the United States of America. God bless you.

  7. Thank you for your service, Nate, and for an excellent article that not only clarifies the context for this particular incident but no doubt gives many of us civilians a fuller glimpse into what it means to be a soldier during wartime. Congratulations on your career success (and demonstrating your share of the Smith writing genes!)

  8. Cpl Bartels Joshua says:

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this article sir, I was with 3/2 I co from the end of 06-2010. I hate how everyone shares their dismay for this video when they have no idea what it’s like. I’m just glad you wrote thi so our voice could be heard too. Semper fi, betio badtard.

  9. Sam N. says:

    Good words, Nate.

  10. Mark says:

    Fantastic piece, sir.

    I’ve withheld comment on this issue since it came to light, not wishing to convey my thoughts about it inadequately. Now I can just lazily share your post in my social media circles, as you’ve managed to say it all, succinctly, and (even better) from a CO’s point of view. Thanks for the fine contribution to public discourse.

    Respectfully,

    Mark Bernas…. former CPL, Co I 3/25 Iraq 2005

  11. Julie says:

    Thanks for you honesty, from a 3/2 mom.

  12. Austin says:

    A fine article and very thorough, sir. I agree with everything stated and you have evidence and reflection in here. It’s refreshing to hear an actual educated opinion, rather than everyone jumping off to conclusions at the opposite extremes. Thanks.

  13. Greg F. says:

    Unspeakable atrocities occur during the heat of battle. They always have. We should recognize that this is a new day with instant media. The eyes of the entire world are upon our military and law enforcement personnel. Dehumanizing our adversaries, makes killing or brutal treatment easier for the combatant to mentally process. There is no disagreement regarding the need for that kind of psychological training.

    However, the world is watching. What once was hidden in the fog of war, now realizes the harsh lights of a media hungry for instant news. If it bleeds, it leads. The dinosaurs that continue to abuse their authority, must prepare themselves to become extinct. The court of public opinion will not tolerate such abuses.

    The U.S. Marines Corps should study the tactics of media awareness for U.S. law enforcement and implement similar policies to protect the integrity of the Corps. The job of prosecuting an enemy combatant can be accomplished on camera without desecrating the dead or tormenting the wounded. The public as a whole understands that war means killing. What the public will not tolerate are the atrocities that a minority of undisciplined military and law enforcement personnel perpetrate upon others.

    The world is watching and judging your every move. Stop complaining that the rest of the world doesn’t comprehend what the Marine on the ground has to endure. That argument falls upon the ears of a public that determine the politics your commander in chief must adhere too. The citizens of the United States want our military and police to set a standard above our enemies. This is an obtainable goal that can easily be reached. The United States Marine Corps trains fighting men with training that is second to none. Obviously, there is a deficit in the training of a complete Marine that should be carefully examined in light of recent events. Those in the military that scoff at the notion improved media relations training, could find themselves as the target of the next national investigation.

    Add some new world skills into the U.S. Marine Corps state of the art warfare training, to create a modern day warrior. One equipped with the ability to kill on demand and to recognize the appropriate time to stand down from an offensive posture. Unless this kind of training is built into the warrior ethos, we will continue to see good men making career ending decisions in the field. The world is watching.

  14. Joel says:

    This is an excellent article. My 2 cents – Our society has been in a downward spiral since the 60’s. Why is this a surprise to anyone. The Marine Corps can take a young man and sharpen him like nothing else can. Now, the Marine Corps prides itself on taking only the best. But really, there is no way to judge moral character upon enlistment. If there were the Marines would surely be using it. They do background check but all that tells us is whether or not the turd was ever caught. So, as the morals of society fall, there is only so much the Marine Corps can do with the turds it gets in the allotted amount of time. As the morals of society fall further, the Marine Corps can only lift it back up so high. If society as a whole were to take an interest in it’s declining morals and get back to the Christian roots this country was founded on we would see a lot less of this kind of garbage. All I can say that I hope the Marines in question ate plenty of pork prior to the filming of this event!

    Semper Fi!

  15. Tyler Rogers says:

    Sir, if you remember, I served under you during your time at MCSFCO Bangor, and I must say, not only is this one of the most intelligent and captivating pieces of literature I have ever read, but I agree with you on all accounts. I have never been as inspired by another officer as I have been by you. Keep up the good work sir, and the best of luck in all of your future endeavors.

  16. Mike says:

    As a resident/citizen of another country & as one who has only served in times of “peace”, I would have been guilty of mis-judging the subjects of the recent Youtube video. You do a great service in articulating the realities of the situation, however, and I thank you for this.

  17. Alden Sinckler says:

    Well stated,thanks for your clarity.

  18. sniperdad says:

    Good insight, to say the least. It’s nice to have an educated take on this event. Our society doles out accolades by the yard to our defenders for their “service”, but when they compare what happens in combat to our “normal” civilian life, society is quick to condemn.

    The worst of it is how our heros are sometimes not given a second look or consideration, much less a job or mortgage assistance, after they get out in most cases. Quite a shock to go from hero to regular Joe in this country. It’s really a shame.

  19. Dee says:

    This is what SO many have been thinking but couldn’t put into words. We expect so much from our Marines then condemn them when they go to far. They are Human and as Humans we are not perfect. Here at home the families have time to grieve. I cried (and cried for DAYS) every time I heard of another of my sons brothers dying… When do our Marines get to grieve? A small ceremony then get back to work. It weighs very heavily on many hearts and minds. Desensitizes them, makes them irrational. Here’s what it comes down to, I am not saying whether what the Marines did was right or wrong I am saying I SUPPORT them… That’s what families do, we STAND BY each other through thick and thin, good AND BAD!

  20. Amanda says:

    My husband is a former Marine, scout sniper. When they are out in the field normal rules don’t apply, you fight and kill to keep your brother on your right and the brother on your left alive. What we see as “appropriate” behavior doesn’t apply when your life is on the line. I don’t condone what these men did but I refuse to condem them for it.

  21. Tanya Rodriguez says:

    My husband served with 3/2 for 6 years until last month. As a former 3/2 wife, I appreciate your words. Thank you.

  22. Ryan says:

    We (V36) relieved you guys in 2005. You guys got pretty banged up. Well written article Sir.

  23. 1stSgtD says:

    What the general public does not know, nor care about. Is the amazing amount of compassion, these same Marines have shown, in Iraq and Astan. In the midst of the horrors and fog of war. I witnessed levels of compassion from young Marines,towards their enemy, that brought tears to my eyes.

    1stSgtD
    Fallujah 05-06

  24. Holly says:

    Thank you for putting perspective on a terrible situation with this fantastic article. This is a terrible time for the Marine Scout Snipers, the 3/2 Battalion, and the Marine Corp as a whole, including all their family members. I am the mother of a Sniper, and I hope as Dee said above, that we pull together as a family and don’t let this tear us apart.

  25. Joan Bartels says:

    I will back the Marines 100%! Regardless of what they did being right or wrong, put yourself in their shoes! Look what these men are doing for our Country. I’m sure it’s hard to stay in the right frame of mind at times. So what I’m saying is..I’m Not condoning what they did, But I also Don’t think they should be condemed for their action either! It’s a very Sad situation..

  26. Bill says:

    Served in Vietnam, lived in constant fear of snipers, rockets, booby traps (IED’s), ambush, and mortars – day and night. We all did. You can see it, hear it, smell it, and feel it. It was real not imagined. It makes you crazy. No telling how any particular soldier is going to relieve the stress, saw all kinds of reactions (not cowardice) to the fear.

  27. Terrence says:

    That was an easy and clear understanding of all infantrymen. This article should be placarded in every military barracks for many reasons. One as a sign of shame. Two as a reminder that the world will only see these acts as wrong and no good will come of it. Three if you’re going to do something morally wrong with potentially bad consequences – do not record it!

  28. egocheagam says:

    I have mixed feelings about this subject but I’m glad you wrote about it. Props to you.

  29. Annie says:

    My son was on that deployment and was with the 3/2.
    From a 3/2 mom I thank you for this article!

  30. Pingback: Gregg A. Granger | The too-high price of stupid

  31. Very nicely done.

    I don’t think it will change the mind of those people that inherently dislike the US involvement in the middle east or the military in general. However, you did a wonderful job giving the non military people an idea how undergoing military training and being in war/combat affects behavior.

    Some people just cannot empathize. They have to experience it themselves before they can put 2 + 2 together and get 4.

    Maybe I should forward this to Tom Hanks considering he feels that the WW II Marine vets are all racist. Somehow, I think he’d still struggle trying to come up with “4”.

  32. mike says:

    The biggest mistake made was recording it. Given the circumstances a lot of us would have done the same thing.

    • Andy says:

      You mean the biggest mistake was doing it.

      • PointMan 04-05 says:

        No he ment what he said…..what it the right thing to do? No. Do I understand why they did it? Yes. When you watch your best friend who is closer to you than a brother get butchared befor you eyes by and IED and there is nothing you can do….the frustration builds. Acts like this all be it wrong help releave that stress. When it comes down to killing everything or just taking a leak. Well I would say its time to empty the blader.

  33. Deborah says:

    I love and support our troops and these men. They made a mistake and unfortunately someone was recording it. We all make mistakes, some worse then others. These Marines should not be charged with criminal charges. They should only be reprimanded, have it put into their records and if it happens again then dismiss them without their VA benefits.

  34. L says:

    Two brothers… grew up together joined the Marine Corps, one just a few years older decides he is going to be a Sniper. Younger brother thinks the world of his older brother and decides to follow in his older brothers footsteps. Both now Snipers in the SAME platoon with the SAME unit and deploy together… mid way through the deployment older brother gets blown up by an IED so badly that it was near impossible to place a tourniquet on him nonetheless his team managed to save his life even while he lost both his legs all the way up to his groin in the blast. Older brother hangs on for a few weeks before he dies from his injuries in Germany. Younger brother was part of the Sniper team you see in this video… and yes it may sound like a movie but it is a very true story, change anyone’s opinions… I don’t agree with the actions but this really makes you think before judging someone through rose colored glasses.

  35. now2if says:

    Outstanding artical, Sir
    You have really conveyed the true nature of Marine training and how it is needed to build the National Security we as civilians take for granted. I served in the Navy, along with every member of my family with the exception of my father. My sister is presently a Command Master Chief stationed in San Diego, and my Brother In Law is a Command Master Chief Corpsman that just returned from Afganistan 3 months ago after being deployed for a year. After reading your artical I can say it would have been an honor serving under you, and I am confident they would say the same. This one page does more to restore the reputation of the Marine Corps and the military in general than anything I’ve heard come out of Washinton or the Marine Corps as a whole. I thank you for writting it and am going to share it with every single person I know. I thank you for your service sir, and the leadership you appear to provide for your troops. Again thank you.

  36. Jerry Chalker says:

    I’m old Corps. For those who don’t understand, I’ve got barnacles. Look it up. You swabs know what I mean. I never had to do what many of my brothers were subjected to. I was intel. But for you who have such righteous indignation for these men let me tell you about some face to face descriptions of warfare. When you have done either of these, you have a right to speak. Imagine lying in the jungle, completely surrounded, a man you don’t even know next to you, bleeding to death. You have no bandage, just two fingers stuck in his gut to stop the bleeding. You fall asleep from exhaustion. Wake to the sound of the enemy. Try to pull your unwounded hand out of his wound. He is dead, and the blood has frozen your hand in his gut, and you can’t get your weapon. One determined jerk frees your fingers, a string of intestines, and a slight burp of the gut. You survive, but you can’t take your brother with you.
    Do you understand what it is like to be a sniper? Have you any idea of the life expectancy of a Marine ON HIS OWN when his spotter is dead? Report for duty! Put on the tons of equipment.
    Remember! Windage and Elevation. You got any idea what that means? It may mean your life OUT THERE! SEMPER FI!

  37. Jake Jones says:

    Like it or not, the fact is just as the author stated; many incidents like this go unreported. This is not to say that they are commonplace or routine. They are simply a result, or biproduct if you will, of several different factors; rigorous and demanding training, constant assault on the senses in traumatic fashion, and extreme human emotion brought on by the stresses of battle and the loss of friends and comrades. It is no more inexplicable than it is avoidable. It is my hope that this incident will play out like the author suggests; with a thorough investigation and all circumstances leading to the event taken into account.

    These Marines were all well aware of their actions, especially since they are snipers. Being a Marine myself, I am sympathetic to the shitstorm that these Marines find themselves in. I am also disappointed that they bring discredit upon themselves, as Marines are held, and should hold themselves to a higher standard than what is typical. That is part of what defines a Marine and differentiates him or her from other members of our armed forces. I think the incident was unfortunate and obscene, but even so, I still wish the best possible outcome for my brothers in arms. I am not entirely convinced that if placed in the same situation, I would have behaved so differently.

    I served in 2/2 from 1994 to 1998 as an infantry squad leader.

    • 6 tours and counting says:

      Great, so you did a couple of UDP’s with 2/2 as a squad leader, threw rocks at little kids in Okinawa and drank an ass ton of beer during hurricane season and your “sympathetic to the shitstorm that these Marines find themselves in”… you served in a much different time please don’t be sympathetic to a war you do not understand first hand. The stresses and the hardships these men under go… You know nothing of the circumstances that led to their actions. The only thing I don’t agree with is they filmed it… other then that I believe they did their duty and properly baptized the dead for burial.

  38. It’s a good piece, but this: “Those who have not borne the burden of combat would do well to sequester their own reaction away from the court of public opinion: You simply don’t have enough evidence for an informed judgment.” is a load of bullshit. We live in a democratic republic controlled by a civilian government, not a military junta or a “Starship Troopers”-like world. And serving in combat doesn’t give someone moral authority or astute powers of observation over someone who hasn’t.

    The video shows Marines who are unhappy and undisciplined, and history teaches us that unhappy and undisciplined militaries lose. That’s what should worry us.

    • Lllll says:

      You clearly DO NOT understand. Those bodies they were urinating on? The were insurgents. Radicals. Men with absolutely zero regard for human life. Those men would have killed, mutilated, Pissed on, and decapitated those Marines if they got to them first. AND if they had the means, their families as well. So “undisciplined” and “unhappy” aside, escaping death by moments probably makes one do some retaliatory actions.

    • OhThreeThirtyOne says:

      You are right, serving in combat doesn’t give someone moral authority or astute powers of observation over someone who hasn’t. BUT, it does give us the right to say we have fought, bled, and died in defense of that “democratic republic controlled by a civilian government” that you live in. What have you done lately? Replied to some article on the internet? Good on you, but that makes you no smarter than any grunt I’ve ever served with. If you’re not man enough to walk in our shoes, then don’t judge us….

  39. Marcus Stout says:

    Thanks for your vivid and accurate explanation of the requisite mindset of a combat solider. I particularly agree with your comments that “The challenge is that when we teach men to kill, we create loaded weapons. Loaded weapons must be handled with care, or else we risk damaging the weapon and injuring others.” That is the reason why we have historically limited the duration and number of combat tours we require our soldiers to endure. A tradition we have shelved in our now eleven year “war on terror.” That, the vagueness of the enemy and the objectives of this “war” has resulted not only in an increase in deplorable episodes like this one, but also in twice as many soldiers killing themselves by suicide than the number actually killed action.

  40. Shandi says:

    I personally support my husbands choices he made while on deployment, none of us have been through what they were through. So with that said we should stand behind our military and keep supporting no matter what. They are fighting for us so what right do we have to judge them. There isn’t one person on here that hasn’t thought of majorly harming, or dismembering some one they hated at least once in your life. So stop being hypocrites.

    Semper Fi my brothers and sisters

  41. Chris Cataldo says:

    To the author, I don’t know if you’ll see this, but I believe you served with a good friend or mine, Adam j. Crumpler, I miss him, if he was one of yours please get in touch with me fallujahmarine0311@gmail.com. Semper fidelis sir.

  42. Sgt. C. Gilbert says:

    Thank you for your analytical and insightful thoughts sir. I served in Fallujah from 05 – 06 and lost two of my marines to an enemy sniper. I probably never fully understood the thoughts of rage and hurt that came along with that until you wrote this article. The marines in the video should be held accountable, but by the same standards as everyone else. no more no less. thank you for your service and your continued dedication to our servicemen and women. Semper Fi.

  43. Bob Kuebler says:

    Thank you for an awesome insight into another world of which most of us know nothing about. Accountability with understanding and compassion can bring healing.

  44. Tony says:

    Well said Sir,

    I posted this on a talking heads site who was “appalled” at their actions and stating they needed to be Court marshaled and locked away for the good of all humanity. I am exzaderating, but it was still a little over the top by someone who claims to be a supporter of the military.

    I have to say I spent 3 years with the Marine Infantry and deployed to Iraq 4times, Africa once and Okinawa twice. I am a medically retired Navy Corpsman and at the young age of 21 I spent 24hrs at the Pentagon on 9/11 arriving on one of the first ambulances on seine. (Got to love having to support a wife in Washington DC on an E-1s pay, need les to say I took a second job as an EMT.) I called my detailer and took orders to 2d MAR Div on Sep 14th. I served with 1/6, 2/25, and 3/2. I deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the Infantry, 2005-6 with EOD, 2007 with Surgical, and 2009 with a STP. I tell you this not to brag, but to give some credence to what I have to say. Being in an engaged combat zone for long periods of time makes you see things a little differently. Some things that would seem quite animalistic no longer seem that bad. You don’t go completely nuts, but pretty close some times. These are kids that have done their time in hell. They screwed up and I agree with Col. West a NJP and a firm slap is what they deserve, but making these kids felons post a Court Martial is pure and utter BS! Unless someone has walked in their boots they can keep their judgments to them self’s.

  45. StaffSgtF says:

    Good read there EL-Tee, many of our fellow Marines and veterans feel the same. Alot of us (especially the older and more professional) can look at these actions like you did with the reporter, who was indeed a tool, understand them (these certain actions) and yet hold the moral high ground and not condone them, however there are many of us who know the better path but after going through operations like OIF1, Phantom Fury, Matador, Spear, and even quick strike we cannot bring ourselves to care. I dont think this makes us less honorable as Americans or Marines just burnt out and tired.
    Although these words are mine, Semper Fi sir from myself and the rest of the Marines from 1st Plt Aco 4th AAVs

  46. i was enlisted for 6 yrs and cant beleive the marines are able to take “cameras/phones” on missions. as long as they come home alive and support their fellow marines i dont care who they piss on over there. just sucks a ssp team let themselves be filmed like that. lesson learned devils carry on killing shit.

  47. John Bump says:

    To the author, well spoken and thank you for your courage to voice what the outside needs to at least hear. To the inside, i also have spent some time molding young men into Marines and come to the realization that we need to keep doing the right thing even when its not popular. I too, have found myself walking up to scenes that i would like to forget, and had to make split second decisions on how I will respond. We need moral compasses that direct us even at day 5 with no sleep. We need leaders that have been initiated into manhood by others that have a 50,000 ft elevation viewpoint and don’t have a zero defect mentality. Continue reminding the initiates that they are part of long tradition of righters of wrong and show them proof. When they do good, tell them so and when they don’t, tell them so. Teach and then dust them off and send them back to do the job. A lesson I learned well after my tank retriever got disabled in a mine field in the first gulf war. I, also, am disappointed but they are my brothers and just as I would not toss them aside anymore than my own children, I am eternally grateful for their courage to do a job they had no idea they would be called upon to do at 17 or 18 years of age. To the outside. If the video moves you to whatever either anger or sadness, DO SOMETHING. Tell your elected officials to either bring them all home or let them do the job. When these people come back to your towns and move in next to you, be their neighbor. Pray for them, ask if you can help them when its not convenient for you. Try to encourage them to not withdraw from you and listen and not talk when they do open up. You really have no idea what it is like and our words will never make you comprehend. Thanks for you patience good sir.

  48. RANDY DOLLAR says:

    I served with 3/1 in Vietnam 67-68.I witnessed horrible acts to my fellow Marines.Found Marines with their private parts cut off and stuck in their mouths.These Marines were staked to the ground and were tortured.As someone else stated ,after a period of time of seeing your fellow Marines tortured it really affects you.As it is written, WAR IS HELL!

  49. Robert Bell says:

    Sir,
    As a recently retired Marine Engineer who spent 21 deployments in support of my fellow Infantry Marines from Camp Lejeune its as simple as “FREAKING AWESOME ARTICLE” those who never been should keep there mouths shut and there opinions to them selves.

  50. IdePeeOnThemToo says:

    I am a Marine in the infantry who has deployed multiple times including afghan. I loved the article because its completely accurate. What I don’t understand is the adverse comments below. Especially the condemning ones. I will say Marines are held to a higher standard. It is what is drilled in our heads as Marines. Marines don’t urinate on the dead. But in war, combat stress effects people differently. Them urinating on those bodies is just a way to deal with stress. This whole investigation is under the UCMJ.. military law. Military justice for military men. You citizens who havent served and understand or comprehend combat, in my opinion, shouldn’t and couldn’t possibly have any thing to say besides, ” we still support” . Anything else is ignorant. I assure you the matter will be handled and the Marines involved will have a hefty punishment. The guy who said something about the miltary being light to punish their own is an example of what I mean by ignorant. I was fined half pay for a month out of my already shitty paycheck for being 30 minutes late dude…much less be on the news for a video of me pissing on some taliban..I’m no scientist but the punishment is gonna be more or less a spanking from the hand of God with chesty puller holding them down for giving the Corps a Black eye. But like many of you stated, this shouldn’t of been taped much less posted on YouTube.. perhaps i should say it shouldn’t of happened at all. Stress effects people differently. Just imagine the video if the roles were reversed.

  51. Eric says:

    Thank you for defending our brothers, It means a lot to find someone who shares our views.

  52. pissed off marine says:

    First and foremost what was done was nasty but does anyone in the world think that these hatefull and murderous sh@t bags would do any less to american soldier’s laying dead in a pile no they would sit there and do far worse like they did to us back in 03 when they hung the marine from the electric poles in iraq these motherF@@@@@@ will sit there and gut every last one of us if given the oppertunity to do so they would just desecrate the bodies of any of us but thankfully we have people like all of you who are living under the blanket of freedom that we all provide.And then you sit there and slander us for what any and all of you who didnt have the testicular fortitude to provide what is being provided to you.Be thankfull that it is not your ass that is being shot at on a daily basis and shut your damn mouths and dont hate one the military hate on the lieing government that has kept us in a war for what mow 11 years and for what to bankrupt our country………………………………….

  53. Mark says:

    Really great article, and I completely understand the horrors of war being a Marine Cpl from 2d AAV Bn from 04-09. The only thing I do not agree with is the mentality of marines when in any situation. All the training that I went through, we were always held accountable for every one of our personal and group actions. Teaching us to be professionals in the most stressful situations. Seeing my friends die made me do my job better to ensure I brought the rest of my brothers home. We mourned the loss and continued to close with to destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, but did not do so with malice in our hearts, but cold, steely, professionalism. Anything else does not belong in our Corps.

  54. Bodhi safa says:

    it’s sad, but we are @ war and it’s all valid, that’s why we rather create peace. There are no winner in a F*^$ng war.

  55. BL Anderson says:

    I believe they had ever right to do what they done . If you train someone to kill,kill,kill what is he going to do when he saw what he and he alone has seen Just think what they HAVE and would do to them if they could .But thank GOD for them most and I say most of the time they are there to keep that from happening. BL

  56. Rroy says:

    Semper Fi Brother. Judge not until you walk in a Marines Boots

  57. pissed off marine says:

    hey mark who were you with in 2aabn i was with h&s co

  58. Robert says:

    What was said is the feeling of most people who have loved ones serving in the military. No one knows what lead up to what these Marines did.

  59. Wynn Marshall says:

    I do not understand. I never will. I am not a Marine. But I do support our men and women who are serving. I will not judge because I do not walk in their shoes. I pray for them everyday. God bless all of them

  60. Informative. When I learned of this I experienced neither disgust or joy. It is my hope that no ones career is ruined because of this.

  61. Chris says:

    I commend you for an outstanding article. There seems to be a theme these days when It comes to any discussion of the military, “if you never served then you shouldnt say anything”. This is a bad idea. You fight for our right to speak our minds.
    Maybe the idea isn’t about who has or hasn’t served or what you can or cannot say….maybe the theme should be “let’s stop judging each other so quickly” We all make mistakes. We all have a bad day. Let’s cut these guys some slack. We have no idea what led up to this. It doesn’t make what they did right…it makes them human. That day, they urinated on a dead person. On the preceding days, how many people did they help? How many good things did they do? I think questioning things is good. Judging without facts is bad. Thanks to all who serve…in the military and out.

  62. Rafael says:

    Yes, you are very courageous for choosing to go over there and put your life on the line. The kids over there must be living through some horrible shit. It’s unfortunate you are all to stupid or unwilling to organize among yourselves and boycott the stupid wars for profit. Brave and courageous as you may be, you have chosen to make a living by being a killing machine for a wealthy capitalist.

  63. Drew says:

    If you want to take the position of condemning an action in this case; condemn the act of war, murder and “killing”. Pissing on dead meat is quite arbitrary. Our view on life as humans varies greatly, as does the meat suit which houses life. Ultimately, what is a meat suit without life, a carcass. We burn carcasses, we bury carcasses, we eat carcasses, we worship carcasses and in some cases we piss on them. It is unevolved thinking to believe we should pay reverence to the dead just because the body was human. If these Marines were pissing on some rib eye steaks, would anyone give a shit? In the big picture, is it any different? We’re just warm blooded animals wandering around a spinning rock, hurdling through infinity for an instant in forever.

  64. No Excuse says:

    I was in 3/2 in Spear as part of Beowulf. I did 4 tours between Iraq and Afghanistan. I am not a bleeding heart for those we have to kill, but you have to be smart enough to realize the repercussion of what you’re doing. A lot of people died because of the Abu Ghraib incident. This does nothing but fuel enemy recruitment. There is definitely a blood lust that builds in the middle of combat, but what makes Marines effective shock troops is discipline. Good job snipers. I promise some troops will lose their lives because you couldn’t act like professionals.

  65. Rick Mackley says:

    I personally don’t think it was a violation of article 15 as the bodies were neither wounded nor sick when dead you’re just a sack of meat. however I do agree it is unbecoming thatmilitary personnel shoul do such an action. And taking into consideration their seven dead brothers I think that they should be disciplined but not have their lives destroyed.

  66. Chris Sharon says:

    I served in that same platoon. We spent many years repairing the reputation of 3/2 in the wake of Gen. Gray. It was a long and arduous road. I deployed with the platoon as a team leader to Iraq and later as its platoon sergeant to Afghanistan. I know the platoon well and am a personal friend of some of the men in the video.

    I agree with Nate that the actions of those men were wrong, that the Corps and the men of that platoon will have to work even harder to achieve their diplomatic missions abroad. The unfortunate thing is that more men will die because of their actions and our forces will, at least temporarily, be subjected to even more restrictive ROE’s.

    I believe they are good men and that their momentary lapse of reason is not a reflection on their character as a whole. I would happily deploy with any of them again right now.

    Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I am sure that many here at home and many more abroad are abhorred by what they have seen on the video. Just remember to temper your opinion with at least an acknowledgement of the entirety of the situation. Our men face a tough and determined enemy, one that doesn’t think twice about beheading civilians, or dismembering and burning the corpses of Americans to demonstrate their hatred. One that will stone a woman to death publicly for showing her face to the world.

  67. Daniel says:

    So a legion of trained killers? Not proud of that. Why have to enter in this wars? To secure natural resources?

  68. Dez says:

    I actually enjoyed reading this. The theatre of war has a strange effect on everyone who participates in it. We become very different people. We take risks they would never dream of in normal life, we form bonds with unlikely companions, we adopt stray animals, we fall in love with ugly members of the opposite sex and we grow moustaches and get tattoos. Anything to make sense of the world, or to reassure ourselves that we know the difference between war and normality. If a person has never been to war, or never witnessed the horrors or pressures involved, they can’t possibly judge a soldier based upon a few seconds’ behaviour.
    Let’s not pretend, whilst we try to be righteous and sensitive, that the Taliban and foreign insurgents would treat a dead marine they’d just been in a firefight with, with respect. Nor would we expect them to. Now I may be missing some important cultural sensitivity, because when I’m dead I’ll be worm food, I won’t care what happens to my corpse, somebody can grow tomatoes in me if they want to. What matters more is that the living are treated with respect, including, in fact especially, the people we train to be superhuman, send away to do the unthinkable and then expect to be “normal”.

  69. chill.marketing@gmail.com says:

    Well said sir. The thing that I find most worrisome is that the freedoms that our soldiers are fighting for in the middle east are same ones that our government is trying to take away from us here at home.

    Hurry back….we will need you in the coming “cleaning house”

  70. Will says:

    Semper Fi….extremely well written….

  71. Robins, Zachary says:

    Semper Fi….you put to words what this Devil Dog could only feel

  72. bobbie brady says:

    Well done. As the mother of a USMC sniper and not coming even close to knowing everything he and his brothers have been through but aware it has been life changing, I stand behind our Marines. They have died defending us and I will die defending them. If giving them some miniscule release of the unspeakable and inhumane acts that have been commited on them by these animals….I salute them from every fiber of my being. God bless our Marines !

  73. LEE K KING says:

    NOW LET US LOOK AT THE THE UP SIDE: THEY GOT TO MEET ALLA , THEY NOW HAVE AN AUTOGRAPH COPY OF THE KORAN, THEY ARE IN THE COMPANY OF 72BROWN EYEED VIRGINS THE DOWN SIDE THEY ARE WET

  74. SHOTGUN285 says:

    Very well written blog. As a former USMC Captain myself, I agree with your description of what and who we are and why we are trained and indoctrinated in the use of force to bring about a desired result. Someone once said that war is simply diplomacy carried out by another means. I did once read a great definition of war. “War is a controlled violence who’s desired result is the imposition of your national will upon that of another”. Some on here have commented that our job is to kill the enemy, break things, send them to Allah, etc., that while there is some truth to those comments they do miss the larger point or the big picture. It is a controlled violence, not a “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”. In shakespeares time to “havoc” meant pillaging, burning and even putting a town “to the sword”. It in fact was an utter failure of leadership to control the violence and focus it on the task at hand. Really it was wasted energy and resources. Keeping that violence controlled and focused is how we wage war, and that is how it should be. Otherwise we could just start training some idealistic patriots to fly airliners into their buildings, and then we become the thing we hate the most. I neither applaud nor condemn the snipers for what they did. To be honest, I’d piss on the ragheads too, but the problem is once that kind of behavior gets out, all it does is create another 100 jihadists to replace the 3 they just killed. It’s like executing prisoners. All it does is galvanize your enemy to fight to the death. So if I had a criticism of these snipers it would not be because they desecrated the corpses of some bipedal cockroaches, but because it will aid the enemy in his cause to recruit more people willing to die for the cause. We don’t need that.

  75. sniperdad says:

    Piss on a Crucifix, and they’ll call you an “Artist”
    Piss on The American Flag, and they’ll call you a Freedom of Speech “Constitutionalist”
    Piss on a Police Car, and they’ll call you an Occupy Wall Street “Freedom Lovin’ 99 percenter”
    Piss on a Taliban piece of shit that just tried to kill you and your fellow Marines, and they’ll call you a “Villain”

    -unknown poet

  76. michael says:

    Ok, me personaly? I could care less about the dead men they pissed on, and for you retards that haven’t been standing next to your buddy one minute talking to him then the next minute he is laying down bleeding to death you have absolutly no rite to “chime in and voice your retarded thought” guess what, war isn’t plesent.. it’s a horrible way to live for months on end always on guard and always alert, still to this day i hear the AK rounds going off that took that Marine the Author was talking about, and I remember the reporter, I also remember the other reporter that broke down into tears and didn’t want to move. Everyone bases there opinions on the Media… The Marine’s are told to ignore them and not talk to them or answer any stupid questions because it’s going to get twisted in some way shape or form then stupid people like you are going to sit on your little sofa in your little house and ponder on what you seen on your little TV while in all actuallity they are cutting out and giving the people what they want to see to keep ther ratings up. But, you all know about the Marines pissing on some dead bodies that prolly shot at them… but non of you should even be talking about “I woulda done this, or I woulda done that” my reply to you Sir/Ma’am, “Go [edited] yourself” you have no clue how you would react till it comes down to it. for the civilians who decided to post when obviously you have no clue what your talking about when it comes to war, I bet you guys don’t see a problem with the [edited] ordering Ole Glory half mast either… God people like you piss me off. Always have something to say with nothing to back your voice.. it’s just a voice that non of us want to hear. so again shut the [edited] up, and have a nice day.
    “Signed”
    A Disabled VET 3/2 Kilo Co. Wpns Plt.

  77. Michael Fischer says:

    I remember you Nate. I was in 1st Platoon. Nice article. Posted to Facebook.

  78. Pingback: One Click Away from the President | The Soldier's Load

  79. James says:

    I would just like to say sir, I admire your outstanding moral and ethical standing. I have no military experience but I’ve always wanted to serve the Marines and this article does puts things in good perspective. I still would like to serve after college.

    Thanks again.

  80. Pingback: Combat Loss and PTSD – Part 3: Learning to Kill | The Soldier's Load

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