From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean:
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.
Remember when elementary school teachers would punish bad little boys (and maybe girls), who committed a minor offense, by making them write a suitable phrase about a hundred times on a blackboard, hoping, with any luck, it would be a lesson to the troublemakers?
Some recent adult culprits should be forced to write the words from the last line of the Marine Corps hymn’s opening stanza (above). That would be the minimum punishment for the ten Marines in Afghanistan, who, in 2010, posed for a photograph in front of an American flag draped above a banner emblazoned with a symbol of the Nazi SS. That World War II unit was declared a “criminal organization” at the post-war Nuremberg trials. Even though the soldiers properly positioned Old Glory on top, they disgraced the nation, the Corps and themselves by placing the notorious icon near the Stars and Stripes.
A month ago, the world saw a photograph of Marines in Afghanistan urinating on the corpses of Taliban soldiers. Last week, an appalling picture showed a unit of Marine snipers standing near a despicable symbol that represents a unit of Hitler’s feared black-shirted Nazis, who were nothing more than terrorists similar to the factions based in the Middle East.
The Marine Corps should not only order that group to publicly apologize, but also be educated about SS members, who were distinct from regular German soldiers and did what is considered the worst atrocity ever carried out against U.S. soldiers did during World War II.
During a standoff during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, which was a turning point for the war in Europe, the Germans overran an Army post in Belgium and a Nazi SS Panzer Division captured hundreds of American soldiers. The captives should have been treated, in accordance with Geneva Convention rules, as prisoners of war, but the SS unit slaughtered them. A month later, the machine-gunned bodies of more than 350 soldiers were recovered.
Maybe, just maybe, those Marines were too dumb to complete a basic education or too sheltered and never saw a movie, television show or photo with the SS insignia. But those don’t suffice compared to the explanation that the double S insignia stood for their “scout sniper” unit.
A few defenders described the two incidents as “much-ado-about-nothing,” “innocent mistakes” or “youthful exuberance,” compounded by media overkill.
Are they serious or just lacking the same common sense and basic dignity as the jarheads they support?
Even so, these Marines are most likely extreme examples of a few ignorant bad apples serving our country, who deserve to be reprimanded, punished and educated about basic human dignity.
Nonetheless, several diverse groups and a number of former Marines denounced the outrage. Last Friday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Marine Corps to reinvestigate and take appropriate action against those who posed with the Nazi logo.
As a former teenager and Army veteran, who, on more than one occasion, got caught up in ill-advised group activities, the latest incident is understandable, albeit deplorable. When group mentality prevails, habitually decent individuals, not wanting to be spurned or harassed by the others, reluctantly take part. In an atmosphere, like the Marines, where machismo flourishes, it’s easy to see how these incidents came about. Still, you’d think at least one man had the guts to report the episode to a senior.
A few bad apples don’t — and shouldn’t — spoil the bunch. In spite of another disgusting incident, it is wrong to discredit the admirable history of the U.S. Marines because of a few jerks.
In spite of this, the Marine Corps should add a class on human dignity when it drills recruits on Parris Island for basic training or its dignified reputation will continue to spoil and its renowned recruitment slogan: The Few. The Proud. The Marines, will lose its true meaning.