Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

Friday, January 23, 2004

I grabbed this straight from Powerline.

General Robert Barrow (ret.) is the former Commandant of the Marine Corps. We have obtained a copy of General Barrow's summary of First Marine Division interviews for an internal military "lessons learned" project. A reader has kindly forwarded General Barrow's summary received courtesy of a Marine officer who prefaces General Barrow's summary with the statement that "General Barrow is easily one of the top five human beings I have known in my life time. As a result, his following comments take on additional meaning." Here is General Barrow's summary:

Last week I sat in on several of the 1st MarDiv interviews that two retired Army colonels now working for RAND conducted on OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] Lessons Learned. They are writing a history for the Vice Chief of the Army on OIF and they recommended that the document also include Marine Corps and British forces experiences. Thus their visit to 1st Division and I MEF.

While at 5th Marines, several of the regimental, battalion, and company commanders involved in the fight in Baghdad recounted some of their experiences. The fight on April 10th for the Amilyah Palace and Hanifah mosque were particularly noteworthy. The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines was tasked with the mission. As a 5th Marines account of the action states, "Significant enemy action in several locations along the axis of advance and in the objective area, characterized by a relentless barrage of RPGs, a torrent of heavy machinegun and small arms fire, resulted in the commitment of the RCT quick reaction force in support of the 1st Battalion. In securing their assigned objectives, 1st Battalion experienced heavy casualties and killed an estimated 100 Saddam Fedayeen fighters...Following 1st Battalion's attack, thousands of Iraqis spontaneously took to the streets of Baghdad to cheer and thank the Marines and Sailors of the RCT for liberating them from Hussein's oppressive regime."

During the debrief to the Division, the RAND personnel said that they had no idea that this fight had taken place, the ferocity of it, and the bravery of the Marines until these interviews were conducted. Here are some additional details of the fight that we learned from the 5th Marines officers and SNCOs who had taken part in this engagement. I felt I had to share with other Marines.

The Battle of the Mosque, as it is known, was actually a nine-hour, intense urban fight. Nearly 1,000 RPGs were fired at the Marines and Sailors from windows, doorways, corners of buildings and rooftops. Some of the casualties the battalion suffered were from small arms, and one of the Gunnery Sergeants was killed by small arms through a thin-skinned vehicle.

The vast majority of casualties were from RPG fragments. One company reported that their 12 AAVs received 33 RPG shots, but that none caused a catastropic kill to the AAV. Some of the shape charge rounds went through both sides of the vehicle. On the first day of the battle, the battalion reported 34 wounded, most with fragmentation wounds to the head and upper torso. It was only on the day after the battle that the regiment realized the number of wounded was actually 74.

Many of the Marines had not reported their wounds to the corpsman, because they were afraid that they would be medevaced, and not be able to return to their unit in the midst of this intense fight. Illustrating the bravery and devotion to their fellow Marines, a field grade officer in the regiment told us of one young Marine who only went to the Doc on the day after the battle to report severe shrapnel wounds to his left arm, asking the corpsman to look at the wounds and to not say anything, because he was losing the use of the limb. The Marine confided to the corpsman that he had been unable to stop the bleeding for the past 24 hours. Looking at the blood-soaked dressing, the corpsman asked the Marine how many bandages he had bled through. The answer, "I lost count."

As soon as the regimental leadership found out about Marines hiding their wounds, the word quickly went out ordering everyone who had suffered wounds to have them taken care of. We still make them like we used to.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Now that's twice Roger Ebert has surprised me. From his review of Open Range: One of the many ways in which the Western has become old-fashioned is that the characters have values, and act on them. Modern action movies have replaced values with team loyalty; the characters do what they do because they want to win and they want the other side to lose. The underlying text of most classic Westerns is from the Bible: "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?" The underlying text of most modern action movies is from Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."

Open Range is a movie retelling of a dime western. As the final credits rolled, I was surprised to see it was based on the book, The Open Range Men, by Lauran Paine. Thinking I had missed a classic of western literature, I checked it out at Amazon.com and elsewhere... pure pulp - maybe even only a nickel western of the kind that sold only at truck stops and tourist traps 25 years ago. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I am studying and writing on fairy tales as a part of my Sea Monster article. The western dime novel is a fairy tale, or a myth, one told in a myriad of different ways and set in the variety that is the West, but always with certain familiar elements. Open Range has those elements - the geographical separation from the law, necessitating swift and violent action; the evil figure who tes a town and perpetrates wanton violence and murder; the feeble townspeople who look for a savior and gradually come to ally with the good guys; the drifters who find a cause and a home they didn't know they were longing for. These elements and a ten gallon hat-full more are present in Kevin Costner's work, and walk the familiar country of Wagon Train and Gunsmoke and all the rest. The truly original Western can no longer be made, any more than a truly original crime movie, romantic comedy, or any other genre. What makes Open Range a real winner is that it retells the story so well.

As Ebert says, this movie is about values; it has morals in every step that it takes, and affirms our national morals by its beauty and skill. There is morality in its justice and gunplay, and even in its romance. Adding to the morality of the film is its sheer physical beauty. Rene' and I both looked and saw the Rocky Mountains clearly in its vistas, but not the mountains that we knew. It had to be filmed in a yet untrammeled portion of the range, and as we found out, it was Alberta, Canada. The green of the prairie and the gold of the sunlight effuse this movie with beauty that is often noted as the extra character in a Western. Costner used this extra character very well. But more than that, the weather plays a significant role, another major element in a Western - landscape and also weather. The gunfights are also a revelation. Pistol play demands short ranges, and Open Range plays within this restriction. The ranges are brutally short, yet shots are missed. Men have to reload their weapons at several key junctures, and there are no long range miracle shots. Even the Gunman with a Past, the Costner/Shane figure, misses many shots, even those he should hit. The thud of lead in flesh and wood is alarming, the pall of smoke an epitaph on brutal, short range gunfighting. It is not portrayed as glamorous, and does not come off that way. I think most of all, Robert Duvall lifts the movie by his powerful acting. Duvall is truly the one, the greatest and easily the most charismatic actor of American cinema; he carries every film that he's in, and has done so for decades.

All in all, this is an enjoyable couple of hours of movie watching. One of the few that would bear watching back to back, and it is the best Western in quite a while.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

It's me again.

A couple of brief book reviews:

At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald. I was cynical, so was Rene'. We were wrong. Great children's book absolutely packed with virtues. Hard work, sacrifice on behalf of others, and God's control of history all come through with crystal clarity. Plenty of interesting meat for theological discussion as well. Read it to your young children, or read it first and then have your older children read it and have a conversation about it. And, being fond of fairy tales as I am, I found that the fairy- tale-within-the-book, Daylight, to have exceptional charm. North Wind is an earlier work of MacDonald, but in my opinion it is simpler, and for that, better than some of his later works, including the oft-revered Phantastes and Lilith.

An Army at Dawn, by Rick Atkinson is the narrative of the Allied invasion of North Africa in November, 1942, and the subsequent seven months of campaign afterward. This is a fascinating, painful book to read. I don't mean painful in the usual sense of a war narrative, which is also very present, but instead painful in the sense of watching the strategic, operational, and tactical mistakes of green generals and soldiers. The United States Army was very green, meaning inexperienced, in 1942. They were logistically chaotic, strategically short-sighted, ill-equipped, and clueless in battlefield coordination. A lot of brave men were betrayed by the shortcomings of the Army during that period. And yet, they recovered, and went on to become a war-winning force, proficient in all their endeavors. Atkinson is an exceptionally skillful narrator, having previously won a Pulitzer Prize for literature. He brings home all the poignancy and horror of armored warfare, describing the course of German 75- and 88mm rounds across the desert floor, and their chilling effects on Stuart, Lee, and Sherman tanks. There is a scene from Kasserine that remains seared in my memory - of tank crews by the dozens running across the desert to the rear, burned, wounded, and afoot after their vehicles were slaughtered by the superior German armor, their retreat impeded by their wounded and prodded by enemy machine gun fire. Our Army prevailed in the end, despite their complete lack of experience coming in, and the dangerous risk they took in Operation Torch at the beginning. Rick Atkinson is also a capable biographer, tracing the likes of Patton and Ike through their halting steps along the North African shore, and he does not at all spare the criticism which is their due.