Feeling Alienated by the Grieving Processes of Others

Nine years ago today, my Marine company found itself engulfed in a two-day battle in which five Marines were killed and several more wounded. For those of us who participated, “the 17th” remains a day of some infamy on which there are many phone calls exchanged and Facebook statuses updated in memoriam. This behavior makes perfect sense to me.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that some of my fellow Marines have reposted this very erroneous forum entry that was originally posted in “Marine Corps Moms” on April 18, 2004:

Yesterday, I was walking down the waterfront in Newport, Oregon when another Marine Mom called to see if I’d heard anything about a firefight on the Syrian border. Her son serves with the 3/7 Marines and is currently deployed in Iraq. A report from embedded reporter Ron Harris from the Saint Louis Post Dispatch provides a few details on what the 3/7 faced yesterday:

“In some of the fiercest fighting in recent weeks, five Marines were killed and dozens of Iraqi insurgents slain in a daylong battle that began early Saturday in Husaybah. Marines beat back the offensive by what was reported to be hundreds of Iraqis from another area who had slipped into this city just 300 yards east of the Syrian border.”

According to Marine intelligence, nearly 300 Iraqi mujahedeen fighters from Fallujah and Ramadi launched the offensive in an outpost next to Husaybah, first setting off a roadside bomb to lure Marines out of their base and then firing 24 mortars as the Marines responded to the first attack.

“At least nine Marines were wounded and more than 20 Iraqi fighters were captured in the 14-hour battle. The Iraqi prisoners were taken to the Marines’ main base, Camp Al Qaim, 22 miles east of here, for questioning.”

Reading between the lines, the mujahedeen are being run out of Fallujah and Ramadi and are retreating to Syria. They may stop along the way for a fight, but they will not win, even with cowardly tactics:

“At one point, many of the insurgents reportedly had gathered in a local mosque, and Marines were preparing to bomb the building. They decided not to attack, however, when they couldn’t positively identify the occupants of the mosque.”

According to Marine snipers reporting to their commanders by radio, some of the insurgents fired at Marines and then hid behind children.

“We’re trying to get the snipers in position for a shot,” Major George Schreffler told the other commanders through tactical radio communications. “They’re looking at guys in blue uniforms and others with black clothes and black masks. Some are using children to shield themselves. We will not take shots in which we could possibly hit children.”

The battle started at 8:30 a.m. By 6:00 p.m., our Marines “had the insurgents on the run”.

No better friend, no worse enemy. It’s not a question of “if”, it’s “when”. In this battle, it took less than ten hours. We’ll grieve with the families of our fallen heroes, knowing that their sons and husbands made a difference. Semper Fi.

Where to begin? The insurgents of Anbar Province were not on any run into Syria; they were very decidedly continuing to contest control of their country. In fact, the attack that kicked off our firefight was part of a monthlong wave of attacks across the province.

What’s more, it is not and never was a question of “when.” Vietnam was example enough to know better than that. In Anbar, Sunni insurgents fought us continually until they decided that Al Qaeda in Iraq was the greater threat. Fortuitously, at around the same time, the US accepted Sunni help and “surged” forces in a last-ditch attempt to reduce Iraq’s casualty rates before the war’s tanking domestic support forced a withdrawal on even less flattering terms than the ones with which we ended up.

Also, let me vaguely note that just because Major George Schreffler stated in front of a reporter that “we will not take shots in which we could possibly hit children” does not mean that no shots were taken which could possibly hit children.

In 2004, worried Marine moms might be forgiven for such ill-informed braggadocio. But the Marines involved, in 2013? I just can’t identify with that willful suspension of disbelief as part of the grieving process. We did what we had to because we were placed in an impossible situation. Let’s honor the fallen without propping up the system that places someone else’s kid in the next idiotic conflict.

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