When Freaking Out Over ‘Lone Survivor,’ Please Don’t Widen the Civil-Military Gap

Mark Perna fought in a Marine Corps operation associated with the events of the upcoming movie Lone Survivor. Perna is not pleased with the movie trailer:

I watched thirty seconds of this Hollywood Drama and I almost puked at this line:

Shah killed 20 Marines last week.

Go fuck yourself, Peter Berg. I believe you said this about the film: “I wanted to make it as real as possible.”

There were 5 Marines killed by hostile in Afghanistan during the ENTIRE WAR at that point (and a total of 20 Marines if you add non-hostile fire incidents—most of them not even in Afghanistan—casualty information can be searched HERE at iCasualties.org). A friend, Kevin Joyce, was the only Marine killed the week before Operation Red Wings. He drowned in the Pech River and he was the first friend of mine lost in war.

Your film narrative—your Hollywood Hero image—denies the reality of what I experienced in favor of something “more compelling.” Not to mention that it disrespects the lives of the 19 sailors and airmen who were killed in Operation Red Wings themselves. Their loss had to have some greater meaning—and of course, if 19 SEALs died, then 20 Marines must’ve died right?

So here in the real world, 19 Navy SEALs lost their lives and Marines went in and destroyed the enemy who did it. That’s a pretty compelling story.

Your story, however, shits on Marines. On me. On the four Marines of 2/3 who lost their lives in Afghanistan during those 7 months.

Now, I can understand where Perna’s coming from: Five dead Marines isn’t compelling enough? There’s humanity in that. Where he loses my sympathy (aside from his own use of sensationalist claims like “shits on Marines”) is in the next section of his essay:

If you want to know the real command decisions and struggles of what happens in the real world, pick up a rifle. Certainly not Peter Berg’s movie.

This is not an attempt to close the civil-military gap. It’s anti-intellectual self-justification.

In the real real world, reasonably intelligent human beings can understand that it’s scary to be shot at and painful to run up a mountain without experiencing these firsthand. You can tell them, “it was agonizing to let a sheepherder walk free knowing he would alert the Taliban to my presence, endangering the lives of the men for who I felt responsible” and they can understand why you’d say that even if they don’t experience the same depth of feeling.

If we take Perna literally, he wants the common citizen seeking to understand or make commentary about the Afghanistan war to enlist in the military’s combat arms and experience the war firsthand. But it makes little sense to join a deadly cause unless one already strongly agrees with it. By Perna’s logic, it’s impossible to know enough about the cause to agree with it until you’re already risking your life.

(Add the fact that the implications of the war in Afghanistan for the security of the US citizen are imperceptibly small. Perna may have found all the motivation he needed in avenging the deaths of his fellow Marines but the 13-year occupation is not expected to accomplish much else.)

Nor do members of the combat arms actually want average citizens to pick up a rifle. Especially in the Marine Corps, validation is derived from the fact that most other people don’t do it. Marines are not like “nasty civilians.” But if everybody joined the Marine Corps, what would distinguish the two categories?

Civilians are thus damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The net effect is to drive them away from examination of military sacrifice, to block them from asking questions about a war raging in their name, to undermine democratic governance at its roots.

Thank goodness for the intrepid efforts of servicemembers like Don Gomez who seek to channel civilian curiosity toward a healthier relationship between military servicemembers, civilians, and the Constitution that binds them. We need more of them.

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