Tuesday, November 08, 2005

U.S. Marine Corps - "Jarheads" Then And Now

The U.S. Marine Corps has been on my radar screen and very much on my mind for the past week, so I thought I would mention two events that are contemporaneous - the 230th birthday of the USMC and the release of the current feature-length film, "Jarhead," directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes.

The juxtaposition of Thursday's anniversary celebrations that will take place around the world with the release of the film provide a poignant counterpoint. As I understand it, each November 10th, Marines have a tradition of gathering for a Birthday Ball wherever they find themselves stationed around the globe - from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli and on to the mountains of Afghanistan and the battlefields of Iraq. The tradition of formally commemorating the birth of the USMA goes back at least 84 years.

"On 1 November 1921, Lejeune issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series, 1921. The order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps and directed that it be read to every command on 10 November each subsequent year in honor of the birthday of the Marine Corps. This order has been duly carried out."

(For a more complete description of the history of the USMC birthday tradition, I commend you to this link:

Over the course of the past four years, I have morphed into a role of unofficial advisor, mentor and all-around eminence grise for some of the members of the Armed Forces Alumni Association at Harvard Business School. At any given point at Harvard's "B-School," there may be as many as 80-100 former military officers pursuing their MBA's. I am pleased to count many past and present members of the AFAA among my friends. Last year I was honored to attend the HBS AFAA USMC birthday celebration. It was a moving and impressive occasion as former Marine Corps officers donned their dress uniforms for the carrying out of Gen. Lejeune's order. I look forward to joining them again this year on Thursday evening in the Williams Room in HBS's Spangler Hall.

This past weekend, I saw "Jarhead." The film is based on the best-selling memoir by Anthony Swofford, a former Marine Corps sniper who recounts his experiences in boot camp, being deployed for Operation Desert Shield and eventually Operation Desert Storm. The film neither glorifies nor condemns war, but shows through the eyes of one young man the internal warfare of wanting a chance to see action in battle while at the same time hoping to avoid it. The movie does a fine job of depicting tensions, contrasts and ambiguities - the mind-numbing boredom of waiting for something to happen and the gut-wrenching horror of seeing the results when fighting breaks out.

The film is rated R, and appropriately so. There is plenty of physical violence, raw language, explicit sexual subject matter and emotional violence. I found the film thought-provoking on many levels, and was left with a sense of wonder at the tightrope that our young men and women in arms are required to walk in honing their skills in the arts of warfare while struggling to keep their humanity intact. The film paints an indelible picture of the emotional and relational price that many warriors have to pay when they are called to leave home, and the loved ones they leave behind do not always remain faithful. The pain of that kind of betrayal is depicted with agonizing realism.

How do I blend my reactions to seeing "Jarhead" with my anticipation of celebrating the USMC birthday tomorrow evening? I am reminded of what a large debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who set aside consideratoins of personal comfort, career advancement, safety and security in order to serve our country as Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and members of the Coast Guard. I plan to thank many of them personally tomorrow evening. And through this posting, I extend my thanks to all of the readers of this Blog who have served and who continue to serve.

I encourage you, on the occasion of the 230th anniversary of the founding of the USMC, to write a note, send an e-mail or make a phone call to someone you know who would appreciate a word of thanks for service rendered in honor to our nation.

Semper Fi!


(For a fine review of the film "Jarhead," see this link:

No comments: