Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Beg To Differ

On February 19th, James Madison University’s local student paper, “The Breeze,” ran an article entitled “War, Studied Abroad.” The article, written by Gabriel Henriquez, is based off of interviews with an anonymous Marine-turned-student at JMU. This student, who refuses to give his name, uses his anonymity to address matters about which he knows nothing. The result was a printed article full of of flagrant lies regarding the professional conduct of the United States Marines. To further worsen matters, this anonymous Marine also provided offensive photographs to accompany his misinformation.

This article, only the first of three in the series, may be found online at, http://breezejmu.org/2009/02/19/war-studied-abroad/

What I wish to point out to all readers is that his conduct, attitude, and willingness to speak from behind a cloak of anonymity IN NO WAY reflects the predominant attitude of current or veteran Marines. In fact, all of those I know who have read this article find it personally offensive, and we have fairly deduced the job of this young Marine, his age, where he was deployed, his unit, and that unit’s purpose. All combine to leave a disgruntled young man with a notable grudge against the Marine Corps. And, insecure as he is, he now takes great satisfaction in berating the organization he voluntarily joined – from the safety of anonymity.

In giving this anonymous Marine an audience, “The Breeze” staff has indicated that its journalist standards are not at professional par and that they are more concerned with capturing attention than a rigid adherence to fact. They reveal their age, levels of professionalism, and personal agendas. They further harm their credibility with the publication of an inappropriate photograph that the anonymous Marine submitted to further convince us of his immaturity.

While some would argue that it is best to simply ignore his flagrant misinformation, this fails to consider that thousands of readers, having been presented no rebuttal, may very well come away convinced that the United States Marine Corps is a band of war criminals and habitually disregard international law, the Geneva Conventions, and basic rules of war. None of these statements are true.

Perhaps the more preposterous remark this anonymous Marine made is that when his unit switched from a humanitarian aid posture in Pakistan and moved across the border into Afghanistan, that they were somehow violating the Geneva Conventions by “violating” the border of a sovereign nation. This is wrong on several counts.

First, the Geneva Conventions are concerned with the treatment of prisoners of war, enemy sick and wounded, innocent civilians, and humanitarian standards in a time of war. None of these pertain to border crossings. Additionally, how is crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan a violation of international border law? The United States, as well as NATO, is formally permitted, welcome, and invited by the democratically-elected government of Afghanistan to assist them in the fight again the Taliban and al Qaeda non-state aggressors within their borders. They have asked us for help, and I don’t see how helping them is a violation of some mythical border law. We were visiting at their request and with their approval. Not trespassing. When the article’s writer repeated the anonymous Marine’s false claims, he directly indicated how much research he is willing to do for his writing: NONE. He discredits the entire “Breeze” staff in the process.

This anonymous Marine also made the comment that he was living a terribly miserable life in the desert, showering once a week, eating MREs (Meals-Ready-To-Eat), and using the cardboard box itself as toilet paper. Let me start at the top here.

Going back to the old Marine Corps recruiting poster that depicts a grizzled Drill Instructor screaming at a boot camp recruit, “Nobody Promised You a Rose Garden.” Showering once a week isn’t that big a deal. During the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, infantry Marines went about 43 days. They will gladly tell you this. They remember. Years later, in 2006, I myself went a month without showering. These things happen. The most important thing to the Marine Corps is mission accomplishment. Troop welfare is second. This anonymous Marine should remember this.

While the writer of this article remarks that this poor Marine was forced to relieve himself in the desert, he overlooks that every time a person goes camping, he or she probably does the same thing. And people PAY to camp. This Marine is a paid employee of the United State. And furthermore, I have never in my life met a Marine who has been forced to use an MRE box as toilet paper. Frankly, I don’t think such things are even feasible. And for the record, each MRE box contains twelve meals, each of which has toilet paper included in it.

As for MRE’s being “notorious” for causing constipation, this is not the case. They are, in fact, DESIGNED to prevent loose stools. This improves field hygiene, reduces a Marine’s belief that he is filthy, and helps to ensure quick, simple cleaning. On a personal note, if this anonymous Marine was so grievously unprepared that he neglected to bring baby wipes, he has forgotten the logic and advice of truly thousands of his predecessors who have made deployment packing lists public information. I would refer to this using the Marine Corps “7 Ps.” Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I would submit that this Marine lacks proper prior planning.

But what troubles me the most about this article is that it is written poorly in a manner that suggests the writer is so concerned with finding a story that he neglects to check his facts or in any way verify the information given him by the anonymous Marine. Rest assured, I will follow these articles carefully, respond to each as they are printed, and will do everything in my power to present JMU readers with truth, not sensationalism. Below are three pieces I have written in response to this article. The first and second are responses to the article as it appeared online at http://breezejmu.org. The second was a letter I sent to “The Breeze” Editor-In-Chief.

More scathing remarks will certainly appear as more untrue information is published.

Ben Shaw on February 21st, 2009 4:04 am

Both the writer of this article and the Anonymous Marine source should verify their information before spreading flagrant lies. The Geneva convention does not pertain to International border law. It is concerned with the fair and humane treatment/protection of unarmed civilians, prisoners of war, and the wounded and sick. There is no mention of border violations.

Additionally, how is a legitimate combat mission in Afghanistan an unlawful crossing of a border? The United States, and NATO, have been invited and welcomed by the democratically-elected government of Aghfanistan, Hamid Karzai, and his associates, to assist in the efforts to eradicate the Taliban and al Qaeda non-state aggressors (terrorists) from within their borders. We are welcomed guests and friends, not trespassers.

The Breeze should be more careful to avoid printing baseless information. It discredits the publication, moving it from unbiased campus news agency to sensationalists seeking an audience (with a pronounced agenda of their own).

This Anonymous Marine should be more mindful of his service, since it was HE that volunteered to serve. Troops are only required to obey LAWFUL orders, and they are welcome to contest any perceived non-lawful orders through the “Request Mast” process, wherein a Marine of any rank is given legal right to directly speak with any superior from directly above him/her all the way to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. If what he was doing was such a violation, he should have brought it up using this legal right. Failure to do so indicates some level of guilt by negligence. Herein he reveals his youth and immaturity.

As a whole, this article, just the first of three, greatly diminishes the status of “The Breeze,” and does potentially irreparable harm to its credibility.

As a pre-military-educated college graduate, three-time Marine combat veteran of the Global War on Terror, infantryman, tactics and foreign weapons instructor, senior non-commissioned officer, and former student of James Madison University, I strongly advise readers to approach these three articles with skepticism. Do your own research, and form your own conclusions. Please disregard the muddled rantings of a young man who is dissatisfied with his service experience. He is not deserving of a “thank you” for his service, but a sharp rebuke for turning his back on a unit he volunteered to join and resorting to lies to gain attention.

Ben Y. Shaw

Ben Shaw on February 21st, 2009 1:46 pm

Readers, please be aware of several other incorrect statements contained in this article. First, I have never met a Marine who felt it necessary to resort to using an MRE box as toilet paper. Each box, in fact, contains twelve meals - each with its own toilet paper (and some have wet wipes). Most combat Marines also know the importance of bringing baby wipes with them wherever they go. Failure to do so indicates poor planning

Second, MREs are not “notorious for causing constipation.” They are, in fact, intended to harden the stools. This makes cleanliness in field conditions a more readily attainable goal, improves morale, and helps make up for lack of regular shower facilities. That, also, is another common occurrence.

While this anonymous Marine is lamenting his one shower a week, Marines during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 frequently went more than 40 days between showers. I, on my second tour in 2005-2006, went a solid month without showering, too. The fact is, you make do, and when you get a chance, you clean up. Daily showers are nice, but in no way a guarantee in combat arms.

In a more serious note, the remarks that this anonymous Marine makes regarding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not rooted in medical and psychological fact, and he indirectly suggests that every Marine who has suffered with PTSD does so because he (or she) is of reduced character. I submit that this is a blatantly inaccurate statement, and would encourage him to consult any one of a number of professional psychological sources on the topic of PTSD. Furthermore, shell-shock is an ambiguous term used to describe psychological and physiological responses to direct encounters with catastrophic explosions, but also applied (in previous wars) to describe combat stress, battle fatigue, and other related terms. It is also considered an archaic term, since not even a universal definition can be reached.

I know plenty of young men and women who have had a very firm “basis of reality,” yet still struggled with readjustment to civilian life. Statistically, after 60 days of continuous combat, a staggering 98% of troops will show signs of pronounced combat stress and other psychological problems. The 2% that do not are enjoying themselves, and are exhibiting the behavior patterns of aggressive sociopaths. This anonymous Marine paints with a broad brush. MOST combat troops will have some psychological matters to address and they will be necessarily challenging to overcome. It is when they do NOT struggle that we must be most concerned. It indicates a contentment with killing, which is contrary to innate human instinct.

I can personally relate to the matter of readjusting to civilian life, just as did this anonymous Marine, but his apparent overcoming of his struggles should in no way suggest that others who continue to struggle are somehow defective or weak. According to the Veterans Affairs, 5,000 veterans will take their own lives this year. Are we to simply write them off as weak, or lacking a “firm basis in reality?” Such a contention would be odious to their memories, their surviving loved ones, and does nothing at all to assist them in rehabilitation.

Rather than speak from judgment, this anonymous Marine should speak from grave concern for his brothers and sisters in arms. For the moment, however, he seems content to begrudge every aspect of his service, discredit himself, and indicate that “The Breeze” is not holding itself to high journalistic standards in the material they gather and publish. I strongly recommend they consider dropping this series of articles from print. It would do wonders to redeem their reputation as a professional news agency. Shame on Mr. Henriquez for not investigating the claims of his source. And shame on the source for offering them without any guarantee of truth.

Ben Y. Shaw

*The document below was submitted to the editor:

Greetings;

I wished to bring to your attention the quality of the February 19th article, "War, Studied Abroad." The article is not at all in keeping with the journalist standards of "The Breeze," and speaks volumes about its writer (and also the editorial staff that allowed it to "sneak" past their thorough examination). The material contained within the piece is such a far cry from the fact and it serves to weaken the character of the entire "Breeze" staff that permitted it run.

Consider, for example, the statement that the Geneva Convention(s) somehow pertain to international border law. They do not. They are concerned with the humane and universally agreed treatment of prisoners of war, innocent civilians, uniformed and non-uniformed combatants, and care of enemy sick/wounded. There is nothing about border crossing. When the writer repeated such a baseless remark, he proved just how little research he is willing to invest into his presentation.

Given the unprofessional nature of this initial article, and unprofessional (anonymous and "safe") manner in which the writer is gleaning his information, and given the fact that the writer's and source's credibility are already severely damaged, no further redemption can be found in running the next two articles. I strongly advise you consider withdrawing them from the schedule. This is not for the sake of the dignity of the article's writer and his source, but for the sake of the credibility of your publication. It would also behoove "The Breeze" to issue a letter of apology for stooping to unfounded sensationalism for the sake of headlining perceived controversy.

These series of articles will damage your reputation severely - and speak volumes to indicate the bias (or perhaps editorial apathy) of your staff. Articles of this low quality have the potential to effect a future job-seeker. Those hiring will not see a professional writer; they will see one who has permitted or even sanctioned poor journalistic standards. This article disrespects your personally.

If you would like a formal rebuttal or more information regarding the conduct of individuals and units in the United States Marine Corps, I gladly, with name attached, volunteer to provide you as much information as I am able. Since I have only done and seen so much, I have only limited information to provide. Nevertheless, what I do provide, I will gladly attach my name to it. What I have seen and done are actions of which I am proud. Feel free to contact me personally.

At the very least, I strongly suggest that you make an effort to hold "The Breeze" to the high standard that I, you, and thousands of other readers have come to expect. If it no longer provides us news, we will no longer read it. You may be certain that my remarks to this article will not be the last. There are many veterans at JMU, and they are inclined to keep in touch with their fellow vets. None of us are pleased with this article. In fact, everybody to whom I have spoken about it is offended that the USMC would be falsely portrayed as a band of war criminals. As for the thousands of combat missions we represent, we conducted ourselves in a manner that preserved our personal honor, the honor of the Marine Corps, and the high expectations of our nation. This standard, now passed on to our juniors and the next waves of troops, is still rigorously upheld. Ask any Marine but the anonymous one to whom your writer is speaking. He represents a very small, misinformed minority.

Feel free to quote me if you wish, to use my name, to browse my website, and contact me personally with questions.

Sincerely;

Ben Y. Shaw
Freelance Writer | Photojournalist
www.byshaw.com
byshaw@gmail.com

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

7 comments:

  1. Well then! It will be exciting to hear what they have to say in response. Maybe the commotion will force the anonymous source to come out of hiding in his defense. Most likely he will bury himself further in his anonymity.

    College students (I myself being among them at one point) know very little.

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  2. OK Ben, I have read the article in the Breeze and your rebuttal, and am having some problem with your reaction. True you write better than the college reporter. He has a story. He has quotes. He doesn't have to confirm them. He has a source. I refer you to the old Washington Post, days before you were born, and "Deep Throat."

    This anonymous Marine, no matter how wrong and misguided, has paid with his blood and has done more than one tour. He has the right to be wrong!

    True, he knows little of the Geneva Convention or International Law. That is why he is in college. He is there to learn.

    True, he volunteered and should remain faithful to his comrades. Semper fi.

    However, you took issue, not with his complaints that he suffered, but that he volunteered for it. You never know if you like it unless you try it! He didn't like it.

    Some people don't like being blown up and shot at. I have no criticism of them and neither should you.

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  3. While I will be the first to admit that I, myself have said that some days as a Marine sucked, that some of my officers were stupid, and that many of my subordinates were absolute miscreants, I do not go so far as to suggest that this entire branch of the US Armed Forces is involved in blatant violations of international law, the Geneva Conventions, and the law of war. No such behavior is taking place.

    For all our many bad days, for all our deceased friends, our own injuries and our own grief, the vast majority of us vigorously defend our personal honor, and the honor of the military unit we volunteered to join.

    This anonymous Marine is certainly entitled to his opinion. Just as much as he as defended that right for me, so also have I for him. Nevertheless, to virtually dismiss the entire United States Marine Corps, and the more than 200,000 currently-serving Marines is an unwarranted, and unfounded measure to express one's personal objections to the conduct of his unit and the experience of his service.

    My purpose in rebutting him, therefore, is not to damage or insult him as a person, veteran and Marine, but to discredit his unsubstantiated conviction that U.S. Marines, collectively, are war criminals. Every Marine to whom I have spoken on this matter takes issue with it. I am simply putting to words what I and many others are echoing in unison: "Speak for yourself, anonymous Marine, and we will speak for ourselves." The conclusion: anonymous Marine represents a small, misinformed minority. We are attempting to provide more accurate information. And we are willing to put our names to it.

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  4. There is no stronger "Band of Brothers" than the USMC. Why not invite this guy to come out of the closet and bring his Purple Heart and the lot of you can have a round table discussion. He clearly has some issues and doesn't realize the magnitude of what he is saying and the effect it is having on the rest of his brothers. By the way I never saw the term "War Criminals" used in the story.

    Think of what a great thing this would be for the reporter who covered this story. He could take credit for bringing you all together. Don't give up on a Marine. They never leave the dead behind.

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  5. I have read this and find it informative and challenging. Thanks for presenting the other side of the story. While the liberal media harps on about their own questionable agenda, we need to see what else is happening. Their carefully edited camera shots remind me of Tolkien's palantir: it would show the truth, but only the parts it wanted you to see.

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  6. To some degree, speaking out as adamantly as I have against the remarks of this anonymous Marine have given him perhaps more attention than he deserves. As Uncle Caesar has pointed out and I firmly agree, this Marine has every right to express his own opinion, as well as every right to be wrong. I wish to do nothing to infringe upon his right to speak his mind. My objection lies in that I, as a Marine who is actually proud of my service (and many others) take offense to the suggestion that we did not conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner. He should restrict his comments to that which he has personally seen, rather than make the rather audacious claim that the Marine Corps itself (he said, "we") are do not adhere to the Geneva Convention.

    I agree with Uncle Caesar that an open dialog would perhaps be the best way to settle this matter. This is, alas, difficult to do when anonymous Marine is unwilling to identify himself.

    I invite him to do so, and will readily agree to a moderated (for the sake of some order) discussion between him and I (and whomever else may wish to comment) regarding the matter in question. I have no argument with him or the merit of his service, other than that I firmly disagree with his statements regarding the conduct of the United States Marine Corps.

    Unfortunately, extending this invitation lends greater credence to his claims than is warranted, but it may be necessary to publicize the conviction that his views regarding our collective character are not commonly shared. Nevertheless, the offer still stands.

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  7. Hey, isn't it "beg to differ"?

    Also, I finally got a new story up. The source is, incidentally, anonymous.
    www.xanga.com/timotheanun

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