Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Marines: Walking the razor's edge

Although I wear the colors of the Marine Corps, I do not condone the antics of the four Marines who urinated on the remains of enemy soldiers in Afghanistan.

In Vietnam, I did not tolerate such behavior; and if I were in the field today, I would uphold that principle. We were there to kill the enemy, but not to desecrate his traditions.

Realizing that the sole purpose of the soldiers who serve you is to kill the enemy is shocking, isn’t it?

What do you think war is? Do you think there’s sanity in war? How do you bring unmitigated violence on the enemy and then sanitize the mayhem with a pink bow and move to the next fight?

Of course the actions of these four boys would enrage the sensibilities of some.

How dare you! The commander in chief sent these boys. He put them in harm’s way. And now you condemn them because they screwed up. You are caught in the vicious circle of political correctness, image, and rules of engagement. Do you know how ludicrous that sounds in battle? You just don’t turn off the violence. It consumes and distorts one’s perception of humanity.

Those of you who are offended, what do you think happened minutes prior to the incident? Enemy combatants were likewise trying to kill those kids. The result would’ve been broken families that would never heal. That’s the reality of war, and the soldier lives with that. What you want is a perfect and sanitized war. There is no perfection in violence.

The juxtaposition of war is perplexing. It’s OK to gas enemy combatants at the Somme, obliterate the cities of Dresden and Hiroshima, and blow the heads off of Taliban soldiers. But it’s barbaric when our boys urinate on the remains of the enemy.

General James F. Amos, Marine Commandant, claims this does not align with the warrior ethos of the corps. I agree. But he’s shocked and dismayed by these Marines. Sir, with all due respect, weren’t you in Vietnam? Did you have your head in the sand?

War brings out the best and the worst in humanity. But the worst is not urinating on enemy combatants. The worst is blowing up innocent women and children, beheading and gutting captured American soldiers, dragging the bodies of our pilots through the streets of Mogadishu. I could go on.

Where’s the comparable outrage directed toward the enemy? We’ve taken our hypersensitivity to the battlefield where-by we evaluate all egregious offenses as the same.

We’re better than that, you say. Yes, we are. But the soldier walks the razor’s edge between craziness and insanity.

I understand the importance of global scrutiny and how the offenses of these Marines appear in the big picture. But the soldiers’ world is limited to a 1,100-meter tracer burnout, the range of automatic weapons. Soldiers are your cannon fodder; but they shape your big picture. And now you want to leave them on the beach.

Those who would pass judgment, don’t ruin the lives of these boys. Hold them accountable, but at the same time, put yourself in their shoes. Send them back to their regiment to continue to serve as Marines.

These boys do our bidding. They bring unconscionable violence to the enemy. They exercise justice interpreted by young minds taught to hate and kill. They give their lives for us.

What those four Marines did was wrong. Don’t judge them in a vacuum when all you may have is a limited sense of morality. That doesn’t work in the unimaginable circumstance of war.

As an officer, I took an oath 43 years ago that I would take care of my Marines. I still uphold that.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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