In an order that also extended “parental leave” to “same-sex couples” in the U.S. Marine Corps, Commandant General David Berger has mandated that “Confederate-related paraphernalia” be removed from all Marines bases.
It’s a bad decision.
Imagine the United Kingdom purging Scottish symbols from the British army. The Scottish secession movement, after all, has a lot more political traction than any neo-secessionist movement in the American South. Besides, the Scots fought, and fought savagely, against the British, before they fought for them.
Wisely, however, the British empire turned Scottish valor into a tactical asset and treasures it as a precious heritage. The Scottish independence question having been settled through “the arbitration of the sword,” Scots became the best of the best of British soldiers (other than, perhaps, the Gurkha—who actually had a remarkably similar background story).
Around the world, the bagpipe, once banned as a weapon by the English, now heralds the approach of the British army. When heard, it sparks pride in the descendants of the troops of William Wallace and Edward “Longshanks” alike as they marched against mutual foes. British troops were even piped ashore on D-Day.
Months later, on the other side of the globe, the second-largest amphibious invasion of the war took place. The U.S. Marines struck the fortified Japanese-held island of Okinawa.
A vital point in the defenses of that bloody island was Shuri Castle. U.S. Army soldiers attempting to take that position had run into fierce opposition, so Marine Corps Captain Julius Dusenberg, commanding a company, was ordered to “take the damned place if you can.”
He could. He did.
Then Dusenberg, a South Carolinian, pulled from his helmet a bit of personal heraldry he’d been saving for a moment of triumph. At the highest point of the castle, he raised a Confederate battle flag, to the sound of a “rebel yell.”
Of course, there were troops who rolled their eyes—but that flag meant that American fighting men had defeated the enemy. It also meant that General Robert E. Lee’s advice had been followed: “Abandon your animosities and make your sons Americans.” Dusenberg was an American patriot—as was the commanding officer of the U.S. invading forces, Army Lt. General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., who said, “How can I be sore at him? My father fought under that flag.” (Buckner did not survive the battle.)
General George Patton, Jr. also took pride in his Confederate grandfather, and jested that when he was a small boy, he thought the portraits of General Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson which hung in the Patton home were “God the Father and God the Son.” He considered his martial heritage to be one to live up to.
To have been raised in the Southern military tradition in the 20th century, meant being raised as an American patriot with a powerful sense of duty. Senator James Webb described it well in his novel Fields of Fire, describing his Marine protagonist (a Southerner, like Webb himself) as “bred to it, like a bird dog.”
Berger’s decision may not be intended deliberately to pour scorn on that tradition; likely it’s justified as the prevention of “offense” to fellow Marines. He may not even see any irony in pairing this, in his order, with furthering the LGBT agenda—a far more current divisive issue, offensive to many Marines of faith.
There is another aspect of his decision, however, that Berger might consider: A purge of Confederate symbols throws away the single best template for reconciliation in United States history.
Marines study and learn from history; it’s a distinctive feature of the Corps. In this case, though, the modern Corps seems to be unlearning a lesson that the World War II Corps had mastered.
The Marines who stormed the beach at Okinawa might have admired Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant in varying proportions, according to their family backgrounds. Their partisanship, however, was more along the lines of rooting for rival baseball teams, than the current American trend toward ruthless identity politics struggles. A boy’s preference in the 1940s for Lee or Grant was tempered by the knowledge that Robert E. Lee and U. S. Grant had great respect and esteem for one another.
You can’t disrespect the Confederate military legacy without implicity disrespecting the agenda of Grant, Lincoln, and even Sherman at war’s end. The Union military leadership strove to welcome Southerners back as brothers-in-arms. This succeeded tremendously, as men like Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, who were proud of their Confederate grandfathers, became heroic U.S. Marines in turn.
They weren’t turning their backs on their ancestors when they did so. What would they think, then, of the modern Corps (cowed by mere social justice warriors) turning its back on their sons?
Does General Berger really want his fighting men to understand that from many strains of American, they are forged together into one band of warrior brothers? If so, then do not strip any of their heraldry, or dishonor any of their brave American dead—whether sleeping under the laurels of victory, or the willows of sorrow. Honor them all as your forebears did.
The Marines need every new “Chesty” Puller they can recruit—much more than they need to tweak paternity leave.