Matt Pottinger, a long-serving China correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, decided to quit his job and JOIN THE MARINES. Why did he join? It was a process:
When you live abroad long enough, you come to understand that governments that behave this way are not the exception, but the rule. They feel alien to us, but from the viewpoint of the world's population, we are the aliens, not them. That makes you think about protecting your country no matter who you are or what you're doing. What impresses you most, when you don't have them day to day, are the institutions that distinguish the U.S.: the separation of powers, a free press, the right to vote, and a culture that values civic duty and service, to name but a few.
A year ago, I was at my sister's house using her husband's laptop when I came across a video of an American in Iraq being beheaded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The details are beyond description here; let's just say it was obscene. At first I admit I felt a touch of the terror they wanted me to feel, but then I felt the anger they didn't. We often talk about how our policies are radicalizing young men in the Middle East to become our enemies, but rarely do we talk about how their actions are radicalizing us. In a brief moment of revulsion, sitting there in that living room, I became their blowback.
I was scrambled to Thailand, where thousands of people had died in the wave. After days in the midst of the devastation, I pulled back to Thailand's Utapao Air Force Base, at one time a U.S. staging area for bombing runs over Hanoi, to write a story on the U.S.-led relief efforts. The abandoned base was now bustling with air traffic and military personnel, and the man in charge was a Marine.
Warfare and relief efforts, as it turns out, involve many skills in common. In both cases, it's 80% preparation and logistics and only a small percent of actual battle. What these guys were doing was the same thing they did in a war zone, except now the tip of the spear wasn't weapons, but food, water and medicine. It was a major operation to save people's lives, and it was clear that no other country in the world could do what they were doing. Once again, I was bumping into the U.S. Marines, and once again I was impressed.
In a way, I see the Marines as a microcosm of America at its best. Their focus isn't on weapons and tactics, but on leadership. That's the whole point of the Marines. They care about each other in good times and bad, they've always had to fight for their existence--even Harry Truman saw them as nothing more than the "Navy's police force"--and they have the strength of their traditions. Their future, like the country's, is worth fighting for. I hope to be part of the effort.
Good Luck and Good Hunting, Matt.