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Sins of the Generals series:
Open Letter to General Michael Hagee  | 
Undue Influence from the Start
Open Letter to General Peter W. Chiarelli |
The Loss of Strategic Legitimacy
Political Equivocation at LtCol Chessani's Board of Inquiry | Indefinite Delay | Strategic Legalism

 

HADITHA: SINS OF THE GENERALS

Open Letter to the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps concerning the 3/1 Haditha Marines

8 February 2008

Since the invasion of Iraq, I have been reading every piece of material and watching every news story I came across about the war. Books entitled My Men Are My Heroes and No True Glory now sit in my bookcases along with books such as With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, Victory at High Tide and Fire in the Streets.  I focus on the war because, at least for this old Marine, it is a tremendous source of pride, especially, when I read about and watch Marines in combat.  From the Iraq invasion, to battles in Ramadi and Fallujah, I have been deeply impressed with the Marine Corps newest generation of combat veterans. This generation of Marines understands their history and their combat legacy.

I am concerned, however, that my feeling about the Marine Corps leadership is changing significantly. The Marine Corps survival is a testament to its past senior leadership. Marine General Officers, especially the Commandant, have a legacy of doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason, despite political pressure to conform to the organizations like the Department of Defense.

I am a retired Marine coming from a Marine family. My brother Tom and I both served in Desert Shield/Storm. Dad was a para-Marine at Guadalcanal and a retired Sergeant Major. Dad was with Edison on Bloody Ridge the night a Japanese reinforced brigade attack the “Chutes” and Raiders.  A recent book entitled Battalion of the Damned by James Christ, captures that incredible story how Marines, outnumbered, starved, sick and short supplied, managed to prevail over a numerically superior enemy. Their division commander was General Alexander Vandergrift; Medal of Honor recipient, 18th Commandant and the Marine Corps and the first Marine four star general.

As Commandant, the Army, President Truman and General Eisenhower besieged General Vandegrift in a post war attempt to absorb the Marine’s mission into the other services. The Commandant aligned himself with Congress and secured its support and the Marine Corps future with his famous “bended knee speech”. In that speech he stated:

“…Sentiment is not a valid consideration in determining questions of national security. We have pride in ourselves and in our past, but we do not rest our case on any presumed ground of gratitude owing us from the Nation. The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. If the Marine as a fighting man has not made a case for himself after 170 years of service, he must go. But I think you will agree with me that he has earned the right to depart with dignity and honor, not by subjugation to the status of uselessness and servility planned for him by the War Department.”

Another Commandant, General David M. Shoup, 22nd Commandant of the Marine Corps, won his Medal of Honor on the beaches of Tarawa. Despite being wounded, and in the face of heavy causalities, he took command of all Marines on shore and for two days provided the critical leadership to organize attacks from decimated units to secure Tarawa.

While Commandant, General Shoup found the Joints Chiefs of Staff feeling a bit too confident for his taste concerning invasion plans during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He injected a dose of reality with a short but succinct briefing: "First he took an overlay of Cuba and placed it over the map of the United States. To everybody's surprise, Cuba was not a small island along the lines of, say, Long Island at best. It was about 800 miles long and seemed to stretch from New York to Chicago. Then he took another overlay, with a red dot, and placed it over the map of Cuba. 'What's that?' someone asked him. 'That, gentlemen, represents the size of the island of Tarawa,' said Shoup, 'and it took us three days and 18,000 Marines to take it." General Shoup would also protest the Viet Nam war.

I talk about these generals as leadership examples that I have come to expect from the Commandant. Of course, their are many others, and names like Shepard, Wilson, and Borrows have all made their mark on the honor rolls of the Marine Corps.

I recently read the Commandant’s “long war” speech made at the Marines’ Memorial Association and World Affairs Council, in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, July 10, 2007. In that speech, you state, “we have a couple of incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq under investigation or engaged in trial.” You further state that you are going to “let those things play out”. In the case of the Haditha Marines, I find this statement not only sophomoric but also embarrassing and dishonest.

I say sophomoric because instead of recognizing a bad news story and being prepared for such incidents, you joined the rush to judgment and added fuel to the Haditha firestorm. Insurgents hide within the people with the expressed purpose of causing civilian casualties. Instead of being prepared for this incident, you were caught flat-footed by misinformation and your reactions aided the enemy. As the senior Marine, you should have been the voice of reason standing against the political rush to judgment unleashed on the Haditha Marines. More is expected from the Commandant when it comes to fighting the information war on the home front.

I say embarrassing because you demonstrated a complete lack of trust in your combat Marines with their relief, investigation and court martial. Instead of consulting with the combat commanders and trusting in their judgment and leadership, you relieved, censor and court martial the entire chain of command from general officer to squad leader.  The US Marine Corps War Fighting Manual (FMFM-1) states, “trust is an essential trait among leaders--trust by seniors in the abilities of their subordinates and by juniors in the competence and support of their seniors. Trust must be earned, and actions which undermine trust must meet with strict censure.”  Instead of censuring, your actions foment distrust within the Marine Corps.

I say dishonest because relieving the chain of command before the completion of the investigations and court martial borders on unlawful influence. These reliefs, letters of censor and investigations demonstrate that you do not intend to “let those things play out” but are intent on leading the persecution with political equivocation. You could have easily stated in your speech that four of the Marines have been found not guilty because they followed their training. After all, at least for those four Marines that is how “things played out”.

The Haditha legal proceedings are an embarrassing comedy of errors. These errors include leaked confidential investigations, prosecution grants of immunity to unreliable witnesses, and the almost whimsical addition of charges against Marines who trust more in their training than you. This tragic and dark comedy reflects directly on the Commandant and certainly deserves more attention than to just “let those things play out”. As Commandant you are responsible for all Marine training. As the trials proceed, it is becoming clear that these Marines followed their training. It is time for the Commandant to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason and start supporting the Haditha Marines by telling their story.

If the Commandant can’t support these Marines then the next addition to the Commandant’s reading list should be: Scapegoats of the Empire: The True Story of Breaker Morant's Bushveldt Carbineers.

Bob Weimann
LtCol USMC Ret
former Commanding Officer Kilo, Company 3/1

8 February 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Read more on the Haditha case by Bob Weimann: 

Open Letter to General Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps (2003-2006), October 11, 2008

Huzzah! Huzzah! HUZZAHHH!, June 6, 2008.

The Case for a Squad Leader: SSgt Wuterich in Haditha July 25, 2008.

Undue Influence from the Start, October 30, 2008.

Open Letter to General Peter W. Chiarelli, Commander of the Multi-National Corps in Iraq (November 2005-February 2006), February 8, 2009.

The Loss of Strategic Legitimacy, December 1, 2009.

Political Equivocation at LtCol Chessani's Board of Inquiry, December 6, 2009.

Indefinite Delay, July 15, 2011.

Strategic Legalism, December 31, 2011.

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Explore Haditha documents:

Haditha evidence room

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