When Doctrine Becomes Dogma

Lieutenant General Natonski (USMC Forces Command) was there…  He said EVERY civilian kill, every time, should be investigated — pretty funny when the Defense asked him if that went for the 2nd Battle for Fallujah and he had to say “No” — he added that all civilians had been asked to leave so they were “pretty sure” all kills were insurgents.
— Press release, Thomas More Law Center (read it at the link)

Folks, the dictionary will tell you that doctrine is something that is taught; it is a principle or a body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief. Please take my word for it when I say the United States Marine Corps has volumes, shelves, and libraries full of documents that establishes and spell out Marine Corps Doctrine.

On the other hand, the dictionary defines dogma, as a point of view, an opinion, or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds. There is no document, order, or directive that establishes Marine Corps dogma because dogma is an opinion. Oh, by the way, in the military justice system and most other legal systems, opinion does not substitute for evidence.


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The other day at LtCol Jeff Chessani’s BOI, when General Natonski stated every civilian killed, everytime, should be investigated, we witnessed the general’s use the political expedient of switching doctrine for dogma.

Everyone needs to remember that general officers, as a group, are really an ‘old boys’ club. They never like to say “no” to one another and they are usually supportive when one of them gets into political trouble.  They even have a special communications system call P4 (Personal For) that they use to communicate to one another. I would sometimes think that a general’s P4 carried more weight than a ‘Top Secret’ message back in my active duty days. 

We can see the old boys club at work when General Carpatotto stated at the beginning of LtCol Chessani’s BOI, that his ‘personal’ view is investigating every civilian deathis the right approach because that’s the way to protect Marines.  General Natonski and Carpatotto are using the same dogmatic phrase; ‘investigate every civilian death’.

Politics is a tough playing field for a general but it comes with the rank and the job. General officers are the link between the civilian politicians (civilian authority) and the military chain of command. Most Marines recognize that generals have to play in the political arena. The un-written rule, however, is that general s never play politics with their Marines.  This unwritten rule exists because general officers are the only buffer between the politicians and those Marines that peer at the enemy through the peep sight of their M16A4 Rifle. Generals sometimes forget that but usually there is a smart and true SgtMajor that brings the reality back into the general’s opinioned leadership. The reality is that Marines; those clear eyed, foul mouthed, sweaty grunts we love and respect, and not generals make the split second decisions that keep them alive or gets them reported as a KIA to mothers, wives, children and family.

Unfortunately, it looks like the generals these days are listing more to their lawyers instead of their SgtMajors. 

I know that there is no doctrine or training manual that states every single civilian death must be investigated. I am also sure there are standing orders, issued by generals, that all Iraqi civilian deaths will be investigated. I have heard, second hand, that a Marine General Officer recently stated that in 2007 over 5000 investigations were conducted by Marines in Anbar province Iraq.  I am also sure that those same orders did not exist when LtCol Chessani and 3/1 seized Haditha from the enemy in November 2005.

Doctrine is based on things like the Laws of War and orders should conform to doctrine and not to the dogma of politics. The Laws of War state that civilian deaths can occur provided they happen under the principle of military necessity. When the enemy uses civilians as shields, and a Marine kills a civilian used as a shield, that Marine is protected first under the principle of self defense and the principle of military necessity.  The Laws of War also state that the person that determines military necessity is the field commander.

The day in Haditha, when SSgt Wuterich and his squad of Marines were ambushed, LtCol Chessani was the Haditha field commander. The call, whether or not the civilian deaths fell under the principle of military necessity, belonged to LtCol Chessani.  Just like it was General Natonski’s call the he was pretty sure that the over 2400 enemy KIA’s reported in the Battle of Fallujah contained no civilians.

I think General Natonski should get down on his hands and knees and give thanks that he did not command 3/1 when it went into Haditha in 2005. I also think the general should be thankful he is not subject to the same dogma he is applying to LtCol Jeff Chessani.