Posted by Curt on 1 January, 2006 at 5:56 pm. Be the first to comment!


You may recall a WSJ writer penned this piece a few weeks back describing how he had come to the decision to join the Marines:

When people ask why I recently left The Wall Street Journal to join the Marines, I usually have a short answer. It felt like the time had come to stop reporting events and get more directly involved. But that’s not the whole answer, and how I got to this point wasn’t a straight line.

It’s a clich? that you appreciate your own country more when you live abroad, but it happens to be true. Living in China for the last seven years, I’ve seen that country take a giant leap from a struggling Third World country into a true world power. For many people it still comes as a surprise to learn that China is chasing Japan as the second-largest economy on the globe and could soon own a trillion dollars of American debt.

But living in China also shows you what a nondemocratic country can do to its citizens. I’ve seen protesters tackled and beaten by plainclothes police in Tiananmen Square, and I’ve been videotaped by government agents while I was talking to a source. I’ve been arrested and forced to flush my notes down a toilet to keep the police from getting them, and I’ve been punched in the face in a Beijing Starbucks by a government goon who was trying to keep me from investigating a Chinese company’s sale of nuclear fuel to other countries.

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.

I’m not an uncritical, rah-rah American. Living abroad has sharpened my view of what’s wrong with my country, too. It’s obvious that we need to reinvent ourselves in various ways, but we should also be allowed to do it from within, not according to someone else’s dictates.

But why the Marines?

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.

Of course, a single emotional moment does not justify a career change, and that’s not what happened to me. The next day I went to lunch at the Council on Foreign Relations where I happened to meet a Marine Corps colonel who’d just come back from Iraq. He gave me a no-nonsense assessment of what was happening there, but what got to me most was his description of how the Marines behaved and how they looked after each other in a hostile world. That struck me as a metaphor for how America should be in the world at large, and it also appealed to me on a personal level. At one point I said half-jokingly that, being 31 years old, it was a shame I was too old to serve. He sat back for a second and said, “I think I’ve still gotcha.”

[…]I took an application and went back to China.

Then came the Asian tsunami last December.

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.

[…]Friends ask if I worry about going from a life of independent thought and action to a life of hierarchy and teamwork. At the moment, I find that appealing because it means being part of something bigger than I am. As for how different it’s going to be, that, too, has its appeal because it’s the opposite of what I’ve been doing up to now. Why should I do something that’s a “natural fit” with what I already do? Why shouldn’t I try to expand myself?

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.

Well, he has just graduated OCS and is now not just a recruit, but a Marine. Semper Fi Lt. Pottinger: (h/t Conservative Thinking)

Jan. 1, 2006 ? Matt Pottinger was a reporter, but he’s no longer so sure that the pen is mightier than the sword.

The 32-year-old former Wall Street Journal reporter has joined the U.S. Marines.

“The life of a reporter versus the life of someone in the military ? it is a radical departure,” he mused.

In seven years covering China for The Wall Street Journal, Pottinger got a sense of how American liberties are a rarity in the world ? especially when he got arrested for writing about corruption.

“I was standing over a toilet,” he recalled, “with a bunch of Chinese policemen standing around me shredding my notebook, page by page, and flushing it down a toilet.”

From afar he could assess America’s strengths and its weaknesses.

“I would come home, and you didn’t feel coming home to the United States from abroad that we were a country at war,” he said. “I was surprised by that ? and that disturbed me. It gave me a sense that we were being a little bit too complacent.”

It’s hard to pinpoint the genesis of his decision to join the Marines. Maybe it was the murder of his colleague Daniel Pearl. Maybe it was the night he saw a video on the Web of the beheading of an American in Iraq.

“I watched it,” he said, “and it was so obscene and so deeply disturbing to me that I felt a bit of the terror.”

Not long after that, he found himself wandering around the Intrepid Museum ? a decommissioned former aircraft carrier anchored in New York City ? looking at the Marine officers’ recruiting office.

“I’m wondering whether I’m nuts,” he said later.

Inside, they told him at age 32 he’d be facing some pretty tough physical requirements.

[…]He made it as an officer candidate, and two weeks ago graduated.

“I wanted to actually be participating in an incredibly important period in our history,” he said, “as opposed to just observing and reporting events. ? I didn’t want to watch the movie and not have a part in it.”

At his swearing in ceremony, Pottinger hugged his brother Paul who said, “You’re making us proud. We’re proud of you.”

An officer at the ceremony congratulated Pottinger by quipping, “It’s an honor, you know, to get somebody from the dark side to come over to our side.”

It’s good to know that there is still hope for those in journalism….maybe, just maybe some of them still have a sould left in them.

Other’s Blogging:

In From The Cold, SISU, Mudville Gazette, Fraters Libertas, Small Town Veteran,

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