Dan Willis was an infantryman in the Marine Corps from 2010-2015 after a tumultuous and short career on Wall Street, serving with Fox Company 2/9. He is currently working on his undergraduate degree in economics at Columbus State Community College, and expects to finish at The Ohio State University. Dan humbly serves as RTB Media's Creative Director and Co-founder. Follow Dan on Twitter.
was a member of Marines United -- the secret Facebook page of active-duty and veteran Marines that made national news over the weekend for its illegal cache of salacious photos of female service members. Thomas Brennan of The War Horse, a project that helped inspire us to create RTB, broke the story over the weekend in conjunction with Reveal News.
Marines United was a “secret” Facebook page in that you had to be invited by a member to join. At some point last year I was invited by a former squad leader, both of us thinking that it would be a great (i.e. free) way to get content in front of Marines and veterans. It did not take me long to realize what the page was: mostly an echo chamber of hyper-veteran politics and ridiculous memes. Lots of The PC Culture is destroying my beloved Corps! and That’s what happens when you let pussies in the infantry! After a few weeks of membership, I started to notice the pictures being posted of ex-girlfriends and women, some either nude or about to be, others just posing suggestively. Another JTTOTS, I thought to myself. More Marines being complete fucking idiots. I would shake my head or sigh, but that was generally the extent of my reaction.
When the news broke I had no intention of saying or writing anything about it. After I heard that Brennan and his family had received death threats for publishing the story, nothing. After the comment threads grew increasingly unthinkable on Task & Purpose and other news sites covering the scandal, nothing. Frankly, I was ashamed of my membership to the page. But I qualified it: I didn’t share any of those photos; I didn’t make those awful comments; that isn’t my girlfriend/sister/wife/daughter. By Monday night I started to think that the only real reason I had to avoid writing about the page was that I would have to honestly reconcile my own part in it, however small or tangential. So my ignorance persisted.
But something kept nagging at me on Tuesday. I received word that one of my best friends was headed to the hospital with his pregnant wife, both about to become new parents. Both of them veterans of the Marine Corps (they met while on active-duty). I thought of my buddy’s wife, about how I would feel if I had seen a picture of her on MU. Would I still be so willing to quietly slink away while also running a website claiming to focus on the authentic experiences and perspectives of veterans?
I was part of a unique culture within the Marine Corps. If it had an unofficial motto, it would probably be Fuck You. Sometimes it keeps your friends alive. And when it doesn’t, it’s a wonderfully self-serving retort. But we as a community have extrapolated that motto to the moon: You don’t respect my service? Fuck you. Women in combat roles? Fuck you. You don’t want me to post this picture? Fuck you. You weren’t in the infantry? Fuck you. You cheated on me during deployment? Fuck you. You dimed me out? Fuck you. But even after deciding that I wanted no part in the chest-thumping, that I wanted a different motto for my life, I remained a part of it through inaction.
I was a member of Marines United, and I was inexplicably indifferent. And if I had to guess, I would say the majority of the 30,000 members fall into that camp as well. Too busy to be bothered. Not cool enough or important enough an issue for me (us) to take on. Shamefully, not even something I noticed as a major problem. The culture problem within the infantry is not just one of hyper-masculinity or alpha-male-at-all-cost thinking -- it is also one of profound apathy towards almost everyone else. And that apathy caused myself and too many others to sit idly by as fellow citizens, service members, daughters, wives, mothers and sisters were denigrated in a public forum. To the women presently in uniform and those who have ever donned it, and to their friends and families, I wholeheartedly apologize. I was a part of this problem. And I am no longer willing to be.
James Mattis -- an infantry folk hero -- is said to carry around a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Some of us, myself included, would do well to remember an excerpt:
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
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