tell this joke. It never gets a laugh, but I keep telling it anyway. Marines do stupid shit. All the time. Really stupid shit. They get married too young, they drink too much, they break everything they get their hands on. This fucks things up for the rest of us. It’s why libo briefs get a minute longer every week, as we have to check down the list of what some asshat PFC did over the weekend. It’s why we spend countless hours on online classes for shit that has nothing to do with our jobs. Because stupid Marines fuck it up for the rest of us. Then there is that Marine attitude: modern Spartans, warrior class, and all that. Marines are loud. They are arrogant, brash, obnoxious, stubborn as mules and equally thickheaded.
So the joke is: I hate Marines. The only thing I hate more than Marines are civilians. Because no matter what kind of dumb shenanigans my brothers get into on the weekend, for better or worse, we are a cult, we are a tribe, we are the gun club, we are family. And civilians aren’t a part of that. They aren’t in that in crowd. They don’t have a ticket to the party. They weren’t there. They didn’t see the things that we saw, and they don’t know the things that we know. I saw a unit shirt once that had “FEBU” stamped on the back. I asked the wearer what it meant. He said “Fuck Everyone But Us.” Sometimes that’s how I feel in the civilian world. Fuck everyone but us, like the old Bedouin saying. I against my brothers. My brothers and I against our cousins. My brothers, cousins, and I against the world.
It’s easy to be insulated as a veteran. It’s easy to rely only on the opinions of others who are in the group. Where we won’t be judged for the jokes we tell, or the times when we are weak. It feels safer to be among those who you know will have your back, because they had your back over in Iraq or Afghanistan, and you can’t fake it in a TIC. It’s easy to want to say we ought to put these civilians who don’t know shit about war, and violence, and death, in their place. To tell them that we know best. That we’ll arbitrate what is and isn’t patriotic, what is and isn’t heroism, who is brave, and who is a coward. We did it with Caitlyn Jenner. We do it over the Presidential election. We are doing it over the case of this DI who put a recruit in a dryer.
Rosa Brooks wrote a piece for Foreign Policy last week in which she made the case that veterans aren’t necessarily experts on foreign policy. I said the same thing in the first piece I ever wrote for my gig with the Council of Former Enlisted, called “Field of View.” I argued that those on the ground, especially junior enlisted, are too conflicted, and too narrowly focused, for their experience alone to credit them as a foreign policy expert.
So a year and a half later, with November 8th visible on the horizon, I find myself coming back to the question I tried to answer with that first piece: What do junior enlisted have to offer to the discussion on foreign policy and national security?
I still believe in what I said in the first piece. What we can offer is honesty, without prejudice, bias, or influence. We can be faithful witnesses to the truths we found or didn’t find on the ground. We can narrow the gap between the field grade staff officer briefing in an air conditioned room on a power point slide, and what is happening in narrowly focused, highly magnified, field of view.
That’s why we tell stories here at RTB. That’s why a piece like East from Blake Schreiber matters. That’s why Suckers from Dan Willis is so important. These are raw war stories. Uncooked. Rough cut. They lack the literary polish of finely wrought war narratives. They don’t come from someone trying to make a point. They come from a raw, flooding, deluge, gut punch place that is screaming out for someone to listen. They are stories that simply demand to be heard.
We will make arguments from time to time here at RTB. We’ll poke fun, and laugh, and debate just like all of us vets used to do in smoke pits, on ship, in hooches, or out in the field inside our sleeping systems, covered and aligned. But the feature narratives that we bring each week, their primary drive, is simply to state, like the nobody in the crowd, that the emperor has no clothes. That life is sometimes cheap, but always precious. That war is inherently absurd, but we all found things there, and lost things too, and most of all that we are the sons of this republic, and we went to war for you, and we want you to hear our stories. We need you to hear. We need you to listen, and this is the price we demand for our sacrifice. That in the war where the country back home was not asked to share the burden, that in the aftermath, we spread the weight of our stories across the backs of the countrymen we fought to protect.
Stories are how we bridge the civ-mil divide. Stories are how we can influence foreign policy. Stories can touch, they can change, they can reveal, they can connect. Stories can help heal the invisible wounds from the wars we’ve lost, and help to stop the next war.
My joke about hating civilians still doesn’t get a laugh. I keep telling it anyway. I write my own stories and help bring you the stories of others, because if I ever want to come home, all the way home, I need to stop hating civilians. I’m trying. I’m telling you my stories, so I can return to base.
Peter Lucier faithfully and honorably occupied the lowest echelons of the grunt hierarchy from 2008-2013, first as a FAST Marine and then an LAR scout. At Montana State University Lucier relentlessly pursues a degree in political science, focusing on using mathematical models to quantify exactly how much Forest Gump sucks. He also serves as RTB Media's Editorial Director; his views are his own. Follow Peter on Twitter.