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No rice is found, so the unit digs in and waits. Confident of the enemy's position and facing pressure from superiors, Allen orders a frontal assault for the following day. Unlike past operations, this time he will accompany his men on the ground. Meanwhile, Dow's corporate recruiter arrives in Madison.

At a protesters' meeting that night, students agree that the major sit-in will occur on the morning of October 18, its aim to jam the campus building where Dow is recruiting and prevent any interviews from taking place. October Shortly after 8 a.

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After a couple of hours, they are ambushed by the First Regiment, which outnumbers them roughly ten to one. Alpha Company, which had taken the lead, is virtually annihilated, and Delta comes under attack from three sides and sustains heavy casualties.

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The Americans and Viet Cong are fighting in such close quarters that the Black Lions cannot call in artillery support. As the battle rages for the next few hours, American losses mount.

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The First Regiment leaves the battlefield later that day, and the Americans return to recover their dead and wounded. Of the men who marched into the jungle that morning, 64 have been killed, including Terry Allen. Meanwhile, the first day of anti-Dow protests takes place at the University of Wisconsin, but students do not try to disrupt the recruiting, for the most part staying outside the building where interviews are taking place. After a few hours, the protests end peacefully. The federal judge presiding over Soglin's lawsuit refuses to issue a temporary restraining order against the police or the university, but says he will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the university's regulations governing protests.

October In Vietnam, the First Regiment leaves the area and heads north, while American units return to the battlefield to collect those bodies they were unable to retrieve the night before. Superior officers begin portraying the ambush as a victory that prevented Viet Cong units from moving towards Saigon. In Madison, students begin their protest at a. The hallway is quickly jammed with demonstrators, and after trying unsuccessfully to arrest a few students, the university police chief requests assistance from Chancellor Sewell, who in turn summons the Madison police.

This is their first involvement in a situation on campus, but the police chief has been expecting the call and has already assembled a team of 30 to respond. After a few hours of fruitless negotiation, the police, who have received no training in riot situations, storm the Commerce building and begin removing protesters by force. Soglin and many other students are beaten by police swinging their nightsticks, but protesters do not suffer the only casualties.

In addition to the 47 students, 19 police officers are sent to the local hospital. As the officers force protesters into the plaza outside the Commerce building, tear gas is used for the first time. By p. In El Paso, men in uniform deliver the news of Allen's death to his parents, wife, and three young daughters. October After a heated discussion, the University of Wisconsin faculty votes both to approve Sewell's actions during the Dow protest and cancel the company's last day of campus interviews. October An enormous antiwar protest draws more than , people to Washington, including a contingent from the University of Wisconsin.

In Madison, two thousand students march to the Wisconsin State capital in what they term a "funeral procession" to protest police brutality. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, a memorial service is held at the Black Lions base camp in Lai Khe for the soldiers lost in the October 17 ambush. Meanwhile, 27 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans see the opposing party as a threat to the nation. If the courage of young men and women in battle truly does depend on the nature and quality of our civic society, we should be very worried. We should expect to see a sickness spreading from our public life and into the hearts of the men and women who continue to risk their lives on behalf of a distracted nation.

The bonds of men in combat are far stranger, and perhaps more fragile, than our lofty rhetoric would suggest. Decaul, who is black, was a lance corporal in a Marine artillery battery. Because your average military unit is a cross section of American society, he might well have expected to work alongside a broad range of Americans—white kids from the Northern Virginia suburbs, Hispanic kids from small towns in New Mexico, children of Vietnamese refugees from rural Indiana. If Decaul had wanted to—if anybody in the unit had wanted to—he could have gotten J.

When General Robert B. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City. As far as the military was concerned, men like J. If somebody had notified the chain of command, or even left an anonymous note at the office of the unit lawyer, the unit would have investigated, and that would have been that. Such things, a military lawyer told me, are a pretty straightforward affair. But this is not what happened. Instead, J. The previous unit to go on their planned deployment had ended up taking a detour to the Balkans. The question before a deploying marine as he looks at his brothers and sisters is quite simple: If I am, like Sergeant Wells and Gunny Shane, facedown and bleeding to death in the middle of an open highway as small-arms fire rages around me, will you run out to save my life?

This might seem like a lot to expect of J.


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In training, you see who you can trust. You see the guys who shy away. Midway through, they stopped to rest, and the young marine, perhaps out of an awkward sense of the gratitude his leader was owed, began telling Decaul about his family, and the racism he had been raised to believe in. It was something short of that—an openness, a moment of honesty without the kind of moral epiphany such moments are supposed to bring about. Decaul listened to the lance corporal, who was his marine and his responsibility, and then they continued down the mountain.

As a black man in America, Decaul could expect that being part of a national organization, be it the Marine Corps or any other, meant putting his shoulder to the wheel alongside the sort of people who in generations past had lynched and tortured men like himself. Nothing about this is just, but with a pragmatism that is common to members of the military, he accepted it and did his job.

Just before the battery deployed, its members threw a big, blowout barracks party. For those who have never gone to a barracks party, or been the officer on duty responsible for dealing with the chaos that follows one, imagine a frat party but with almost no women and even less common sense. One sergeant started proclaiming that he was Batman. When fellow marines called bullshit, the sergeant decided to prove the haters wrong by jumping off the third deck of the barracks. He broke both his legs. Apparently, he was not Batman. Another marine, a lance corporal, led a high-speed, lights-off drunk drive to raid another barracks.

But what Decaul remembers most vividly from that night is seeing J. Another black marine made a beeline over to the West Virginian Klansman.


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He got right in J. Decaul now has a playwriting fellowship at Brown University, where he assures me that racial dialogue happens very differently than it did in the Corps. Everyone thought it was hilarious. The last Decaul heard of J. There are limits, after all, and they should probably stop well short of accommodating the most brutal domestic-terrorist organization in American history. Sometimes marines—not just white ones but also marines of color—like to paint the military as a color-blind institution where people are judged for their abilities and character and not by their race or background.

The Americans who join the Corps bring with them the prejudices they inherited from American society. I heard some wild things in the military. The most straightforward case of this was the fight over whether to permit gay people to serve in the military. The argument against allowing gay people to serve was that the average soldier had such antipathy to gay men and women that it would hurt morale, limit the amount of good old homoeroticism that combat units run on, and generally make soldiers feel uncomfortable around one another in the intimate conditions that service in the military entails.

I assure you, even a decade later, when I joined, such sentiments ran strong. Instead, the most important element was a shared commitment to a task. Emphasis on unity—rather than divisions along gender and race—as well as on the importance of the mission, was the crucial factor.

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The drug addict and the Klansman—both of whom should have been kicked out—were seen by their fellow marines as contributing members of the unit, useful to the task at hand. When a threat is existential, the qualities you value in an individual shift. The philosopher J. Glenn Gray, who served as an intelligence officer in World War II, marks this as the distinction between friendship and camaraderie. How often do you look at a group of 30 men and women and think, Any one of the people in this room might be called to die for me?

It is perhaps, as Martin Luther King Jr. That such a thing is even possible is in part thanks to the selfless character of the men and women who join the military, submit to the arduous training, and pledge to leave no one behind. But no less important is their commitment to something outside of the unit. They need a mission—one that is achievable, moral, and in keeping with the values of the society they represent and whose flag they wear on their uniform.

In the long term, the strength and legitimacy of the military will be a function of the perceived strength and legitimacy of the project it is supposed to represent. The clarity of purpose so central to bonding men in combat cannot emerge purely from the military itself. And in our current climate, after a decade and a half of multiple wars on multiple continents, the hope for such clarity is rotting away. When I left the Corps , I was a firm believer in the mission, and I had cause to be. I had driven down Route Fran, past where Lonny Wells had died, past where many other marines had died, or lost limbs, or had their face burned beyond recognition.

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Roadside bombs, sniper attacks, ambushes—Fran had been a regular site of death and violence. And there it was, a newly opened bridal store, sitting on the edge of Fran. Meanwhile, back home, a raucous debate about military policy was under way. Hawks sometimes try to cast such debates as an affront to the troops.

General John F. The counterargument—that the gains of the surge were overstated and unlikely to achieve the broader political compromises essential for ensuring lasting stability in Iraq absent a large U. The sheer heat of the arguments, for or against, made clear that the policy, and our presence, mattered. I returned from Iraq in , and within a year the Corps was ramping up for Afghanistan. Anbar was too safe, too boring.

The fighting was in Afghanistan. And maybe lightning could strike twice.

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Maybe counterinsurgency theory really worked. At one point, I asked a young lance corporal out on a field exercise how his unit was going to be successful once they arrived in Helmand province. It was a more hopeful time. Instead of staying in and hunting for a deployment, I chose to get out of the Corps and go to grad school. The book also describes what it was like to be on the home front, the love and care of friends and relatives to a young woman as she approached motherhood for the first time, and her happiness of being a mother.

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