EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the May 3, 2004, issue of National Review.
Parris Island, S.C.–A morning here is invariably punctuated by shouts and yells. Standing at an area reserved for martial-arts training sometime around 7:00 a.m.–practically afternoon by Parris Island standards–I can hear platoons in the distance well before I can see them. There are the distinct barking voices of drill instructors, inevitably followed by the staccato collective answers of their platoons of recruits.
When the platoons come into view, the recruits are jogging in loose formation, constantly prodded and harried by drill instructors wearing yellow T-shirts, running up and down among them, picking out recruits for shouted instructions, correction, or what seems pure harassment. The instructors appear eternally pissed, bending at the waist to lean in close to the recruits’ faces to give them the full blast of their yells.
This is the beginning of the process that will create the Marines who will fight in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq. It is no exaggeration to say that U.S. national security depends on what happens here, in the interaction between the recruits and the drill instructors charged with forging them into Marines.
Even for a civilian who sympathizes with the values and culture of the military, it can be painful to watch. In one exercise, the recruits fight with “pugil” sticks. They climb up on four-foot-high ramps wearing football helmets and neck pads, and try to inflict on each other what would be “killing blows” if they were made with bayonets instead of the padded sticks. Each pair fights for three rounds before coming back down.
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