Copyright 2014 John T. Reed

Ever since I first encountered marines while I was in the 82nd Airborne Division, I have been astonished at their emotional immaturity. The airborne Army troops were similarly immature. The 2/27/14 Wall Street Journal has an article that makes it clear they are still about 12-years old mentally. Google “Hello to Arms: Marines Reinstate A Corps Fashion Principle.”

Basically, the head of the Marine Corps banned rolling up sleeves 2 1/2 years ago. Starting March 9th, they can roll them up again. The Marines are ecstatic.

All branches of service wore our sleeves that way in Vietnam. It was hot. We were not ecstatic.

Why are the marines having wet dreams about rolling up their sleeves again? Reading the quotes in the article and between the lines, the marines think their arms are so muscular and manly that they will impress girls and their non-marine male rivals in the impressing-girls business. One marine in the article complained that not being able to roll his sleeves up prevented him from showing off his tattoos during business hours. Seriously!?

The other reason is to set themselves apart from the other services. I thought you guys did that by wearing dress blues (which the vast majority of members of the other branches do not even own in spite of being allowed to); having the word “marine” on your uniforms; your eagle, globe, and anchor badge; and copyrighting your camouflage pattern so the other U.S. services could not copy it. (They really did that.) Note that the marine I linked to is photographed with a Marine flag behind him; the Army soldier, an American flag. Telling, isn’t it?

Here’s a suggestion for how the marines could separate themselves from the other U.S. services—setting aside for the moment why anyone would want to be so childish. Win an occasional fucking war. Neither the Marines nor the Army have won a war since 1945. That could also be called doing your job.

Apparently the U.S. military has drifted so far from the goal of winning wars that they have totally forgotten that is their reason for existence. They think their job is to show off their muscles and pants creases. The marines say “…we haven’t seen any [social media] post [other than the one announcing the rolled-up sleeves] generate such an overwhelmingly positive reaction.”

So here we have the marines, and to a lesser extent the other military units who think they are special, revealing what they are really about: being peacocks. They should change the marine emblem to a peacock, globe, and anchor. President Truman, a World War I Army artillery officer, joked that every marine rifle squad has two photographers. The article goes on ad nauseam about the hours marines want to spend polishing their boots (now suede eliminating the need) and using glue to make their creases and rolled-up sleeves just so.

Here’s another suggestion for the marines. If you really like shiny shoes and perfect creases and showing off your forearms, get out of the military, go to school to become butlers and fancy restaurant waiters and hotel doormen—and when you’re off duty, wear a tank top. And you’ll need to move to a warm climate to avoid Father Nature forcing you to roll you sleeves down. Enjoy.

John Wayne played marines in two movies: Flying Leatherecks and The Sands of Iwo Jima. Can you imagine “Sergeant John M. Stryker,” played by John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima coming into the barracks excitedly and saying, “Hey, guess what fellas! We get to start rolling our sleeves up on March 9th?”

Me neither. Wayne was cast in those roles because of his extreme manly appearance and demeanor. Men in the combat business do not concern themselves with sleeves, let alone jump for joy about them. If some teenaged marines in a Wayne movie had been celebrating being allowed to roll their sleeves up in a scene, Wayne’s line would probably have been something like what I have said in this article. Maybe, after silently waiting for their celebration to die down, he would have snarled,

The Japs don’t give a damn about your sleeves. Get back out on the bayonet course and start worryin’ about makin’ sure you’re still around to need sleeves when this is all over.

The Journal article ends with a quote from Marine First Sergeant Shawn Wright expressing how thrilled he is with the new sleeves policy: “I’m like a kid…”


John T. Reed

Here is criticism I was certain I would get—and my answer.


I'm a frequent reader and your point of view generally resonates well.
I can see your point about the Marines unwarranted excitement over the rolled sleeve issue.
However, the slam about not winning a war since 1945 was absolutely unjustified for both the Marines and the Army.
Your VN experience should certainly give testimony the foolishness of directing a war from the Executive Office. The ongoing limitations placed on our front line fighting forces for political reasons continues this folly and I suspect has a lot to do with the focus on "peacocking." I think the outcomes of most of our post WWII conflict would have been significantly different had the Devil Dogs been given a reasonable freedom of action.

Yep, and they should have said this at the time instead of going along to get along to the point of losing a war and 58,000 men. Zero moral courage, but many tattoos.
Ditto the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
If politicians won’t let you win, tell them, then, if they do not change, leave the military ASAP. Then, when the time during which you are not allowed to publicly complain expires, you speak out publicly.

You will be so kind as to name the Marines or Army guys who did that during Vietnam. I know of none. Zero.

I am writing my first novel now. In it the unelected president gives the military the rules of engagement they had in WW II and should have had since. But it did not occur to me to have the military in the novel get as excited about the new rules as the marines seem to be about their sleeves. I doubt such rules would excite actual current Marines as much as rolling up their sleeves.

It’s an all-volunteer military now—not during Vietnam. Yet no one at all leaves, publicly denouncing the suicidal, ineffectual, victory-preventing rules of engagement. And soldiers and marines keep on dying. That is a far more serious slam on the marines and the rest of them than their preoccupation with such trivia as displaying their forearms. At least the other branches are not wasting any time on sleeves.

The first words spoken to me and everyone else at West Point were,

Mister, from now on you have just three answers: yes, sir; no, sir; and no excuse, sir.”

I am glad to hear that the marines have great excuses for not winning in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan. I am sad to realize that neither the marines nor the army have won a war since 1945, or had any complaints about their civilian leadership at the time. Perhaps some of them should read my web articles on moral courage and the morality of obeying stupid orders. Or maybe they would benefit from my web article “Find ways to win not excuses for losing.”