A Memorial Day Memory, Revisited

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My first assignment out of the Marine Corps Basic School and Infantry Officers Course was with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines (or Golf 2/8 as Marines would say). Shortly after I reported aboard in 1981, the battalion deployed to the Mediterranean.  It looked for a time that we would land in Beirut, but it didn’t happen, and we went back to North Carolina after an uneventful six months of cruising, liberty call, and a few training anchorages. When 2/8 went back to the Med in 1982, however, we did land in Beirut. Someday I’ll write about that experience, but today I will fast forward to our return. By the time we got back, I was nearing the end of my tour with 2/8 at Camp Geiger/Lejeune.  I spent a few months as CO of Headquarters Company, 8th Marines, wrapping up with a “Solid Shield” Exercise and departing for Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island in April of `83.

2/8 deployed to the Med again a few months after I left.  They made history this time, landing in Grenada enroute to Lebanon, and getting involved in significant combat operations when they got back to Beirut.  In the course of this, four Marines I had known were killed in action. With Memorial Day coming up, I’d like to write about them.  Even on Memorial Day, the one day we set aside to remember, the dead are too often forgotten. This is my effort to preserve some of the memory, for myself as much as for anyone else who reads this, of four good Marines I knew.

The first to die was was Major John Macroglou.  Maj Macroglou had been the Deputy for Camp Affairs (DCA) at Camp Geiger when I was CO of the Headquarters Company.  Our jobs put us together, and he was kind of senior officer who was a friend of junior officers. He was later reassigned to 1/8 and deployed to Beirut .  On 23 October a truck loaded with explosives crashed into the building that the battalion was using as a command post.  220 Marines, 18 sailors and 3 soldiers were killed, John Macroglou senior among them.

Next to go was Captain John Giguere.  Captain Giguere was the Forward Air Controller (FAC) for G 2/8 when I was with the company.  One Christmas we were on air alert, and Capt Giguere and his wife invited all of the single lieutenants in G Co. over to their house on Christmas Day.  Just days after the Beirut bombing, 2/8 invaded Grenada, and by then Capt Giguere was back to flying his Cobra.  The other Cobra in his section (his “wingman”) was shot down on the island. Capt Giguere and his co-pilot continued to suppress enemy ground fire and direct rescue efforts for the downed ship, even continuing to make strafing runs at the ground after they had run out of ammo, in order to draw off fire from the rescue aircraft.  Capt Giguere’s ship was shot down. It went into the sea, killing both him and his co-pilot 1st Lieutenant Jeffrey Scharver. One of the Marines in the other Cobra was rescued and survived. John Giguere received the Silver Star posthumously.

Last were Sergeant Manuel Cox and Corporal David Daugherty. Shortly after the bombing, 2/8 relieved 1/8 in Lebanon.  On a day in December units of 2/8 were engaging the enemy. When the shooting started, Cox, Daugherty, and some other Marines ran to the roof of the building they were in to return fire.  A rocket hit the roof, and Cox, Daugherty, and several other Marines were killed.  Cpl Daugherty was a big, happy guy. I’ve looked up some pictures of him and the other 3, and he almost always has a smile. That’s how I remember him.  Sgt Cox was a serious career Marine with a wife and son.  I wish I’d made the effort to get to know them a bit better, but the atmosphere of the Marine Corps generally doesn’t encourage that between officer and enlisted. Anyway, I won’t forget them, and on Memorial Day I’ll make a special effort to hold them in my heart.

About the Book

Soldiers and Civilization covers the history of the military profession in the Western World from the ancient Greeks to the present day. Drawing from military history, sociology, and other disciplines, it goes beyond traditional insights to locate the military profession in the context of both literary and cultural history. Reed Bonadonna maintains that soldiers have made an unacknowledged contribution to the theory and practice of civilization, and that they will again be called upon to do so in important ways. The comprehensive nature of the book and the extent to which Bonadonna draws on the disciplines of the humanities to make his points set this volume apart from others on the subject. The military profession, in its broadest consideration, might be viewed as an interdisciplinary branch of the humanities. A soldier is made of the words of history, poetry, and the laws and language of his calling. With each new conflict, the military may be called upon to preserve the values of civilization. To fulfill its future role, the military professionals of today must know, heed, and apply the examples and narratives of the most successful and exemplary military professionals of the past at their best.

Metaphysics and the Politics of Irrationality

I know I said I’d be posting next on You’re Not Listening, but I’m not finished with the book yet, while the piece below seemed ready to go. Hope you like it.

            In this post, I will discuss what has been called the epistemological crisis affecting the country. The credulousness of large segments of the American public in the face of dubious conspiracy theories, the unwarranted stigmatizing of groups of people, and mythologized historical narratives, along with an ill-informed skepticism about dependable data and scientific fact, offer challenges for all of us. Perhaps most of all, these are signs that our education system needs to change. Specifically, greater emphasis on critical thinking, on logic, on selectivity concerning sources of information, and on responsible citizenship is required. This is different from the pieties and political correctness that sometimes characterize our current system.

            Meanwhile, however, the problem will not wait for even the most expeditious and effective education reform, which will require years and even decades to take effect. Also, before we begin the process of reform, there must be discussion of the nature of the problem. I am heartened to see that this has already begun, and will here add my voice. An important aspect of this crisis is what I will term (not wholly originally and calling on another branch of philosophy to go alongside epistemology) metaphysical thought. Metaphysics is an ancient branch of philosophy that inquires into the nature of the universe. It asks the questions about what is there, and what is it like.  Metaphysics has to a degree been supplanted by modern physics, since some of the questions once left to the speculations of metaphysics can now be answered by forms of observation and computation unknown until relatively recently. Still, metaphysics has performed a service in humankind’s efforts to understand the nature of its condition, and there is arguably still a role for metaphysics. One of the reasons for the survival of metaphysics is that modern and contemporary physics have grown very difficult for the layman to understand. Most of us who are not physicists or cosmologists probably still think of the universe in somewhat metaphysical terms, that is in terms or certain general properties rendered in ordinary language, rather than through rigorous observation and demonstration. This metaphysical thought can be illuminating, merely harmless, or a danger. Metaphysical thought can tend to murkiness or deliberate obscurity. Its search for a hidden or underlying reality behind appearances can lead the individual, and even whole communities, nations, or movements of people to embrace falsehood. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, having tired of the truth, they may betake themselves to error, mistaking it for originality or insight.  Metaphysical thinking may conjure a “higher” or more transcendent reality, a deep understanding that can only be experienced or intuited, never really proven. They are matters of identification, not proof or reason: there was rampant voter fraud even though no evidence exists; the earth is not warming despite the record of climate change; immigrants are ruining the country even though they are actually working and contributing.

            These kinds of thoughts and beliefs are enabled by and in part the cause of the education gap between American Republicans and Democrats, at least among white voters. In a shift from past decades, Democrats are now the better-educated party. Their greater familiarity with science and other forms of organized, systematic expertise gives them a measure confidence in experts and in science and makes them less vulnerable to the appeals of metaphysical thinking. Less-educated people may also feel a need to assert themselves by claiming to a special knowledge that is being missed by the well-educated, by “mainstream media,” by out-of-touch intellectuals who have lost an intuitive sense of their own identity and the underlying truth.        

Right-wing and reactionary causes have often been served by irrational thought and ideas. As noted by Jonathan Egid in a recent book review, metaphysics has been used “to cultivate a feeling of sanctity and sublimity around such notions as ‘nation,’ ‘race,’ or ‘historical destiny’ ” (London TLS May 14, 2021). They have relied on religious or quasi-religious rituals and sometimes spurious traditions. Eighteenth century politician and conservative political philosopher Edmund Burke praised “prejudice and prescription” above the individual exercise of reason. His writings have given a degree of respectability to conservative dismissals of science and expertise.  Reactionary movements have sometimes allied with religious groups to make their appeals, calling on theology and religious cosmology to support their own world view and agenda. Or they have evolved their own form of spirituality, again generally anti-rational, to justify racist or authoritarian ideas. A recent, typically rather louche example of this was the Viking-helmeted “shaman” arrested for the 6 January assault on the U.S. Capitol.         

            A difficulty in challenging such beliefs is that they are not based on facts or reason in the first place. What appears to have worked in the past is that metaphysical thought as a substitute for real knowledge has frequently demonstrated its own lack of efficacy. Movements based on metaphysical thought have generally failed to attract the “best and brightest” who might provide leadership. Their adherents, often motivated by feelings of resentment and inferiority, are also often burdened by social and psychological problems that can impair their effectiveness as activists. It may not be enough to wait for these movement to collapse of the own inherent defects. Patient repetition of facts and appeals to reason may work even with people not used to thinking that way. Some of us who canvassed during the last election may have had that experience. More of these conversations need to happen and, of course (to go back to some recent posts on empathy), we need to listen to why people hold the views that they do. There is a lesson there for me as much as anyone.          

Later: Back to Empathy?

Epilogue to Empathy: You’re Not Listening

            I’ve posted recently on the strategic empathy workshop I attended under the auspices of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). A further personal connection with the subject of empathy occurred recently when I purchased a book called You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy. I’d seen some notices for the book, most recently a favorable review in the London TLS, and I found a copy at the Strand bookstore on Broadway in Manhattan.

            There are a couple of reasons why I added this book to a growing collection of “pending,” unread books. In fact, I pushed this book to the head of the line, ahead of various military and historical works, a couple of novels and a book on writing a novel. You’re Not Listening first caught my eye because, at least in my own family circle, I have the reputation of a terrible listener. I’ve had various excuses for this. When talking to my wife, I used to invoke the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” clause: the idea that men use language to communicate information while women talk to cement relationships. This excuse got fairly threadbare, and it was always a bit of a dodge. I’ve also told people that if I’ve been reading it might take me several seconds (at least) to attend to whatever they are saying. This excuse has some legitimacy, except that I’m a poor listener even when I haven’t been reading! I’ve sometimes thought to myself that well, I’m such an intellectual fellow with a lot of things going on in my mind, pardon me if I’m not that interested in observations about the weather, etc. However, my inattentiveness has caused me to miss out on some important conversations, and I have the exasperating habit of asking about something that I was told just minutes before.

            All of his adds up to the conclusion that I need help with listening. Another reason I broke down and bought the book was my participation in the empathy workshop. Listening is obviously a requirement for the practice of empathy. Reading may be practice for empathy. Reading may open us up to empathy with a certain group, for example, but for empathy with a live, present person, listening is most often needed.  The word “empathy” has several citations in the index of You’re Not Listening, and as a concept it comes up often under different names. Murphy interviews many people in the book, most with professional expertise in listening, whether in foreign affairs, politics, sales, hiring, polling, or focus groups (which appear to be an endangered species thanks in part to big data, a regrettable loss to Murphy and her experts).   

            Finally, the easing of the pandemic and of the restrictions on gatherings it necessitated is seeing us all get out and among others more than we have in months. I don’t think I realized how hungry I was for ordinary socializing and casual human contact until I began to tentatively renew these practices. I suspect many must feel this way. We are all a bit out of practice, but I think we also find that we may want more than a return to the sometimes perfunctory and uninvolved conversations of the pre-pandemic world. We’ve had a reminder of how precious is contact with others, that it is not to be taken for granted, that time is short, maybe shorter than we think. We have a lot of catching up to do.

            I’m about halfway through You’re Not Listening. When I’m done, I plan to post again on some of the key points in the book and maybe raise some issues for further discussion. I think it would make a good book club, workplace, family or community book.    

Next: More on You’re Not Listening