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On Point

HEY! Get that marine out of my backyard!


by Austin Bay

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!" But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot; An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please; An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

Translated from the Cockney, that's a tough guy's distillation of The Democratic Soldier's Paradox -- the periodic high and low of hero and chump that's the ration of those who bear arms to defend democratic states.

GIs get parades when they kick Saddam, they get touchy-feely speeches when an embarrassed public discovers enlisted personnel are making ends meet with Food Stamps. But when peace reigns, when chaos and hell are safely channeled on CNN, when war is always "over there" because "it can't happen here" ... well, a parade's fine, but your loud bombs, jets, amphibious tractors and destroyers. NIMBY, GI, Not In My Back Yard.

At the moment, the politicians and protestors have big backyards. Consider two delightful backyards, Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, and South Padre Island, Texas. Great beaches. Wonderful weather, excepting the occasional hurricane. Viva touristas. Y'all tourists come, y'heah?

But as for the U.S. Navy: ix-nay, Admiral. Your 5-inch guns scare rare turtles. And your Marines. They look sharp in TV ads, blue jackets and sabers, but their amphibious vehicles, those behemoths leave tracks on white sand. And while we appreciate their payrolls, they do get rowdy. Wouldn't it be more civil (as well as politically correct) if 20 year-olds trained to use assault rifles were seen on TV but not heard, at least around here?

OK, I admit I'm laying it on thick. The U.S. military continually rates high with the American people. Polls ranking esteem put military officers near the top in public respect, with politicians and journalists squashed in the lowest echelons. The majority of Americans know that peace is that payoff of blood, sweat and guard duty.

Agreed, Vieques is politically complex, but the hyperbolic accusations of the protest crowd are absurd. One particularly laughable "ultimatum" says, "We accuse the U.S. Navy of thwarting ... the healthy development of our economy, forcing our people to emigrate in search of work and well-being, with the resulting family disintegration."

Hey sailors, you're anti-family and anti-economy. Tommy this, and Tommy that? In Texas, the ranch and the next election cycle come first. Usually pro-defense politicians are telling the Pentagon to forget Padre Island because "bombing Texas beaches isn't good for business."

Kipling's Tommy heard that cant when he "went into a theatre as sober as could be; They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me." Military uniforms cramped the toney style of the upscale Brit theater crowd. Texas environmentalists and Texas yacht owners seem to have a touch of the same hoity-toity.

Perhaps Vieques is no longer an appropriate major training site. Not all of the complaints are anti-military gush. I've given money to protect Padre Island's sea turtles. I don't want artillery fire landing near my Texas Hill Country yard (though there's one house up the ridge that would aesthetically benefit from a salvo of 5-inch rounds). If you've got a beach, it's human common sense to say, "Bikinis, yes; pre-invasion barrage, no."

But at some point, folks, you're going to need that barrage. Amphibious assaults are the most complex of military operations. Orchestrating their deadly ballet of sea, air and land forces requires intense preparation and practice. This training must take place in peace, otherwise Marines and GIs learn under fire. WWII's Tarawa invasion was an on-the-job learning experience, and Marines died in droves. While the Jane Fondas, Al Sharptons and Barbara Streisands lack the personal and corporate sensibility to acknowledge the need to prepare for the worst, responsible adults must.

Pearl Harbors happen. I don't mean films from Hollywood, I mean terrible, violent events that threaten the existence of democratic nations. These events are truly anti-family and anti-economy. Saddam, in particular, was also bad for the environment.

Peace is pro-family, pro-economy and, hear this environmentalists, pro-turtle. Do you want peace? Scipio Africanus, the Roman who defeated Hannibal, put it this way: "If you want peace, prepare for war." Americans need to understand that one of the burdens of maintaining peace may well be a Marine crossing the beach that is your own backyard.

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