Orwell was wrong

In writing about Kipling, George Orwell said, "[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them."

When my best friend, a 33 year—old attorney decided to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserves, I had an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of 'civilized' and how Orwell missed it. 

First a little background.

David is a litigator with a prestigious law firm in Houston.  A State Representative sits down the hall.  It is the sort of firm every young law student dreams of joining.  Because David did a five—year stint on active duty with the Marines, he is the oldest first—year associate in the firm.  From every indication, his legal career (civil litigation, medical malpractice defense) is going well and his future looks bright.

So why did David join a Marine Reserve unit that has already been ordered to Iraq?  Why would he give up the fast track to partner in a great firm to re—enlist as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps?  Especially when he knows he'll be sent to Iraq in July?

God, Family, Corps, Country.  As David described it to me while discussing his imminent deployment, he pointed out something; 'There is no 'self' in that hierarchy.' He then went on to say, 'My Marines are over there doing the job and I can't let them down.'

Although I made a token effort to dissuade him from going, I knew that when a friend says something like that, you simply back off and begin to offer support in any way you can.  I even joked about taking care of his new car while he's in Iraq.  It was the least I could do.

Things got completely serious when I accompanied David to his physical.  The medical quarters of the reserve headquarters in Houston look like a really poorly—designed high school built in the 1960's.  In a too—narrow hall, dozens of Navy and Marine reservists milled around waiting their turns for blood work, urinalysis and eye exams.  I was one of two civilians there.

In listening to the conversations, and occasionally asking about civilian life, I was struck by something.  This was a squared—away group of Marines: a lawyer, a cop, a truck driver, an energy trader, and several students.  A few had been to Iraq and the rest were headed there. None of them appeared to wish to be anywhere else.

I thought about the sacrifice each was making in his own way.  Careers sidelined, families left behind, risks to life and limb taken.  These guys are inherently less civilized?  Than whom?  French diplomats?  Some guys at the U.N. who cashed in on Iraqi blood in the oil—for—food scandal?  I can think of no man more worthy of the term 'civilized' than one who would take such enormous risks, pay such a price for our country.

At one point, I felt compelled to mention that I had been appointed to West Point by John Tower but had been declined due to poor eyesight.  It was a feeble attempt to let these men know that I, too, had answered the call.  Or at least I had tried.  It was, frankly, an embarrassing moment.  The words Shakespeare wrote in Henry V jumped into my mind:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to—day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile this day shall gentle his condition: and gentlemen in England, now a—bed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Our civilization depends upon the exertions, not of the 'inherently less civilized', but of those who value civilization the most.  Those who are not a—bed but those who face the discomforts and dangers of war so the rest of us can go about the business of modern life.

It is no exaggeration to say that this essay is written in English and not German or Japanese because of a generation of men who do not have to hold their manhood cheap because they did the hard work of defending our civilization.

The Marines I met proudly carry on that civilized tradition.

In writing about Kipling, George Orwell said, "[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them."

When my best friend, a 33 year—old attorney decided to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserves, I had an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of 'civilized' and how Orwell missed it. 

First a little background.

David is a litigator with a prestigious law firm in Houston.  A State Representative sits down the hall.  It is the sort of firm every young law student dreams of joining.  Because David did a five—year stint on active duty with the Marines, he is the oldest first—year associate in the firm.  From every indication, his legal career (civil litigation, medical malpractice defense) is going well and his future looks bright.

So why did David join a Marine Reserve unit that has already been ordered to Iraq?  Why would he give up the fast track to partner in a great firm to re—enlist as a Sergeant in the Marine Corps?  Especially when he knows he'll be sent to Iraq in July?

God, Family, Corps, Country.  As David described it to me while discussing his imminent deployment, he pointed out something; 'There is no 'self' in that hierarchy.' He then went on to say, 'My Marines are over there doing the job and I can't let them down.'

Although I made a token effort to dissuade him from going, I knew that when a friend says something like that, you simply back off and begin to offer support in any way you can.  I even joked about taking care of his new car while he's in Iraq.  It was the least I could do.

Things got completely serious when I accompanied David to his physical.  The medical quarters of the reserve headquarters in Houston look like a really poorly—designed high school built in the 1960's.  In a too—narrow hall, dozens of Navy and Marine reservists milled around waiting their turns for blood work, urinalysis and eye exams.  I was one of two civilians there.

In listening to the conversations, and occasionally asking about civilian life, I was struck by something.  This was a squared—away group of Marines: a lawyer, a cop, a truck driver, an energy trader, and several students.  A few had been to Iraq and the rest were headed there. None of them appeared to wish to be anywhere else.

I thought about the sacrifice each was making in his own way.  Careers sidelined, families left behind, risks to life and limb taken.  These guys are inherently less civilized?  Than whom?  French diplomats?  Some guys at the U.N. who cashed in on Iraqi blood in the oil—for—food scandal?  I can think of no man more worthy of the term 'civilized' than one who would take such enormous risks, pay such a price for our country.

At one point, I felt compelled to mention that I had been appointed to West Point by John Tower but had been declined due to poor eyesight.  It was a feeble attempt to let these men know that I, too, had answered the call.  Or at least I had tried.  It was, frankly, an embarrassing moment.  The words Shakespeare wrote in Henry V jumped into my mind:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to—day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile this day shall gentle his condition: and gentlemen in England, now a—bed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Our civilization depends upon the exertions, not of the 'inherently less civilized', but of those who value civilization the most.  Those who are not a—bed but those who face the discomforts and dangers of war so the rest of us can go about the business of modern life.

It is no exaggeration to say that this essay is written in English and not German or Japanese because of a generation of men who do not have to hold their manhood cheap because they did the hard work of defending our civilization.

The Marines I met proudly carry on that civilized tradition.