Hannibal At The Gate
A few days before our most contested and polarized election in modern history, Osama Bin Laden released a video tape for the American people, clearly intended to create a state of fear and to influence our election…our Democracy. We are often reminded that we have very little understanding of the Islamic World – what motivates them to hate as they do, how are we going to fight such an enemy that is willing to destroy himself in order to destroy us. For the most part we do not appreciate their lack of understanding of our culture, our way of life and last but not least, our long history in warfare. Somehow, somewhere they have been led to believe that we can be frightened, and if we become frightened enough we will abandon our core values and change course or direction.
First, we’ll have our election, and, though it may seem to the untrained eye that we are about to come apart at the seams, not a shot will be fired, reinforcing a tradition that has been in place for well over 200 years, of changing leaders peacefully. Although we are a relative young country by world’s standards, we are the world’s longest continuous democracy. There is no other country in the world that has had a functioning, live, breathing, expanding Democracy for as long as we have. Second place is not even close. We have been at it longer than anyone, yet at the same time, we’re one of the world’s youngest countries. After all, we are a part of the New World, built by people willing to endure unimaginable hardship to come here and, in the process have had to fight everyone including ourselves to build a way of life and a set of values we cherish. And that is what our enemy wants to destroy.
When I see the tape of Bin Laden, it reminds me of Hannibal, the Carthaginian General. Not because Hannibal was an evil man, on the contrary Hannibal was a great General, perhaps one of the greatest generals of the ancient world. The comparison comes from stories of what the Romans would say to scare their children into behaving: “Hannibal is at the Gates.” Rome in its early day had a mortal enemy, the North African city of Carthage. Hannibal, its greatest general, nearly conquered Rome. With brilliant and daring military campaigns, he took his armies to the gates of the city before the Roman Legions fought him off, ultimately victorious in driving him away and defeating the Carthaginian. What Hannibal met was the Roman Legions. What made Rome such a formidable force was its ability to put forth soldiers, to raise and train armies, turning the military into a professional institution whose Legions won them the Mediterranean world. They defeated their arch rival Carthage, and solidified their place in the world as the most powerful society that had ever been… until now.
We recently had the opportunity to visit MCRD (Marine Corp Recruiting Depot) and Camp Pendleton, home of the Marines in San Diego. For a bunch of civilians it was an eye opening and emotional trip. I have to admit we didn’t know what to expect. MCRD is the beginning of the journey for a Marine. It is where they get their basic training. The first thing I noticed was just how young they were. They seemed like kids, my daughter’s friends with short hair, just not painted red or green. In the center surrounded by an array of historical Spanish architecture is what they call The Grind, an area that several football fields would easily fit. The Grind that day was full of graduating Marines – spit-polished and marching like well-choreographed machines, hundreds of them dressed in their best, nothing out of place…Graduation Day. The stands were full of families, friends and young ladies, proud as they could be. The next step after graduation is Camp Pendleton where they begin their infantry training, where the Graduate starts becoming the Warrior.
All day long we would see groups of young men marching, always with a drill instructor yelling at the top of his voice. It became evident that not all could march. Some were marching in relative unison, other groups would miss a step or two, while some looked more like Keystone Cops…one would stop and three would bump into the ones in front. There were some groups that were even marching in a slow motion as though learning how to walk for the first time. Our guide, a young Sergeant, walked around the place like a General. When a young recruit would walk by us, he would receive a thunderous “MOVE” or the proverbial question… “Are you eyeballing me?” And the response was always a “NO, Sir” or “Yes, Sir.” A response of “I’m sorry Sir, would you repeat that again?” would be suicidal. Eye glasses were all the same, camouflage was all the same and they all seem to have the same urgency to avoid any contact with our guide or any drill instructor for that matter. As the day wore on we could see the different stages of a Marine, the process of making a Marine. The tall skinny kid at the end of marching line, we could see that he just got there and was about to get the shock of his young life. Why, and for what? Are they really volunteering for this? I became profoundly humbled by, and very proud of these young men.
That’s how it begins for those Marines in Iraq; all have to go through what we were seeing. One thought all day was going through my mind, a question I would like to ask them if I could. Explain to me, why would you volunteer for this? Why not go to school, stay home, and listen to Green Day, Eminem or MTV… go hang out at the mall. A similar question might have gone through the mind of anyone witnessing the same thing back in 1943 when the War in the Pacific was raging, and the names like Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal were the topic of the day. Little by little it became clearer. Another interesting thing I noticed was a man at the graduation ceremony who walked past me apparently looking for a seat in the audience. He appeared to be in his 50s, wearing jeans and a black sport coat, cowboy hat. He was a bit overweight, with either a cowboy swagger or a slight limp. A group of medals adorned his sports coat. Seeing the pride and the cost behind those medals as he walked past me helped to answer some more of my question of why they volunteer. The man was there to see his Marine brothers graduate, and more than likely, the brother he came to see may have been his son. Tradition was everywhere, on the bus that took our group to Camp Pendleton the motto across its side read “EARNED NEVER GIVEN.” That pride was evident all over MCRD.
Recently, I heard someone say, it is not the Constitution that gives us the right of free speech, it is the Veteran. You can see that in the Halls of the Museum at M C R D. These young men have come here of their own free will, to be a part of the greatest group of Warriors in American History. When they say, from the “Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” they mean it. They can also add places like Fallujah, Kabul and, Baghdad, to their legacy. And finally to compare Bin Laden to Hannibal is an injustice, one a great and courageous General that almost brought Rome to its knees and the other a mass murderer hiding in the dark, a coward that has been relegated to video tapes in an attempt to scare the children. Our children are graduating by the thousands every Friday and they are not scared. The terrorists, and their friends, in their caves and safe houses, in their capitals, are all coming around to understand just what a ruthless hornet’s nest they have stirred up. Our election went forward as they have for over 200 years. The two candidates called each other every name imaginable, but when all was said and done we elected a President. What has not changed is the fact that Osama Bin Laden cannot show his face anywhere on the planet other than a video tape and this time it’s “The Marines that are at the Gates” and that is a truly frightening proposition.
|Master Sergeant Mark Wilson USMC Ret.||USMC Medically Ret.|
|Stephan M. Wilson Private Investigations||Marvin Winters|
|Wilson Security Patrol||APM Power Washing|