After the departure of Jim Mattis, a great Marine and SecDef, perhaps we ought to give another type of Jarhead a try. Mattis is a man whose entire life has been devoted to the military and service to his country. While admirable in the extreme, sadly no one is taking any hills today in the E-Ring. Thus it may be preferable to have the next SecDef come from a more professionally diverse background.
Someone who knows Washington and who has served in different positions there. But more important, someone who has served in the military, in combat, and has been able to translate those experiences into a greater realization of the role the U.S. military plays in this society and in the world. A person who has been through the crucible of a U.S. Senate and presidential election campaign and would put the Dems in a position to have to, if they continue to reject all things Trump, turn down one of their own. A man who left the GOP over Iraq, a principled move, but who also served in Ronald Reagan’s cabinet. A guy who won a bruising senate race in Virginia and then voluntarily stepped down after only one term. That kind of service, running your mouth instead of running a rifle company, probably didn’t sit too well with him.
He taught literature at the Naval Academy, was a Fellow at Harvard (we’ll try not to hold that against him), has written ten books, and has won an Emmy, (ditto on the Harvard thing). He entered the Democratic primaries for president in 2015 but left three months later saying he was “not comfortable” and “unhappy” with the party’s positions on many issues. Yeah, I bet “not comfortable” was a massive understatement, as he is a remnant of what many Dems were over fifty years ago.
You get it, Jim Webb.
The scuttlebutt here in DC the last couple of days is that Webb is being actively considered for SecDef by the president. As he was the only candidate I considered volunteering for, Dem and all, in the 2016 race, I think he would be a superb choice. Yes, for political reasons. However, also for reasons much deeper than that.
Webb went to college right here in the town where I live, at the USNA in Annapolis. He had a good run here, graduating in 1968. A famed part of it was a match for the 147-pound boxing championship of the brigade. His opponent was Ollie North. North won. The bout, and other stories of the USNA including that of John McCain, are told in Robert Timberg’s book “A Nightingale’s Song.” At certain times in certain bars, people still talk about the fight.
From Annapolis he went to Vietnam with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, where he served as a platoon leader and left with shrapnel he still carries in his head, back, kidney, left arm, and left leg. For his service there he received the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. His son served with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines in Iraq.
Webb’s 1969 Navy Cross citation reads as follows: “First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers… called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade that detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel… Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.”
He is that kind of man, a born fighter. When asked by CNN at a Dem debate in 2015 which enemy he was most proud of, he responded, “…the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he’s not around right now to talk to.”
He came back home, went to law school at Georgetown, taught, and served as Assistant SecDef for Reserve Affairs from 1984-1987. In 1987 Ronald Reagan made him Secretary of the Navy. He resigned the next year in opposition to cuts in the Navy budget. Later he served one term, as previously noted, as a U.S. Senator from Virginia. He’s made mistakes as well. He opposed Desert Storm and his jump to the Dems over Iraq was principled but perhaps over the top. And all that, even the blunders, makes him well qualified for SecDef. But to me what makes him most qualified of all is what he has written as an author.
If you’ve ever served in uniform, or have wanted to understand someone who has, especially a combat veteran, you could do no better than to read Webb’s “Fields of Fire.” It is a thinly disguised roman a clef about his service in Vietnam. The characters, before and after the war, tell a range of stories. Though one thread runs through the entire book: honor and commitment to the men you serve with and lead.
I read it the first time of many as a young soldier stationed in Germany in the early 1980s. It gave me, even after already going through basic training and intel school, my first real idea of what it meant to be a soldier and what it might be like if I would ever see action under fire. It was, not to exaggerate, a powerful epiphany. It still is and binds many of us who served and appreciate the fellowship of remembered youth and consistent devotion to the ideals that led us to wear the uniform in the first place. I don’t mean to say we’re all noble angels or heroes. I do mean to say there was a time in our young lives when if called upon, we could have risen to a noble occasion.
Another one of his books I’m most familiar with, and I’d have one in my library if every time I lent it out someone would return it, is his “Born Fighting.”
It tells the long story of the Scots-Irish who came to this country after centuries of blood-letting on the Scots border with England and in Ireland. Bathed in violence and with the feuds and clan loyalties that went with it, these families settled on the mountains and in the hollers of what we today call Appalachia. Their fierce courage and rebellious individualism made them warriors and natural rebels to authority of almost any kind save their own people. As they settled down a bit after the Civil War, they became America’s traditional military class. Our own samurai. George Patton and many American martial heroes come from that blood. Their most noted son, a man who defines their people and is one of the greatest men in uniform this nation ever produced, USAF Brigadier General Chuck Yeager, the test pilot who broke the sound barrier and who generations of pilots looked up to and emulated, comes from Myra, West Virginia. Can’t hardly get more down home than that.
Politically, they retain a sense of honor, bravery, and patriotism. They vote accordingly. As such, Ronald Reagan also called them kin. Today, Donald Trump is their paladin, as he gives voice to the men and women who built this country, fought its wars, but who have been looked at as backwoods bumpkins by the effete ruling class who cling to power against a rising tide of rebellion against their weak and self-serving policies.
Jim Webb hails from the same blood and, like J.D. Vance also as of late, has chronicled the story of his people on the written page. Understanding them is, to a great degree, understanding America and its current divisions.
It’ll be up to the president and then the senate if Webb becomes the new SecDef. He’ll have to go through the gauntlet of the political circus. That perhaps is not his best talent. He’ll be raked over the coals in confirmation hearings by the PC left. But if he makes it through without fragging one of them, he’ll make a truly excellent secretary of defense. Not only because he has already served this country well, but also because he comprehends deep inside the reasons for doing so.