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Looking for a few good ninjas

Culture | Will the New Age movement overtake the Marine Corps?

Issue: "The 2000 vote," Nov. 4, 2000

All is not well in America's military, as nearly every soldier, sailor, or airman will tell you. The problem is not just funding-the bad pay, the lack of spare parts, the outdated equipment-though that is bad enough. The bigger problem is cultural. The military's own time-honored culture is being violated by the trendy, politically correct culture that dominates today's government.

For example, the macho world of the fighting man, in the name of feminism, now has to accommodate women. And when improprieties occur, as they are bound to, military careers get ruined. (It doesn't help when the commander-in-chief gets away with behavior that would bust an officer out of the service.) And now-in the terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole-women have actually been killed in combat.

The Marine Corps, though, has resisted much of the social engineering. Women and men train separately and the sexes are, at least partially, segregated. The Marines may be the most conservative branch of the military, in terms of their own culture as an elite fighting force. Morale remains high. The Marines are meeting their recruitment goals and are retaining their officers.

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But now an effort is under way to drag the Marine Corps into the New Age movement, complete with Eastern mysticism, Zen meditation, pop-psychology, and the trappings of the neo-primitive Men's Movement.

In a front-page article in the Oct. 9 Wall Street Journal, reporter Greg Jaffe describes how the Corps is developing a new "Marine Martial Art." Its purpose: to teach marines to be adept at hand-to-hand combat by using techniques of aikido and tae kwon do, but also to draw on the religious origins of those martial arts to inculcate "inner peace."

The Corps hired Richard Heckler, a psychologist who runs a karate dojo in California's Marin County, to design the program. For the Marines who took the five-week pilot program this summer, part of the regimen involved meditation, as practiced by the Eastern religions. The so-called "Ninja Platoon" also did exercises in "exploring each other's energy."

They studied Mr. Heckler's writings on "warrior values," in which recruits had to reflect that "I see myself as the fundamental creative force in my life." They did various self-exploration exercises and shared their feelings in group activities.

(A better part of the program, led by a blood-and-guts colonel, was perhaps more in keeping with the Marine's culture. Lt. Col. George Bristol taught his men how to fight with bayonets and regaled them with accounts of the Spartans at Thermopylae and Zulus walking through fields of thorns, all in an effort to instill the warrior spirit.)

In the pilot programs, 170 Marines received this training. Now it has been expanded, as 15,000 Marines currently are learning how to be ninjas. Plans to make it mandatory for all Marines, and a new recruiting campaign-featuring black belts and the slogan "Marine Martial Art: You'll Bow to No One"-will soon be released, targeting young fans of Jackie Chan movies.

Since there are no atheists in foxholes, the armed forces have, commendably, been open to religion. Avoiding the overly scrupulous "wall of separation" between church and state that afflicts most government agencies, America's armed services have military chaplains of various traditions, who play a major role in the lives and the spiritual well-being of the troops. If there is a need for a Buddhist sensei to take his place next to the Christian chaplains, that should be allowed. And if Marines want to practice Zen meditation or channel Spartan warriors, that is their privilege. But forcing all Marines-

particularly Christians, but also Jews and Muslims-to participate in pagan religious practices goes too far. Just as all Marines are not forced to attend Protestant religious services, they should not all be forced to practice Eastern mysticism.

The command structure might also consider the lessons of what may have been the Marine Corps' finest hour. In the Pacific theater during World War II-at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, and the other islands that had to be taken in some of the bloodiest combat in our nation's history-ordinary American Marines, many of them Christians, were up against the heirs of the martial arts tradition. The Japanese were schooled as samurai warriors, holding the ninja ideals. Indeed, their meditations caused them to be seemingly fearless and single-minded, to the point of suicidal attacks, flying kamikaze planes to crash into American troops. But look who won.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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