Fencing Pliers and Banzai Charges, A Reader Weighs In

Trench Warfare

Marines From B Company, Batalion Landing Team 1/1 practice trench clearing techniques in the United Arab Emirates.  Ah yes, Sergeant Rullman and the lads, in the long, long ago.  

I have a good friend who is now a Colonel in the Marine Corps.  Once, in our youth, we served together, fraternizing, as it were, in various pubs and off-limits districts across the Pacific, until eventually sailing through the Straights of Hormuz to plant Old Glory and our regimentals in the greater sands of Araby.  He is a generous sort of officer, of the warrior-gentleman school, and once gave me his copy of NAVMAC 2890, The Small Wars Manual, which resides on my desk and whose pages I consult most frequently–a kind of Daily Word for the martial soul.

Occasionally, when he is not busy field-glassing the Russian bear from some crumbling cold war redoubt, or leading war fighters in one of the world’s sandboxes, he is able to send out riders carrying dispatches to the rear.  Always in duplicate, be assured, as lone messengers often vanish in the mountain passes.  I received such a dispatch yesterday, full in the comfort of my heavily sandbagged bunker in the snowy woods.

Hand written in the margins of pages torn from Once An Eagle, by Anton Myrer, and scrawled in obvious haste–for the enemy never sleeps–I thought it most worthy of publishing here.  It has been redacted for reasons of operational security, though the full text can be found on my personal server, which I keep downstairs in the Custer Bathroom–another story entirely.

From the dispatch:

I want to offer an extension of what I call The Rullman Theory; that a society’s rise or fall can be measured by its citizens’ bookshelves. For now I dub this offshoot the Tool Theory. The ability (or inability) of men to use and care for basic tools provides a window into a society’s state as a whole. The results of my anecdotal field research are not hopeful.

In 2005 me and the boys were out at this rather large airfield in Iraq and manning the defenses (which were poor at best, and upon reflection I don’t think the BC even once toured the line. But that’s another story all together). Naturally we went through the process of improving our positions.  This meant, among other things, stringing lots and lots of barbed wire.

Being the guy that I am I wrote home and had my Grandfather send me out some fencing pliers. For every job there is a perfect tool right? I get the pliers, break them out, and it was if I were showing the Marines some ancient Mesopotamian fertility fetishes. They had no idea what these pliers were for or how to use them or why somebody would create a set of pliers just for stringing barbed wire. The miles and miles of cattle fence all over the U.S. just string and maintain themselves right?  My attempts to instruct them on the use of the pliers provided only a small return on investment.  Oh well, perhaps there is now an I-phone app for that.

Ok, I thought.  Well these are all Ohio and upstate New York kids so maybe they get a pass.  But the next duty rotation was made up of Mexican-American kids from South Texas.  Surely one of them knows what fencing pliers are?  Alas, no.  My disappointment was not cured.  Worst of all, a Sergeant brought my pliers back to me one day with the rubber handle covers ripped off.  To not understand how a basic tool works is one thing, to return a man’s tool in a state of disrepair is a far worse sin.


Jumping into the sea to avoid capture by US Marines

Fast forward to 2016.  We’re building the gear list for an upcoming deployment.  A third of the team are communicators.  I tell the Lt ordering the supplies to purchase one multi-meter for each Comm Marine on the team.  An hour later I get the question, “Sir, what is a multi-meter?”  The burden of command indeed.

Regarding Kate Bighead’s claims:  at the battle of Cannae, post battle accounts detail Roman troops, who, in the midst of the battle and their impending doom, attempted to bury themselves alive in order to kill themselves by asphyxiation. This means of suicide, while strange, would be seen as preferable to torture and a humiliating execution at the hands of Hannibal’s mercenaries. At Masada, about 1000 or so Jews committed suicide rather than risk capture by the Romans. Fast forward to the Pacific in the 1940’s: Okinawan’s jumping off cliffs, banzai charges into machine guns, Japan’s best admirals going down with the ship… Fast forward to today and suicide vest, suicide belt, and SVBIED are now mainstream terms when discussing warfare. For reasons of fear or honor, suicide is an element of the human experience of warfare.



  1. Well, that was fun. I love historically literate persons.



    1. Indeed. It is even more fun when they have spent a lot of time downrange, far from the Madding Crowd.



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