The movie "A Few Good Men" in 1992 starred Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise as Marines facing off in the courtroom. Lt. J.G. Daniel Kaffee (Cruise) is defending two Marines accused of murder at Guantanamo Bay. Col. Nathan Jessep (Nicholson) is the Base Commander. In a pivotal scene, the gruff Jessep is the witness, pressured by the inexperienced Kaffee who is demanding a truthful answer from Jessep. In a full Jack Nicholson over-the-top roar, Jessep scorches the screen with his answer: "You can't handle the truth!"
A little bit of that moment repeated Wednesday at the home of Clay Newman, a member of the Newton Advisory Committee of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. The local committee had invited Richard Marcinko, the founder of Navy S.E.A.L. Team Six, to speak to an invitation-only crowd on the subject of "Mission Possible in U.S. Counter-terrorism Efforts." Attendees also heard about the Newton Fund that makes "missions possible" through local philanthropic support of this community's nonprofits.
Navy S.E.A.L. Team Six is the super elite special operations force that captured and killed Osama bin Laden. Marcinko, a Vietnam veteran awarded the Silver Star and four Bronze Stars, founded and commanded this anti-terrorist group along with Red Cell, another elite anti-terrorist unit. Think Robert DiNiro sporting a long tight braid down his black, a suit with an open-collared shirt, severe black spectacle frames, leathered skin and a face that rarely cracks a smile, until he humors himself with a catchy, even raunchy, aside. I definitely want this guy on our side.
What I didn't want, however, was to hear some of the hard truths he spoke, based on 30 years of fighting unhinged terrorists on behalf of the United States. The definition of terrorism, he noted, has changed dramatically from "a crazy guy hijacking a plane to Cuba" to today's war against radicals who "go to war to die," eager to hook-up with 72 virgins in heaven. This sharply contrasts with Americans who go to war not wanting to die because of homes and families left behind. Marcinko sees no way presently for two peoples with vastly different beliefs about life and war to co-exist and decries moderate Muslims who haven't risen up en masse to counter terrorists who have hijacked their faith.
Now tell me. Would you want to hear the U.S. will need to be in Iraq and Afghanistan for a long, long time yet? No, we Americans think there can be a neat end to our commitments and we can just walk away when we don't want to be there anymore. The region is far too unstable, Marcinko asserts, and were we to pull out of Iraq, Afghanistan and certainly Pakistan, either the Russians or the Chinese will move right in. Unbelievably to most in the room, we heard the Chinese government already owns 99 percent of the rights to oil produced in Iraq. That fact fell with a thud in our midst. American technology, Marcinko continued, has discovered many rare minerals in Afghanistan, and guess who has contracts on them: the Chinese. Can we handle the truth?
So there we are, fighting a likely unwinnable war in land-locked Afghanistan - what major power has ever won a war in Afghanistan, Marcinko asks? Do you want to know how much a gallon of diesel fuel costs to deliver to our fighting forces? How about $372, that's per gallon - "our tax dollars," as Marcinko added.
He wasn't shy to divulge missteps in training for missions such as retrieving the Iran hostages and capturing bin Laden. The infamous failed helicopter in the Iran hostage crisis was done in by unexpectedly fine sand in the landing zone that was sucked into the engine. To prepare for the attack on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, the S.E.A.L.'s trained on a like-sized compound built in our deserts of chain-link fence for cost-saving purposes. However, negotiating in the dark a totally concrete structure posed untested problems for both the helicopter pilots and those rappelling into the compound. Marcinko quickly approved disposing of the body in the sea, preventing the possibility of annual rallies held at the site to fuel anti-American fervor.
He describes our on-and-off again ally Pakistan not as a "country that owns a military" but a "military that owns a country." That Pakistan's military leaders claimed not to know bin Laden lived just outside their own military complex defies belief, Marcinko said. We fully agreed on that one. They say the truth can set you free. Some of the truths Marcinko delivered made some of us want to dig a hole and crawl in, but the truth is there is no place to hide in this world - and no ready solutions to war these days.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She chairs the Newton Advisory Committee