Friday, November 11, 2005

In Praise of Nathaniel Fick

Our honored guest this evening was more impressive than I could have imagined, particularly in his willingness to answer direct questions with honest and thoughtful answers. Here is how I introduced him:

The name Nathaniel is derived from the Hebrew phrase, “Gift of God,” and Captain Fick’s presence here on Veteran’s Day reminds us that we should be thankful for the members of our nation’s and our allies’ armed forces who have stood as the front line in the defense of liberty around the world. Many of them have been buried not far from where they made that stand.

Captain Fick served tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq, in the latter leading a platoon of an elite Recon Battalion that was at times the northernmost one in the march toward Baghdad. He is now enrolled in a dual-degree program at Harvard’s Business School and Kennedy School of Government. Tonight, he joins us to speak about “Eating Soup with a Knife: A Marine Officer's Perspective on Afghanistan and Iraq.”

It was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who made an observation sixty years ago that has become part of the Marine Corps lore. She said:

The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have
ever seen. Thank GOD for the United States Marine Corps!
Even a quick glance at the role of the military in American society shows that the life of an American soldier is full of contradictions. There is no easy way to reconcile the world’s most lethal military force with the world’s most open society. But the two are inextricably linked. The more representative is the democracy and the freer is the republic, the more it is worth fighting for.

We can do our best to bridge this gap by hearing the stories from the veterans themselves, and although some experiences are off limits, old soldiers do like to tell of their adventures. As a result, the list of fascinating books about military campaigns is long. It has just gotten one book longer and a whole generation better. I believe that Captain Fick’s One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer is destined to be the classic military memoir for our times.

What do we learn from Captain Fick’s treatise? We see example upon example of how American soldiers use force deliberately rather than indiscriminately. We come to realize that operational mistakes in war are inevitable, but when they occur, Marines on the ground have been trained to overcome them. And we feel reassured that having a Dartmouth classics major at the helm of an elite platoon in Iraq makes for not just a great read, but it helps get the mission accomplished and keep the troops alive.

We are grateful to Captain Fick for being with us today to share the insights he has gained from his unique experiences. Earlier today, he had lunch with the Rockefeller Center’s PoliTalk discussion group and students in the Dickey Center’s War and Peace Studies program. He met with some of Dartmouth’s ROTC cadets. Tonight, he will lead a session of the Rockefeller Center’s Leadership Fellows program. It’s not quite a day of training at Quantico, but it is more than enough to show Nate’s affection for his alma mater.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Captain Nathaniel Fick.

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Farinata said...

Mr. Fick gave an outstanding lecture and has clearly done a great deal to make his alma mater proud.

My only contention with the various points he made was when he rejected the notion that "the war is being fought on the backs of the poor." While that may be a rhetorical overstatement, I found Mr. Fick's anecdotal evidence unpersuasive. I certainly believe that he served with a significant number of intelligent and well-educated Marines, but elite military units like Fick's First Recon draw disproportionately from the best and the brightest. Combined with the fact that the Marines already set higher standards than some of the other branches, I'm not sure Fick experienced a good sample size.

Just to confuse things with my own anecdotal evidence, when I graduated high school the recruiters who flocked to the my school consistently loss interest in me when they learned I planned to go to college. Understandably they were far more interested in my friends and classmates whose best option post-graduation was to join the assembly line at the Subaru plant. While Fick is right to point out that the military is more diverse than we might expect, it still seems that the opinion-makers and policy-setters of our country take on a smaller share of the military burden. I believe this stratification has only increased since Fick left the service; as the war becomes increasingly unpopular those with broader and better options are more inclined to take them.

Arun Khanna said...

All Ivy league schools should have ROTC programs. Since ROTC and defense services are voluntary why not give students the choice to serve? A citizen that steps up to serve their country to help preserve our freedom and democracy deserves to be treated on par with the best of citizens. Unfortunately on college campuses today this is simply not the case.

Eagle1 said...

What a wonderful introduction and a great way to expose young (and older) innocents to one who has traveled in the real world and made the hard choices.

Well done!

coinside said...

I remember being disappointed when I learned the front-most figures on Pimp My Ride were not automotive professionals but actors. Similar disappointment awaits those that believe Fick was a hero.

jacko492 said...

I started posting some pictures I had taken in 1968 while in Vietnam and added some captions. I'm not selling anything and came to your site for some ideas. Nice job and unique to say the least. Take a look if you get a chance. ---Jack--- weapons used in vietnam war

Brisbane Marketing Consultant said...

I've just finished watching Generation Kill. If Captain Fick is anything like the character portrayed in the TV series, I am extremely impressed.

Get some.