- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A four-star Marine general laments an American public that cannot comprehend why young Marines sacrifice their lives to defend the country, saying millennial Marines shun a popular culture that celebrates the self-absorbed and materialistic.

“This is not a criticism, but those with less of a sense of service to the nation will never understand it when men and women of character step forward and look danger and adversity straight in the eye, and refuse to blink or give ground even to their own deaths,” said Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, a former enlisted man who rose to the armed forces’ rarefied air as head of U.S. Southern Command.

“The protected can’t begin to understand the price paid so they and their families can sleep safe and free at night. What they are missing, what they will also never understand, is the sense of commitment, joy, and honor of serving one’s country in uniform,” Gen. Kelly said Saturday at the New York City Leatherneck Celebration Ball.

The Washington Times obtained a copy of the speech, and Southern Command confirmed its accuracy.

Pundits have talked about the growing schism in America between a population who has never served and the relatively few who want to.

Gen. Kelly spoke of a cultural schism — as he put it, the “current cohort of opinion makers and cultural icons” who advocate self-absorption but are not embraced by young Marines.

“The young people I work with every day and serve the nation in the armed forces, in general, and the Marine Corps, in particular, have broken the mold and stepped out as men and women of character who are making their own way in life while protecting ours,” he said. “Young people who, like their fathers and grandfathers before them, have a religious faith in self-reliance, hard work, and making it on their own. This is who they are, and it is this philosophy that came to them through their families.”

Gen. Kelly, who led Marines in Iraq’s restive Anbar province, said about 1 percent of the nation now wants to serve in the armed forces, and decidedly fewer want to be Marines.

Values of the World War II generation have waned, he added.

“There was something uniquely special about them,” he said. “They worked so hard and had so little, but loved this country in a way that is in many ways almost lost today with the exception of a very few — perhaps 1 percent of America — that see it in the same way they did.”

He criticized those “who for their own reasons dare to so patronizingly speak for us, calling us victims and weary, but have never walked in our shoes or stood by a flag draped casket holding someone so precious.”

And he warned Marines at the ball that the country is in the midst a long struggle.

“If you think this war against our way of life is over because some of the self-appointed opinion makers and chattering class grow ‘war weary,’ because they want to be out of Iraq or Afghanistan, you are mistaken,” Gen. Kelly said. “This enemy is dedicated to our destruction. He will fight us for generations, and the conflict will move through various phases as it has since 9/11.”

Gen. Kelly is mentioned as a possible successor to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, whose terms ends later this year.

During his speech, Gen. Kelly did not refer to his own loss. In 2010, his son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly, was killed instantly by an improvised explosive device while in charge of a platoon in Afghanistan. A second son is a Marine Corps major.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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