Santa Fe, N. Mex.
P. J. O'Rourke's piece on Iwo Jima ("Sulfur Island," June Atlantic) was beautiful: both a tribute to those lost in battles past and an inspiration to those of us who may yet wield power in battles present and future. However, I must correct him regarding the Medal of Honor. I study military conflict, and have never known or heard of a member of the U.S. Armed Services who would regard the award he speaks of as the Congressional Medal of Honor. Though often called the "Congressional" Medal, the award is actually bestowed on the recipient by the President in the name of Congress. It is no more the Congressional Medal of Honor than it is the Presidential Medal of Honor; it is simply the Medal of Honor.
Amy J. Williamson
Clear Lake, Iowa
''Sulfur Island" is pretty good, except for a detail I believe is false and which I very much resent. P. J. O'Rourke writes about the Marines' standing at attention during the Japanese national anthem, and a Marine sergeant major of his generation saying under his breath, "My grandfather would be rolling over in his grave if he saw this."
I was the only Marine sergeant major at the ceremony described, and I'm the only Marine sergeant major who gives tours on Iwo Jima. I doubt that I would say such a thing. My father fought Nazis, and my grandfather never saw action in World War I. I have no anger or bitterness toward the Japanese people. In fact, many of them are my friends.
M. W. McClure
As a longtime admirer and fan of P. J. O'Rourke, it pains me to have to correct him, but it is, as we say, my duty as a former noncommissioned officer.
O'Rourke makes the common error of denoting the plural of "sergeant major" as "sergeant majors." In fact two or more senior NCOs of that rank are "sergeants major." In a similar vein, two or more military trials would be properly referred to as "courts martial," two or more pointy-headed academics as "doctors of philosophy," and two or more John Ashcrofts (God forbid) as "attorneys general."
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
P. J. O'Rourke replies:
I plead guilty (or stupid, as the case may be) to all three charges. But I feel particularly bad about the complaint from Sergeant Major McClure, who greatly impressed me on Iwo Jima. In matters of military rank and insignia I am … a civilian. I can't tell a brigadier general from the doorman at the Ritz. I wasn't quoting Sergeant Major McClure, but I can't say who I was quoting. The sergeant (or officer, or whoever it was) who said "spinning in his grave" was on the periphery of my vision, because I, too, was standing at attention and facing the Japanese flag. I have no anger or bitterness toward the Japanese people either, but my father fought them in New Guinea and the Philippines. And I'm afraid that as the Japanese national anthem was being played, I could practically hear Dad's casket whirl.
Dawn of the Daddy State
Paul Starobin ("Dawn of the Daddy State," June Atlantic) would put the United States, Russia, and the EU in the same category as Israel, surrounded by terrorist Muslim states all eager for its destruction. He would also trade in democracy for a Hobbesian authoritarianism that I—and, I think, most Americans—feel would be an unwelcome anachronism, and not worth the reach back to mid-seventeenth-century England.