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The “Get Some!” Problem

(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)

So apparently Marines love the the phrase “get some”. On page two of Generation Kill, Evan Wright explains:

"’Get some!’ is the unofficial Marine Corps cheer. It's shouted when a brother Marine is struggling to beat his personal best in a fitness run. It punctuates stories told at night about getting laid in whorehouses in Thailand and Australia. It's the cry of exhilaration after firing a burst from a .50-caliber machine gun. Get some! expresses in two simple words the excitement, fear, feelings of power and the erotic-tinged thrill that come from confronting the extreme physical and emotional challenges posed by death, which is, of course, what war is all about. Nearly every Marine I've met is hoping this war with Iraq will be his chance to get some.”

There’s a problem, though. I’ve read a lot of memoirs by Marines, and Marines don’t say “Get some!”--this includes dialogue heavy memoirs.

The most telling example comes from One Bullet Away. Nathaniel Fick and his platoon hosted Evan Wright--their memoirs essentially cover the same events--but Fick only uses the phrase once in One Bullet Away, as something someone from another platoon says over the radio. “Get some!” fails to make an appearance in either Donovan Campbell’s Joker One or Clint Van Winkle’s Soft Spots. Even Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead only uses it once, as something, again, said over the radio.

There is a disconnect here. One book claims that “Get some!” is the unofficial Marine Corp motto while four Marine Corps memoirs barely even use the phrase, and certainly none ascribe the world beating importance to it that Wright does.

We’re left with three options. The first is that the other memoirists are crappy writers without an ear for dialogue. This isn’t the case; I loved Generation Kill. At least two of the mentioned writers are very good if not great writers. I mean, Wright doesn’t even really use the phrase much himself in Generation Kill.

So we’re left with two more options, both of which are probably true and both of which indicate common problems in memoirs.

The first is that Wright makes an overly ambitious generalization. This is a problem endemic to the modern, reporting-based memoir, where an authors want to take the reader on a journey through a hidden, mysterious inner-world the reader doesn’t know anything about, and it leads to generalizations, usually overly hyperbolic ones. Authors make grand pronouncements about groups and people. “X group always does Y thing,” because one person they were with did that thing.

The problem is even more pronounced in war memoirs. Soft Spots describes how “In war, no one asks you if you killed anyone.” One Bullet Away describes how, in war, “Every fight is refought afterwards”. Mullaney’s The Unforgiving Minute describes, “the first rule of Afghanistan: The closer you look, the less you understand.” Sebastian Junger’s War, from the title on down, is one big generalization about the nature of war and combat.

If the problem is pronounced in memoirs, so is the literary fault. According to the narrator of The Things They Carry, “True war stories do not generalize. They do not indulge in abstraction or analysis. For example: War is hell. As a moral declaration the old truism seems perfectly true, and yet because it abstracts, because it generalizes, I can’t believe it with my stomach.” I agree.

So we come to the second option: “get some!” is kind of embarrassing. It’s too macho, too butch. Most of all, it asks for people to be killed. We can probably blame this scene from Full Metal Jacket. After all, it is the first thing that comes up when you google “get some”.

The catch is that memoir writers don’t want to embarrass the Corps. “Get some!” does. Marines, especially Officers, don’t want to write about, in public, their “get some!” mentality.

eleven comments

Even in this purported kinder and gentler world in which we are said to be living and all the talk about the nuances etc. of COIN ops (of which there are indeed many), if there is one core “value” of the Marines it is the desire to close with and destroy their enemies (and this means combatants) by fire and maneuver.

It has always been so and my guess it will continue to be so as whether you or others like it or not as being too “macho” etc., the nation will always need those who will kick the “bad guys’” door in and who by and large are eager to do so. The kinds of things to which you allude do not mean they are universal truths of all Marines and my own opinion of most of these are they are purposely or unintentionally/subconsciously written to include extremes that tend to sell more books in much the same way FMJ, Platoon and other such IMHO garbage have been used to both sell tickets and play to the ideological agendas of those producing them.

Thank you.

I agree with the second option but I will add that not only is it embarrassing, it’s also incredibly cheesy. In my 10 years in the Army, the only time I’ve used it was at Machine Gun ranges back in the day, and only in jest. I only knew one soldier during my shared experience in Afghanistan with Michael C. and he was perhaps the “cheesiest” and most mentally unstable soldier in our platoon. Hell, everytime he said that at the beginning of a firefight, his machine gun would jam.
Anyhow, I disagree with your assessment of “War” by Sebastian Junger as one big generalization. It is clearly stated how it is only one platoon’s experience. However, on the same token, alot of it could describe ANY platoon’s experience in either Iraq OR Afghanistan. Anyhow, I know thats not the point of this post, but I had to say something because I’m pretty sure its my copy of that book that you read, and I would like to have it back at some point. :) No worries!

Nonetheless, more great stuff from the brothers C.

@ Rob – You’re right about “War”. I was making fun of the title—which I really do hate—but the book is a good one. Review pending, but I’ve read it and liked it. One of the better memoirs out there.

Good post.

I’ll weigh in as a now-Reserve Marine officer: both observations are true. “Get Some” is a phrase that can inspire others and/or express motivation. It can be used ironically, such as when confronted with a heaping plate of unappetizing food, or inappropriately, when serving as a wingman in a bar.

It’s not nearly as ubiquitous as Wright makes it seem, and not nearly as nuanced as “Semper Fi”, “Ooh-Rah”. “Ooh-Rah” is, incidentally, the closest thing the Marine Corps has to an official cheer. “Get Some” is more like “Yut”: an outward expression of motiviation which, depending on context, can be genuine or ironic.

I will agree with Wright on one level: in 2003, as Marines crossed the LD and the fighting began, everyone I knew wanted to “get some”, even if they weren’t going to use that phrase to express that feeling. The desire to succeed in battle, to confront and struggle with and emerge victorious over a bloodied and beaten adversary, is deeply ingrained in Marine Corps culture. There are more eloquent ways to express bloodlust and the pride of engaging in a deadly struggle than grunting “get some” while depressing the butterfly-trigger of a machine gun.

So those with some maturity and/or education (officers and staff NCOs alike) tend not to use “get some”. It’s an inarticulate expression for doing something that can be deep and profound or superficial and pathetic, but either way should be done with enthusiasm.

Great comment, Joel. Like any culture, the Marine culture is complicated. I think your response gets at that.

I think this does a good job at explaining the “Marine culture”:

Five days before LtGen Kelly USMC gave this staggering speech to a group of Marine veterans, on 8 November 2010, his youngest son, 2dLt Robert Kelly USMC, a rifle platoon commander with Lima 3/5, was blown away by an IED while on a foot patrol in Afghanistan. He was casevaced in a US Army Blackhawk Helicopter to FOB Bastion. Enroute Army medics amputated both legs in an effort to stop the bleeding. He never regained consciousness.

Following a service in the Ft Meyer Chapel, “Rob” will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery at 12:45 Monday, 22 November 2010,. 2dLt. Kelly leaves a young bride of 4 years, Heather, a brother, Capt John Kelly, USMC, stationed at 29 Palms, a sister named Kate, and a mother named Karen.


[Ed. Note: For copyright reasons, we cut the material above. Click on the link to read the email and speech Cincinnatus is referring to.]

@ Cincinnatus – For copyright reasons we can’t cut and paste whole cloth from other websites. Your posts contained two posts from US Navy Jeep, and I don’t want to copy their material. I updated your link to the speech by the Lt. Gen. to send people to the right thing.

Hi –

I am the author at US Navy Jeep….please feel free to share my posts as long as you denote where the post originated.

US Navy Jeep supports sharing good info as long as it allows others to learn and be better warriors.

I will be attending Lt. Kelly’s funeral tomorrow in Washington, DC and sharing the experience via my Blog.

SEMPER FI to my Marine Brothers

Middleboro Jones

No need to re-post 4,500 words worth of content on this thread guys, the link will do just fine.

Lt. Kelly is being buried at Arlington. I think that’s interesting.