Tomorrow Matt Pottinger, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, will become Lieutenant Matt Pottinger, USMC: When people ask why I recently left The Wall Street Journal to join the Marines, I usually have a short answer. It felt like the time had come to stop reporting events and get more directly involved. But that’s not the whole answer, and how I got to this point wasn’t a straight line.
A year ago, I was at my sister’s house using her husband’s laptop when I came across a video of an American in Iraq being beheaded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The details are beyond description here; let’s just say it was obscene. At first I admit I felt a touch of the terror they wanted me to feel, but then I felt the anger they didn’t. We often talk about how our policies are radicalizing young men in the Middle East to become our enemies, but rarely do we talk about how their actions are radicalizing us. In a brief moment of revulsion, sitting there in that living room, I became their blowback.
Of course, a single emotional moment does not justify a career change, and that’s not what happened to me. The next day I went to lunch at the Council on Foreign Relations where I happened to meet a Marine Corps colonel who’d just come back from Iraq. He gave me a no-nonsense assessment of what was happening there, but what got to me most was his description of how the Marines behaved and how they looked after each other in a hostile world. That struck me as a metaphor for how America should be in the world at large, and it also appealed to me on a personal level. At one point I said half-jokingly that, being 31 years old, it was a shame I was too old to serve. He sat back for a second and said, “I think I’ve still gotcha.”
But it wasn’t that simple. The must-read post of the day.