Trump vs. the Marines: Semper Lactentum

We don’t really know (and probably never will) whether President Donald Trump really called America’s World War One dead “losers” and “suckers,” as Jeffrey Goldberg claims in a September 3 piece in The Atlantic.

On one hand, the claim rings true. Trump has a history of publicly spitting in the faces of war veterans both individually (calling Vietnam POW John McCain a “loser,” vilifying administration appointees who even briefly remove their lips from his posterior, etc.) and collectively (for example, pardoning war criminal Eddie Gallagher in the face of his comrades’ reports of his atrocities).

On the other hand, that it rings true makes it somewhat irrelevant. His “pro-military” supporters knew he was a snake when they picked him up, and they’ve continued to embrace him no matter often or brazenly he sinks his fangs into their favored people and causes.

Amid the howling commentary and “analysis,” what I’ve not seen is any substantial discussion of two questions: Were US troops in World War One “losers?” Were the Marines who died at Belleau Wood “suckers?”

“Losers,” I think, is pretty much an obvious falsehood. The US and its allies won that war, the Central Powers lost it, and the entry of US forces almost certainly changed that outcome from stalemate to rout.

Ever since boot camp in 1985, I’ve loved — and steeped myself in — Marine Corps history, and Belleau Wood looms large in that history. First Sergeant Dan Daly, already the winner of two Medals of Honor, is said to have yelled “come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” as he led his Marines into the fray. To this day, members of the Fifth and Sixth Marine Regiments wear the French fourragere in recognition of their units’ valor at Belleau Wood. The Marines carried the day at Belleau Wood. “Losers?” Nope.

But “suckers?” Well, maybe.

More than four million Americans volunteered for, or allowed themselves to be conscripted into, military service in World War One. 117,000 of them died. Hundreds of thousands more bore wounds that pained them for life.

And for what?

Certainly not, as US President Woodrow Wilson claimed, to make the world “safe for democracy.” Among America’s allies, Russia was an outright autocracy, while Britain and France, formally democratic at home, ran global and distinctly non-democratic empires. And Wilson himself instituted an anti-democratic police state at home, censoring and jailing opponents of the war.

Nor, as it turned out, was World War One “the war to end all wars.” US entry into the war turned a likely status quo ante into an ersatz “peace” that led directly to World War Two, as the allies divvied up new suzerainties from the Central Powers’ colonial remnants and imposed crushing reparations on Germany.

That — and everything that followed from it, including a warfare-welfare state that, like a vampire latched firmly onto his victim’s jugular, sucks peace and prosperity from Americans’ lives to this very day — is what the Marines at Belleau Wood died for.

“Suckers” sounds fair.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.