Friday, October 31, 2008

Marines and Motorcycles

CNN reports that more Marines have died over the last year in motorcycle accidents than in Iraq.

Motorcycle accidents have killed more Marines in the past 12 months than enemy fire in Iraq, a rate that's so alarming it has prompted top brass to call a meeting to address the issue, officials say.

Twenty-five Marines have died in motorcycle crashes since last November -- all but one of them involving sport bikes that can reach speeds of well over 100 mph, according to Marine officials. In that same period, 20 Marines have been killed in action in Iraq.

So, does that mean the Iraq number is very low or the motorcycle number is very high, or both? It sure caught my attention; I'll tell you that. I can easily identify with the young Marines who drive too fast and engage in other risky behaviors that 20-year-olds often engage in.

What really caught my attention, though, was at the end of the video when Barbara Starr, the Pentagon Correspondent, said the Marine Corps had considered "banning Marines from owning these types of sports bikes."

Bob S. has often asked me to compare my ideas about guns to problems with other things, cars for example. He would say things like, so many people are killed in car accidents, why not ban cars? I'm paraphrasing there, but that's more or less the question. I've always resisted going into those types of comparisons because I don't believe in gun control or gun bans. But just for argument's sake, if the Marine Corps banned motorcycles, most or maybe even all of these 25 guys would still be alive. Does that mean it's the motorcycle's fault? No, of course not. Does that mean it's the fault of the availability of the motorcycle? Yes, indeed.

How does this apply to guns? If someone wants to do harm with a gun and none is available, he might grab a knife or club, something less lethal and do less damage. If a young Marine wants to ride fast and feel that freedom that riding a fast bike gives, and none is available, he might get in a car, drive fast and if an accident happens, possibly survive.

This is not to say let's have gun bans and motorcycle bans as a solution. It's simply to say, just like the availability of those powerful motorbikes is the problem, gun availability is a big part of the gun violence problem. Can we all agree on that?


  1. Mike,

    Thanks for the mention but I will disagree with you on whether or not it would have saved any lives.

    Ban the sports bikes and Marines will buy choppers or dirt bikes or even a sports car. What will not have changed is the risky behavior patterns that the Marines engage in.

    That is the same for firearms, ban guns and the drug turf wars still exist, right?

    Is the type of bike used or the speed involved.

    Let's look at some of the points from the CNN article

    Do the Marines know the dangers and the risks of riding motorcycles?

    The Marines have taken some measures. The Marine Corps has had a long-standing policy for all Marines who ride motorcycles to take a mandatory basic riding course. More recently, it added a second training course specifically designed to train Marines who ride sport bikes.

    This is on top of having to qualify for an motorcycle endorsement on each state's drivers license.

    Is it just the Marines having problems? I know those guys are crazy (*have to be to join Marines)but maybe it is a culture issue within the Corp.
    The rise in motorcycle deaths isn't confined to Marines. The Navy says it's had 33 deaths on motorcycles over the past 12 months, a 65 percent jump from the previous time period. And authorities say motorcycle deaths have been a problem in the civilian world, too.

    Doesn't sound like it is something limited to the Marine.

    Is it just young guys thinking they are invincible, doing risky stunts?

    But Navy statistics show that five of the victims were 25, the most prevalent of any age involved in the crashes. And two 40-year-old sailors were killed in motorcycle crashes.

    Marine Gunnery Sgt. Art Tucker knows all too well about the dangers of sport bikes. An owner of a Kawasaki Ninja, Tucker has had two crashes, and the second one nearly killed him.

    "I sustained a broken collar bone; I tore the shoulder out of the socket; I tore three ligaments in the shoulder, the rotator cuff; I broke three vertebrae," said Tucker, a drill instructor for new officers.

    Gunnery Sergeants aren't young guys.

    So they are trained, knowledgeable of the risks and still do it. Would banning a class of bikes really change the behavior or shift it to something else?

    Instead of focusing on the tool, don't we have to change the behavior? Try to reduce the impulse to jump in a car or on a bike and go fast (good luck with that). Same with firearms, the availability of a tool doesn't stop the violent behavior, but stop the violent behavior and it doesn't matter what tool is available.

    * Inside joke, my oldest son is actually in his 10th week of Marine Corp boot camp in San Diego.

  2. I think these Marines own these bikes to feel "more like a man"


    A Marine friend of mine likes to say: "The Marine Corps is a Department of the Navy...The Men's Department!"

    I think I've already asked you to pass my thanks onto your son for his service, Bob...but it could stand to be said a second time.

  3. Weer'd

    I'll pass on the thanks in a couple of weeks. The family is going out to San Diego for his graduation the week before Thanksgiving.

  4. Bob, Thanks for sharing that inside joke. Congratulations on your son's upcoming graduation.

    Would you mind if I ask, why he joined? How old is he? How much influence did you and your politics have on his decision? What kind of a young man is he?

    If this stuff is too personal, just disregard and please take no offense.

  5. Mike,

    I don't mind you asking at all, I appreciate the thanks and will pass them along. Troy is 18 and is a typical teen boy now days.

    Not the greatest student but that is because the system doesn't fit him and his style of learning. Another example of trying to force all kids into the same mold, he needed to be in a self pace, multi-discipline learning environment; very hands on, tactile, etc.

    I'm actually his step-dad but never call myself that unless to explain. Married his mom and got Troy, his younger brother and older sister in the bargain (and it is a wonderful bargain) 6 years ago. Just in time for the usual, teen angst, rebellion we got to throw in a healthy dose of blending a family. Worked through most of that and really started becoming close; then his dad moved back. For most of the 5 years before then, the dad had been out of state and mostly out of touch.

    His dad spent 10 years as a Marine, so between my Air Force service, his dad, and most males in the family serving in the military at one point; he had a strong background for the military.

    He wasn't ready for college, most of high school was not a pleasant experience for him. The family situation only complicated it dramatically. For the most part, he was a good kid but there were some willingness to obey the rules issues. Minor stuff like grades and smoking but creating much conflict...fill in the blanks about how the family scene affected that.

    We've heard from him a couple of times and he's doing good. Much of what he did in Scouting gave him a head start on basic training.

    I think he joined for the reason many of us did; to find himself through the military.

    Hope this answers your questions, please don't hesitate to ask more. I don't mind sharing but have to be a little cautious on how I express things.

  6. Bob, Thanks so much for sharing about your family and your son's reasons for signing up. I was interested because of my own Marine Corp experience. It seems like 100 years ago, but my motives weren't all that different from his.

  7. Mike,

    I find that those reasons for joining are very common.

    I was in something of the same boat when I joined the Air Force. Dad and Mom were divorcing, would not/could not afford college, too many of my friends marrying just to do something, etc

    I find that many of my older relatives have expressed the same thing. It's amazing how little things change.