CAMP LEJEUNE, NC – “We’re entering the summer months, and you know what that means: nice weather, beach parties, cooking out. And a more than 40% increase in duels,” says Gunnery Sergeant Colin Bond as he clicks to a slide that indicates a sharp rise in the incidence of duels during warmer parts of the year.
The Department of Defense has long struggled to respond to public claims that it has failed to effectively address what seems to be an epidemic of duels following the reduction of deployments as operations have wound down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though dueling has long been explicitly punishable under Punitive Article 114 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, lawmakers and the public have called for a more active role in preventing duels instead of punishing them.
"Explain to me why you think you're never going to be in a duel, and I'll show you the statistics that tell you to think twice," says Bond to a classroom full of young Marines. "Whatever you're going to tell me, I've already heard it: 'Oh, they're only talking about duels to the death.' Well let me tell you, even a duel to first blood can end in tragedy."
Bond is talking about the tragic case of Corporals Sanchez and Forbes, two of the latest Marines whose lives were claimed by a supposedly "non-lethal" duel. The two Marines had been listening to their senior enlisted adviser, Master Gunnery Sergeant Ned Prince, talking about duels he engaged in as a young Marine, one of which resulted in a prominent facial scar that had gotten him a date to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball with supermodel Adriana Sklenarikova (later Adriana Karembeu) in 1995.
Later in the evening, after several drinks, the two corporals began a loud argument over what onlookers described as "a typical filthy off-base skank . . . half teen girl, half possum," and decided to settle the issue with a duel to first blood using their noncommissioned officer swords. The duel ended when Corporal Sanchez made a deep cut along Corporal Forbes' knuckles; rather than surrendering, Forbes angrily swiped at Sanchez, accidentally cutting his throat. Sanchez then lashed out in anger, running Forbes through the heart, probably before even realizing the grave nature of the wound inflicted on him.
Both were pronounced dead at the scene.
"Once a challenge is formally made, it becomes a hell of a lot harder to stop a duel from happening," explains Gunnery Sergeant Bond after the class. "That's why we're targeting these classes at people who haven't quite reached that point yet, or who might be called on to act as the seconds in a duel. They're the guys who can head things off."
When asked if the Department of Defense or Marine Corps have identified the root causes of the dueling epidemic, he admits that there is still much confusion.
"All we've really learned from the studies is that every duel is unique, but every duel is also preventable," said Bond. "But personally I believe if you put guys in this emotionally charged environment, train them in interpersonal violence, and you talk to them about honor enough, it's just natural that you're going to have these problems. I'm surprised it's taken us this long to take a lead role in stopping them."
While the military seems to be at a loss as to what is driving the dueling epidemic, some theories have begun to gain traction.
One of the more unusual but increasingly popular theories was put forward by sociologist Michael Parker, who believes the duels are simply a consequence of the parallel, but less publicized, epidemic of infidelity within the military.
"You can teach all the classes you want," said Parker, regarding the new mandatory classes. "Until you give these guys some kind of legal recourse when they're dishonored, you're going to have duels."
"And if you want to take that thinking one step further," added Parker, "I can give you any one of dozens of studies positively linking military infidelity to conditions in the barracks. You have some young pup getting pulled out of bed on the weekend to go pick up trash for some friendless, divorced first sergeant, probably also a casualty of infidelity, and you're seriously surprised when he marries some high maintenance rattlesnake from the nearest off-base bar?"
"You can pretend like he's just an idiot who's resistant to your mentorship, but the truth is he's making a totally rational decision to get out of the barracks situation your own idiotic policies have put him in."
However, even with the problems of dueling, a minority of military leadership remains pro-duel. One major was willing to speak to Duffel Blog on condition of anonymity.
"These duels prevent hundreds, maybe thousands of deaths every year," he said. "It's easy to become fixated on the cases that resulted in a fatality, but all those cases really show is that the Department of Defense should be more involved in dictating the conduct and rules of dueling, or enforcing the code duello, not banning duels."
"Banning duels just pushes them out of the public eye, where you're more likely to have duels to the death, more lethal weapons, poorly chosen Seconds who just want to see the duel happen, or the absence of a surgeon or corpsman who might be able to save the life of an injured duelist."
He then added, "Also, we're losing sight of the positive aspects of this situation. I mean, thank god these guys are back in garrison where you can put the two parties on the dueling field to resolve their differences, while reaffirming their honor as men at arms. Can you imagine what would happen if one of the parties was out on deployment, or if there wasn't this vibrant dueling culture to help them settle their differences in a controlled way?"
"Jesus, we'd have an epidemic of, I don't know, suicides or something."