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Focusing on a Common Mission Brings People Together

Amy Chua's recent book tells the story of Carl Marlantes, a marine Lieutenant who served in Vietnam, who observed how the military creates unity among diverse soldiers. He recalls being on the remote jungle hilltop in Vietnam in 1968 and being asked by Ray Del Gato, "an 18-year-old Hispanic kid from Texas," if he wanted to try a tamale from a care package that Ray's mother had sent him. Marlantes tried the tamale but complained that it was very tough to eat. "Lieutenant," Ray finally said. "You take the corn husk off."

Years later Marlantes reflected on how focusing on a common mission can bring different people together:

I was from a small town on the Oregon coast. I'd heard of tamales, but I've never seen one. Until I joined my company of Marines in Vietnam, I'd never even talked to a Mexican. I saw how [the military] brought together young men from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and forced them to trust one another with their lives … If I was pinned down by enemy fire and I needed an M-79 man, I'd scream for Thompson, because he was the best. I didn't even think about what color Thompson was. … White guys had to listen to soul music and black guys had to listen to country music. We didn't fear one another. And the experience stuck with us. Hundreds of thousands of young men came home from Vietnam with different ideas about race – some for the worse, but most for the better. Racism wasn't solved in Vietnam, but I believe it was where our country finally learned that it just might be possible for us all to get along.

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