from The Water's Edge

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps!

Members of the U.S. Marine Corps celebrating Reuters/Darren Ornitz

November 10, 2017

Members of the U.S. Marine Corps celebrating Reuters/Darren Ornitz
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

The Marine Corps turns 242 years-old today. On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution to create a Marine force composed of two battalions. Since then, the Marines have been “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” and many other places as well.

You probably know that the Marine Corps’ motto is Semper Fidelis, or Semper Fi for short. It means “always faithful” in Latin, and it signifies a Marine’s loyalty both to the Corps and to the United States. What you may not know is that Semper Fi wasn’t the Corps’ motto until 1883. During its first century of existence, the Corps had a few unofficial mottos. These included “to the shores of Tripoli,” which commemorates the Marines’ service in the First Barbary WarFortitudine (meaning “with courage”), and Per Mare, Per Terram (“by sea and by land”), which the Marines borrowed from the British Royal Marines.

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No Marine has ever become president, but several have made it in politics. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly were both Marine Corps generals. Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George P. Shultz, Senator John Glenn (who first gained fame as an astronaut), and legendary political consultant James Carville also served in the Marine Corp. Several baseball hall-of-famers are veterans of the Corps, including Rod CarewRoberto ClementeEddie CollinsBill Veeck, and Ted Williams. Marines who made it in Hollywood include Gene HackmanHarvey KeitelLee MarvinSteve McQueen, and George C. Scott. Comedians Drew Carey and Rob Riggle were Marines, as was the late, great Jonathan Winters. If you are old enough to remember Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan), he was a Marine. Several famous musicians served in the Corps, including country legend George Jones, hip-hop artist Shaggy, and “The March King,” John Philip Sousa. Marines who made it in the business world include Tom Bell (Taco Bell), Tom Monaghan (Dominos), Bob Parsons (GoDaddy.com), and Fred Smith (FedEx).

The Marine Corps is the smallest of the four U.S. armed services in the Department of Defense, with roughly 185,000 active-duty personnel, deployed in the Pacific, South America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Army is about two and a half times larger with roughly 460,000 troops. But compared to most of the world’s militaries the Marine Corps is a giant. Countries that have armies smaller than the U.S. Marine Corps include France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan.

I asked Col. Todd P. Simmons, a Marine officer spending a year as a visiting military fellow in CFR’s David Rockefeller Studies Program, to recommend some reading for people hoping to learn more about the Marine Corps. Here are Col. Simmons’ suggestions:

  • Drury, Bob and Tom Calvin. The Last Stand of Fox Company (2009). Last Stand details the heroic defense of Toktong Pass by Fox Company 2 Battalion 7th Marine Regiment and the counter-attack by 1st Battalion 7th Marines to relieve them during the Chosin Reservoir battles of the Korean War. This is the finest hour for an organization with many fine hours. Martin Russ tells the same story equally well in his book Breakout.
  • Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (1981). Sledge fought in several of the toughest battles in the Pacific during World War II. With the Old Breed is the best and most realistic depiction of Marines in combat and the human factors of war that I have ever read.  If you have them, read it with a helmet and body armor on.
  • West, Bing. The Village (1972). West writes from personal experience about a small unit of Marines serving in the combined action program during the Vietnam War. While there is some value to learning the tactics and techniques that were successful during that time, The Village’s real value is its depiction of Marines performing as “strategic corporals” operating according to commander’s intent far from any higher headquarters. This is true maneuver warfare.
  • Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication-1. Commonly called “Warfighting,” this military manual is a timeless framework to understand warfare. Reading “Warfighting” will help you think deeply about how to outmaneuver an opponent, act in the absence of clear direction, and gain tempo in your organization.

Col. Simmons also recommends the 2006 PBS documentary The Marines.

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If you want to know what all Marines are required to read, the Marine Corps has posted its reading list online. Marines.com also has a great timeline of the history of the Marines.

The official YouTube page of the United States Marine Corps posted this 242th birthday message, providing a moving reminder of the heroism and sacrifices Marines have made over the years:

A tip of the TWE cap to all the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Marine Corps.

Corey Cooper assisted in the preparation of this post.

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