Episode 108: A History of the U.S. Marine Corps

Host: Augusta Dell’Omo, Department of History
Guest: Aaron O’Connell, Department of History

The US Marine Corps may now proudly boast to be the home of the few and the proud, but this wasn’t always the case. In the early part of the 20th century, it was the poorest funded and least respected branch of the military, and at the end of World War Two there was actually a movement to shut them down. How, then, did this transformation from relative unpopularity to the most prestigious armed service in the United States occur?

Aaron O’Connell, a history professor at UT Austin, joins us today to describe how, as the Cold War heated up, Marines utilized their own internal culture to win power and influence throughout U.S. political and social circles.

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So first, I want to talk about why did you write this book?

Right. Yeah, I started thinking about this book. When I was still on active duty in the Marine Corps. And I, I became aware of a certain set of narratives about the Corps that are prevalent, indeed ubiquitous, inside the institution about the Marine Corps greatness, about its uniqueness, and also about the many forces arrayed against it. And so I came up with a term for that which I call the narratives of Marine exceptionalism, which obviously is meant to echo the idea of American exceptionalism. And then that got really got me started and thinking about what is Marine Corps culture, how has culture functioned inside the service? Why is this culture so different from so many other sort of American organizations or subgroups, and I just have always been fascinated by that. And so I stuck with it and wrote a book about it.

Yeah, that’s great. And so, you know, based on your experiences while you were in the Marine Corps outside, what are some of these common misconceptions or even interpretations of the Marine Corps that you’re fighting against?

Right. Yeah, there is there is a lot of Marine Corps history and most of it is actually very good. The Marines take history very seriously. But I did find as I started reading all that secondary literature in preparation for a dissertation that there were a few things that seemed unquestioned or problematic by my lights. And the first one is this idea that the Marines had always been great: that the Marines are fantastic. Everybody knows they’re fantastic. And that seemed under theorized or under, you know, under examined historically. So, I started researching it and figuring out, you know, when, when were the Marines popular? When weren’t they popular? Why? What did they do? What did people think of them?

The second one is this idea that the Marines are certainly much more popular after World War II. But every explanation of that has grounded the success in their actions on the battlefield. In effect these Marines were so, so impressive in World War II, that that that became a widely accepted common sense about them. And that explains why they’re so beloved to this day. And I found that that wasn’t true either.

Right. And so now that you’ve done all this research, how would you describe sort of the basic culture of the Marine Corps?

Well, I’d say that there’s a dominant narrative inside the Marine Corps. And that dominant narrative is effectively paranoia. And that’s why I called the book Underdogs, right? The title is actually a joke. Marines have a nickname for themselves that stems from World War I that Marines were “devil dogs.” And this this came from a myth, it’s not a true story. It’s a myth that Germans withering under marine fire at the Battle of Bella would told their superiors “we’re facing hounds from hell devil dogs.” So I took a you know, a wordplay there and said that no, no, really the best way to think about them as about as underdogs. And this this underdog sort of paranoia has a long history in the Marine Corps. In some ways, it goes back to the very beginning.

Continental Marines land at New Providence during the Battle of Nassau, the first amphibious landing of the Marine Corps, during the revolution.

The Marines are originally created in 1775 as the police aboard ships to actually guard the officers from the crew. And in that status, they were in an ambiguous status. They were on ships. But they didn’t know sailing. They carried weapons that were typical of the army. But they’re part of the Department of the Navy. When they were on the ships. They followed the Navy department regulations. When they’re fighting on land, they followed the War Department regulations. So this weird space of being soldiers of the sea led to a number of bureaucratic fights throughout American history where either the army tried to absorb the Marine Corps and say they belong with us, or the Navy tried to do away with the Marine Corps after they have sort of more modern ships that require engineers instead of just age of sale sailors. And so there certainly is a pattern of people trying to abolish the Marine Corps or diminish their role in national defense that crops up again after World War II and becomes very, very serious when we create the Department of Defense.

So that’s where I came up with the idea of thinking about them as “underdogs” and of paranoia, but the basic argument of the book is that this culture of paranoia, this culture of thinking themselves, both exceptional and under threat, has been essential to most of the Marine Corps’ endeavors in a variety of different fora on the battlefield certainly, but also in their public relations. And moreover, in their politics, in their congressional lobbying. And moreover, even in the ways that they prepared for the Cold War and, and in the area of what we might call “Cold War military strategy”. So I traced how this culture had effects on key actors in the Marine Corps and found that it was really it’s an under-appreciated factor of the Marine Corps’ success. It doesn’t explain all of their success, but it is certainly relevant. And indeed, I would say, germane to what how the Marine Corps became as popular, prestigious and politically powerful as it is today.

That’s really fascinating. I’d love for you to expand a little bit about how paranoia, you kind of pointed out four key areas, how paranoia influences their actions in each one of these four. So starting with the battlefield, how does paranoia sort of influence their battlefield tactics?

Right, right. So the Marine Corps fights almost exclusively in the Pacific, and the job they had in the Pacific is being the leading edge of the amphibious assaults, which are really the costliest type of tactical endeavor, on the battlefield. They’re very, very dangerous, and many, many people died. So the army did many amphibious assault in World War II. In fact, if you just count by number of operations, the army did more amphibious assault than the Marine Corps. But, in the ones where they work together, the Marines were typically first, suffered greater casualties, and they also had tactical differences from the army. They fought in different ways, and the Marine methods and tactics were actually much more costly for the enlisted men. Many more enlisted Marines die as a percentage of their forces in the Pacific then do the army and there are reasons for that: it has to do with how they viewed the nature of amphibious assault, and how important they viewed speed to be.

But the bottom line is that the Marines have the highest casualty rate of any service in World War II: their average is double the average across the other services. So what that did on the battlefield, you’d think that would create a sense of concern among Marines and saying, “My God, why are our officers getting us killed? Why are we suffering such high casualties? Why can’t we do things like the army that moves slower, but also more carefully?” In fact, after sort of exhaustive consultation of Marine memoirs, personal papers that strategy and tactics documents that the Marine Corps archives holds, I found that the opposite occurred. Marines became even more convinced of their exceptionalism and of their greatness throughout these battles.

So one of the interesting things that this these narratives of persecution did is they created an enormous amount of cohesion on the battlefield, even when they were in eighty-two day long operations, like in Okinawa or in thirty-five day long operations like in Iwo Jima, where they’re dying and enormously high numbers. Nonetheless, they all remain convinced that they’re better than the army, that they can only trust each other and not the Army or the Navy. And that that sort of conquer ties is in blood, a philosophy that will persevere after the war, when they feel that the Army and the Navy are once again after them or willing to sell them down the river.

And so does that sort of internal cohesion manifests itself in their public relations as well?

Absolutely. So right after the war, we go from a massive armed forces to the drop down enormously. And in that drawdown, the Marine Corps finds itself once again under threat. So they do a number of public relations and political maneuvers to try to protect the Marine Corps and its status inside this thing that will eventually be called the Department of Defense. Now, during the war, the public relations infrastructure, the Marine Corps is almost nil at the start. They have no department of public relations in December 7, 1941 of any size. I think there’s seven or eight total members in the entire division of public relations. So as they do figure out that they need public relations, their number one goal is to advance the reputation of the Marine Corps and to basically outsell themselves in connection in regards to the other services. It’s actually so pronounced that the army begins joking that in the army, a squad is 12 men in the Marine Corp it’s eleven men and a press aid, right?

So what they do is actually quite clever. And this goes to a larger theme in the book, which is that the Marines didn’t do all this alone, they recruit civilians to help them. So instead of just taking people that come in through the draft, and then saying, “we’re going to assign you to public relations you’re a reporter:” they don’t do that. They go around to the nation’s most prominent newspapers, and they say, “if you join the Marine Corps, we will promote you immediately to sergeant first of all, that’s an enormous boost, and then you will be deployed at the Pacific with a gun in one hand, and a typewriter and the other and we don’t want you to write about tactics, we don’t want you to write about the technology, we want you to tell the stories of individual Marines.”

They then created an enormous network with local papers, small newspapers, not The Washington Post, and the LA Times. But the little town newspapers. And they did all this because they were sure that if they don’t trumpet their accomplishments, then the Marine Corps will almost certainly be wiped out after the war. So this led to a really interesting cultural dynamic, where they appealed to families, they appeal to small town communities, not by describing the war, not by describing the conduct of operations, but telling the story. They called it the Joe Blow story, meaning just the average guy on you know, private in the service. And it worked marvelously. It really created a sense of connection between the American people and these eighteen and nineteen year old privates that were fighting in the Pacific, and particularly since the Marines were so much younger than the other services. They were, on average three to three and a half years younger than someone who joined the army. Then this created a really quite a nostalgic tale about the importance of the Marine Corps and the sacrifice of its members.

Joe Rosenthal’s iconic “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” (1943) was part of the public relations campaign aimed at raising the prestige of the corps.

They also did a number of small public relations maneuvers, where they effectively told a story that belongs more in a church than it does in a public relations office. Basically, they said, “we are the Marines and the Marines are unique. And what makes us unique is our sense of loyalty to each other.” They really trumpeted their close knit bonds of affection. And when you tell stories like that, about eighteen and nineteen year-olds, then, you know, they catch on. So they told much more romantic nostalgic stories written by these fantastic reporters who, by the way, when they went back to newspapers after the war, continued to protect the Marine Corps’ interest in print for years. So that’s how it affected public relations, I’d say.

And so how do they take this sort of narrative that they’ve developed and use it as political capital with Congress that’s fitting them in the larger Cold War strategy?

Right, right. So the actions in Congress are probably the most interesting because they’re not just clever, but also illegal. So the Marines engaging in a series of illegal activities after World War II and the reason for it is that they’re quite certain, this underdog narrative reigns supreme, that if they don’t then the Marine Corps will cease to exist. So even though they’ve been given direct orders to the contrary, there are majors and lieutenant colonels who lobby Congress to say, listen in this upcoming legislation as we’re creating the Department of Defense, the Marine Corps needs certain roles, it needs certain protections, you have to make sure we keep our planes and our aviation, and in so doing, they actually violate a number of laws. So first of all, President Truman directs to the commandant in the Marine Corps, get those lieutenant colonels off the Hill, stop this immediately. The commandant says Aye, aye, sir. He tells this group of officers: stop this immediately. And they don’t. They refuse: they go behind the commandant’s back and they continue to lobby the congressmen.

They also steal and photocopy top secret documents, written by then-general Eisenhower, that are saying, basically here’s what we think should happen to the Marine Corps after the war and they distribute these things to reporters. They distribute it to congressman who are not authorized to read them, and this leads to a real collapse in the early days of the legislation, when congressman who’ve read the secret memos that they’re not supposed to even have access, to confront the army in open hearings and say, “do you have any plans to diminish the Marine Corps, to take away their aviation, to take away their combined arms?” And they say no, and then it becomes quite clear. The congressman has read the documents, so they fight like gorillas, they fight like insurgents. They don’t pay attention to normal rules. They disregard the rules. They fight clandestinely. They also put materials in that they take home classified materials, they store them in their trunk of their cars, they store them in their basements. They do what we would effectively refer to today as lobbying to protect their interests, which is effectively a form of militarism. They are military officers actively engaging in politics, and they’re marvelously successful at it. So when all the legislation is passed, and we do create the Department of Defense, the Marines receive a special carve out to protect the size of their force, and also their specific functions. And there’s a number of other machinations that are in the book of how they managed to do this.

Can you talk a little bit about what it is that they’re afraid of going back to? So before this rise that happens, what is this lower status? What were they before this? What is this fear of? What are they fearful of becoming?

So there’s two questions there, what do they fear is going to happen, you know, in the post war period, and then also, you know, how did they get popular and what were they like before? So, what they fear: the army actually has a pretty good case. The army says, look, it’s 1946, the Marine Corps before 1941 didn’t even have a single division ( a division is a force of something on the order of 10,000 men). They certainly didn’t have air wings. We don’t think they should have those anymore, They’re not a second land army there’s no reason for them to be a land army. So now that they’re 485,000 strong in 1945, we got it to stop that and they should go back to being what they were in the 20s and the 30s which is to say landing parties and ships guards or defense battalion. They wanted to reduce them back to battalion size. Now on an economical grounds alone, there’s pretty good argument for that the in the Pacific, the Marines and the army did effectively the same mission, even though the Marines claimed to have done it much better. So they’re worried about losing their airplanes. They’re worried about losing their divisions and they’re worried about losing their status as the experts in amphibious assault. So they save that off at legislation, and then it really gets protected and sort of concretized after Korea when they end up doing another amphibious landing.

Now your first question was, what are they, how did they get so popular, and what was their reputation like before World War II. Really that’s where the writing of the book started is when I found a survey done by the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Company, in November 1941, just one month before Pearl Harbor that did a large review of college-aged students who would become officers, but also boys of enlistment age, and their parents all over the country and ask them long slew of questions of which is the best service? Which service would you join? Which one do you like? Why do you like that one? Why don’t you like others? And the fascinating thing is that the Marines came in dead last in all of these categories. No one wanted to be a marine. Most of them thought that life in the Marine Corps was and this is a quote, “rough, rowdy and tough and not a good kind of life.” And parents rated them dead last for having desirable associates. Quite frankly, people thought of them as a little too rough, a little too thuggish. And that’s a fair characterization. I mean right before World War II something like one in five Marines had a minor police record. So the reputation they had before World War II was kind of, well it’s certainly not, it wasn’t very positive. It was that these are tough guys. They’re good to have around in a fight. But they’re not exactly the young, upstanding gentleman that we expect in the Navy or in the Army Air Forces, which was the most prestigious in that 1941 survey.

So that’s really their reputation from the 18th century until World War II. They get a bump in World War I, but it really isn’t until the operations on Guadalcanal and Wake Island in the opening months of World War II that people start feeling that the Marines are something special. And again, that’s done through the active cultivation of Marine Corps public relations, and it probably is also relevant that Guadalcanal is the first land we take back from the Japanese it’s the first ground engagement in the Pacific of substance. The Marines come through absolutely tough fighting. It’s a very long and costly battle and they survive. So the economy on the battlefield is relevant. There’s no question about that. But the reputation that they earned during the war is also due to careful, studied interventions by the Marine Corps leadership.

The annual Toys for Tots campaign was initiated by reservist Major William Hendricks as a pilot program in 1947 and official adopted by the Marine Corps the next year. It was firmly established as a nationwide public affairs project by 1953.(Official Marine Corps Photo A412958)”

And when you’re talking about these interventions, and you talked about kind of their network of people that they cultivate, journalists, certain congressmen, are there other people that are helping them with these narratives?

There are a wide range of civil military alliances that help explain Marine Corps success. During World War II and afterwards, and the one story that probably everybody in your listening audience is familiar, with is the Toys For Tots program, which emerges in 1947 as a charity for war orphans to give them Christmas presents, and it’s still around to this day, so many years later. Now, this didn’t just happen because the Marine said hey, this is a good idea. This will improve our brand. It happened because there was a reserve marine named Bill Hendrix who was also the Vice President for Public Relations at Warner Brothers studio. And he was completely tapped into Hollywood. He started it as a charity for nothing other than benevolent purposes in 1947, and within a year or two, the Marine Corps says, Hey, this is great for a number of reasons. First of all, it just spreads our brand. Keep in mind that in the postwar period, there was serious concern about returning veterans, a lot of it inflated concern not based in fact, but that these men who had just lived on Pacific Islands for two years and had been engaged in rather grizzly combat might not be safe to come home. So creating a charity that is entirely about Marines giving teddy bears to children served a pretty useful purpose in domesticating the image of the hardened combat Marine. So that’s a civil military alliance that proved very effective for them to get Walt Disney to draw the logo for Toys for Tots. The Disney Company will be involved in another one of their programs, something called the Devil Pups Citizenship Project, which is a camp for boys.

There are civil military alliances at local levels, with movie theaters, with car dealers, to promote marine friendly pictures. And all of these things expand the power of the Marine Corps. Because the tiniest service it’s quite small, right? Just four or five percent  of the active duty force in the 1950s so they don’t do it all on their own and that that’s one of the interesting things I discovered in writing the book. Anything people know about the Marine Corps today probably comes from just one or two or three cultural products the famous Iwo Jima photograph that is later turned into a war bond drive and a postage stamp. Maybe the film Sands of Iwo Jima? And indeed there are other things like Toys for Tots. So these are not all created by Marines. The Iwo Jima photo is photographed by a civilian. The war bond drive is the concept brainchild of the Department of the Treasury. The film Sands of Iwo Jima is made by civilians, with help from the Marine Corps, so in all of these areas, they’re really quite smart to bring in outsiders who become trusted agents for them. And spokesman for the corps which end up being even more credible than the Marines themselves.

I really like this, you know, pulling of this exchange between not just this culture that the Marines have cultivated, but their relationship with outside actors that help them reinforce this image. But I’d like you to talk a little bit about culture as an agent, right, that you talk a lot about how culture is impacting how we see the world, but what can it actually do?

Right, right. And this is always a challenge for cultural historians. Right? There’s this marvelous joke that studying cultures like nailing jelly to the wall, right? You just can’t do it. As soon as you think you’ve got something that you can show cause and effect, there’s just a million other ways to explain how things happen other than trying to place the locus of change in ideas, right? I think the best thing you can say is that culture does have a disciplinary function. It lets us know this is the range of acceptable conversations on acceptable conversations, right? It draws lines around what you can talk about. I think the best way to think about culture is that it’s effectively the stories we tell ourselves and others about ourselves. And if everybody shares the same stories, well, then there’s real strength in numbers. So that’s something the Marine Corps did. They, perhaps because of the trauma of the Pacific, and then the trauma of Korea, there wasn’t too much pushback on: this is who Marines are, this is why we’re special, this is why we’re under attack. Everyone needs to get on board, and having those strong bonds of affection in this tiny service surrounded by much larger military organizations really worked.

So you know, there’s this kind of joke like how do you how do you change people’s mind? You just keep saying the same thing over and over again until they say it too. The Marines were much more successful at that then the larger services that had their own subcultures. In the Air Force, the bomber pilots may not agree with the fighter pilots. In the Navy, the aircraft carrier platform individuals wouldn’t think the same way as those who fought from submarines, right? But in the Marine Corps, it was much more cohesive. People had much more common background, and just the small size of the organization meant that everybody was one or two degrees of separation apart. And that just made them much more effective as a political lobby, as a public relations machine. And indeed, even as actors in the debates over Cold War strategy and atomic warfare.

And so how do you as a historian, as someone who was in the Marines, wrestle with this idea of loyalty? To what degree do not want to overstate this internal cohesion? Are there elements of dissent in what you saw, or is it really like you said, there is a general consensus that this is where we need to be going because of this sort of feeling of being attacked because of this paranoia element?

I think there’s more consensus inside the Marine Corps than in the other services, some of that has to do with size, some of it has to do with the nature of Marine Corps indoctrination. So in the army and in the navy and the air force learning to be a member of the armed services is more of a technocratic endeavor. You’ve got to teach people to do complicated things. And so that is where the focus of training is. That’s not the case in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps has a 10 week long or eight week long, depending on which years you’re talking about indoctrination for all Marines when they go through boot camp, of which the entire purpose is to strip away a civilian self and to give you a marshal identity. That’s very effective. There’s a cultural exchange that occurs, a symbolic exchange, we’re going to put you through incredibly difficult things, the more you suffer and can take it, the higher your prestige, and if you come through at the end, then you’ll be something truly special, a US Marine. Almost everybody buys into that logic to some degree you emerge with quite a lot of cultural capital, if you do.

That isn’t the purpose of the larger services. They’re not creating a quasi-religious organization. And so that leads probably, I think, to more dissent, and also just less cohesion than in the Marine Corps. But I would be loath to say, and I couldn’t say, that it’s shared equally and entirely across the service, of course not individuals are individuals.

But does the indoctrination element get into what you’ve talked about as “the dark side of the Marine Corps” culture?

It does. I, well, I don’t know if it’s the indoctrination that does that. But let’s just say that this process of exchanging suffering for prestige works very well on the battlefield, and inside the Marine Corps, and not so well outside of it. So the Marine Corps is overwhelmingly male, even today, when we have you know, much higher degrees of female participation. And in that all male community, there are a few cultural maneuvers that are rewarded, reinforced and effective, and one of them is to not retreat from a fight. Marines like to say that they are first to fight. They’re proud of that that certainly is as efficacious on the battlefield. What I found in a lot of the research I did into the postwar years when Marines came home from World War II and came home from Korea, you find some pretty dark stories of alcoholism and violence. Now, this exists across the services. There are always these kinds of problems when soldiers come home from war. But in the Marine Corps, we know from the sociological studies done later starting in the 1980s that the Marines routinely and consistently have much higher drinking rates. We know that they have much higher death rates from accidents than the other services. And on top of that, the ways that Marines talk about their home lives and their civilian lives is peppered with or indeed inundated with the language of the battlefield that you don’t see in the same ways in the cultural productions of the other services. So the chapter on “First to Fight” is about the dark side of Marine Corps culture. And it argues that Marines found that their coping mechanisms for conflict inside the Marine Corps did not work well outside of it. And I think that you could properly call that a dark side of the Marine Corps culture.

Another part of Marine Corps culture that’s arguably dark is that these high expectations, this narrative of we are a family, we are a brotherhood, is not just confined to living Marines, it’s actually quasi-religious, it’s transcendent in a number of ways. There is throughout the culture production of the Marine Corps, this idea that “the ancestors” are watching you, that former Marines from previous wars are watching what you do. So what does that mean? It means that if you don’t perform to the level you have in your own mind that is expected of a U.S. Marine, then the feelings of guilt are far more pronounced. We know this from medical records from World War II that psychiatrists evaluating Marines coming off the battlefield in situations of trauma and psychological trauma, I’m going to summarize the quote because I don’t remember exactly, but they said that Marines are far less likely to come in. But when they do come in, they’re experiencing a much higher degree of personality disintegration, that the guilt is much more, and that they cannot fathom who they are, if they are not a Marine, and they can’t be a Marine, if they’re walking away from the fight. So I think that’s a dark side to the ghosts that could sort of urge Marines to great heights on the battlefield could also haunt afterwards.

And so what do you think is the “so what” of this tale and how do you want people to think about this work?

Sure. Yeah, I think there are a few “so what’s.” One of them pertains to the fourth area we haven’t discussed here, which is Cold War strategy. So right after World War II, all the services start planning for the next war. They all think it will be with the Soviet Union. Of course, we have nuclear weapons now, and until 1949, the Soviet Union doesn’t. All the other services put the vast majority of their eggs into the nuclear basket, which is to say, they said, our primary goal is to prepare for a war against the Soviet Union. That means we not only need the ability to drop nuclear weapons from aircraft carriers, but we should be able to launch them from submarines in the Navy. The Air Force says we should have these different kinds of bombers so that we can drop nuclear weapons from larger and bigger bombers. The army designs these very unfortunate pentomic divisions that are meant to go steaming across a nuclear battlefield you know and fight in a nuclear environment and the Marines right in the beginning say that’s never going to happen. That’s not the war you’re going to face. There’s going to be far more local disturbances in this decolonizing world, in areas outside of Western Europe that you’re going to have to confront and you’d better do so wisely. So what they design are non-nuclear forces called Marine-Air-Ground task forces that are effectively light, quick response forces that to this day, float around the world on Navy ships ready to intervene when there’s an earthquake in Haiti or if there is an embassy besieged in, you know, Africa or in fact, if there’s actually a proper civil war brewing that the United States feels it has to intervene in, as we do in Lebanon in 1958.

So why does that matter? So what? Well, the first thing is that the war that the Marines prepared for us the one that happened, right, we did not have thank God and have a large war with the Soviet Union. We had many, many engagements where the military became a force operating in the interstices between war and peace, local disturbances, small matters, brushfire wars. Point one, they got it right, that’s important. Point two, the result of creating those forces is that presidents started using them more so there is a general and verifiable, i.e. can be documented, militarization of foreign policy that occurs after World War II. It’s partially the function of the Cold War. It’s also partially the function that when the president wants to respond to contingencies, he all of a sudden has the ability to put Marines on the ground in 48 hours or 72 hours, something that did not exist before World War II. Today, I think if you look at the numbers, in probably almost all of your listeners lifetime, there are only two years when the United States conducted no overt military operations abroad: 1977 and 1979. In every other year back to 1941, we’ve done something, we’ve used the military to either threaten or to actually engage in combat operations or military operations and the creation of the Marines-Air-Ground task forces is part of the story of that militarization. So that’s, that’s one of the “so what’s.”

I think the other so what is to think about why were the Marines’ narrative so successful? Why did people find them so attractive? And that has something to do with the fact the Marines were nostalgic. They were romantics. It seems strange to say Marines were romantics, but they really were. They were telling stories about the past, they were telling stories about filial affection, and bonds of affection, and family. One newspaper said the Marines speak better than anyone else at the narratives of American family life. And I think that’s interesting that the very guys that you want to be tough enough to gun people down or run up hills into machine fire are also masters at telling very nostalgic, romantic tales about family. And that says something about American culture. I think I’ve always found interesting.

Just to kind of bring it up to the present. What do you think contributes to the continued popularity of the Marine Corps today?

Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, first, let’s just acknowledge how powerful the Marine Corps is today. Okay, so in 1941, you don’t even have the highest ranking officer is a two star major general, they don’t even yet have four star Marine generals. They’re a tiny subset. The Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, they don’t even control their own equipment purchases. They don’t weigh in on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in any way. They’re only three to 4four percent of the active duty force. Today they’re over fifteen percent of the active duty force. We’ve got a Marine as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We have a Marine as the Secretary of Defense. We have a Marine as the Chief of Staff to the President and the White House. This is unusual. If you had asked any of the other services in the height of the Cold War in the 50s or the 60s, you know, will the Marines be the service that are closest to the President and have the most influence on foreign policy? No one in their right mind would say yes. So the Marines also have a, I think, unimpeachable brand. Even to this day. They are in more movies, commercials and video games than you can possibly mention. And I think all of that is a testament to their active, and constant, use of the underdog narrative inside their institution. They still to this day, say quite successfully, even given the enormous power that they have, they still say to this day, if we’re not careful, if we don’t push at every turn to protect our reputation, the Marine Corps will cease to exist. So even though the actual threat to the corps has diminished radically, I don’t think anybody can imagine an America that abolishes its Marine Corps today, they’re still successfully promulgating a narrative that we are under threat. And I think in some ways that the United States makes very similar arguments as well concerning terrorism and the threats that exist beyond its shores. So this is as much a story about paranoia, and the manipulation of narratives, as it is about the changes in the political landscape of the Department of Defense or the national security establishment.

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