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The U.S. Marines - an inquiry into their history and image

Facharbeit (Schule) 2010 29 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Landeskunde



1.The United States Marines - an unusual unit

2.The history of the United States Marine Corps
2.1.1775 - 1914
2.2.1. World War I and the years before World War II
2.2.2. World War II
2.2.3. Interim: World War II to Vietnam
2.2.4. The Vietnam War
2.2.5. Interim: Vietnam to the “War on Terror”
2.2.6. The “War on Terror”

3.The USMC's image
3.1. The USMC as seen by itself
3.1.1. Symbols and slogans
3.1.2. The Corps' role within the armed forces
3.2. The USMC as apprehended by the public
3.2.1. Positiveaspects Marines as reliable patriots Marines in computer games
3.2.2. Negative aspects Notorious massacres and homicides Stress and suicides Reception in Hollywood
3.3. Comparison between the different points of view

4.Technichally replacable, symbolistically irreplacable

5. Appendix

6. Bibliography

1. The United States Marines - an unusual unit

“From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli, We fight our country's battles in the air, on land and sea. First tofightfor right andfreedom, and to keep our honor clean; We are proud to claim the title ofUnited States Marine.”[1]

This first stanza of the United States Marines Corps' hymn already briefly describes what Marines are for, also mentioning two of it's important steps to a 21st century high­tech army.

The Marines are a special unit in many ways. They are a manifold corps which uses all types of modern warfare and technology. In addition to that they enjoy a lot of attention and are extraordinary often treated in Hollywood or the world-press.

There is much to study in the Marines' 23 decades of existence, but a few moments stand out. These happenings are the historical structure which holds an ethos together. And it is this ethos that distinguishes the Marines from any other army in the world. Only after familiarizing with the history of the USMC it is possible to understand the self-perception of these warriors, which explains their status among the armed forces and their image.

2. The history of the United States Marine Corps 2.1.1775 - 1914

On November 10th, 1775, a resolution was passed by the Second Continental Congress which said “[...] that two batallions of Marines be raised, [...]that particular care be taken, that no person be appointed to office, [...] but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required [...]”[2]. Their role models were the Royal Marines who served the British crown. Royal Marines kidnapped ships and suppressed the crew to attack even more vessels or to land on an enemy shore.[3]

The first Marine unit was formed in Philadelphia, at an inn called the Tun Tavern. All recruits were volunteers (a tradition that continues in today's corps) and their first commandant was Samuel Nicholas, who led his men, embarked on eight small ships, to the Bahamas where they captured a British fort near Nassau, seizing cannons and supplies in 1776.[4]Several actions followed until the Revolutionary War was over and the Marines were disestablished. Nevertheless the USMC was re-established in 1798 to protect American ships and interests.[5]

The line “to the shores of Tripoli” in the United States Marines Hymn was inspired by the war against the so called Barbary Coast of North Africa including Algeria, Morocco, Tunis and Tripoli who attacked merchant ships in the Mediterranean.[6]In 1805, after four years of war, General William Eaton and eight other Marines led, supported by the Navy, about five hundred mercenaries through 500 miles of desert along the coast from Alexandria to Tripoli, where they conquered the harbor and forced the Barbary States to sign a peace agreement.[7]This was America's first overseas military operation.

“The halls of Montezuma” refer to the Battle of Chapultepec in the west of Mexico- City, which took place in 1847 and maybe was the most important battle of the Mexican-American War. After two days of fight under the leadership of General Winfield Scott, the Marines took over Chapultepec castle and were so able to enter the Mexican capital.[8]

These two conflicts defined the role the Marines were going to play in the next centuries until today. They showed that Marines, who were all volunteers, used to work together with other units and forces (e.g. Navy; mercenaries) to struggle for American interests abroad, most as the first ones to fight. The Marine-ethos was born.

However, during the last decades of the 19th century the importance of the Corps decreased because the Navy started to produce steamships instead of the old sailing ships, so that real seamen became unnecessary. In this time period the Marines were involved in several small conflicts overseas (e.g. The Boxer Rebellion in China) as well as within the United States.[9]


2.2.1. World War I and the years before World War II

Before World War I the USMC was a tiny unit of only about 14,000 soldiers. After the United States declared war on Germany in 1917 the Corps had to grow. It reached a wartime high of 75,000 men, including their own aviators and even 277 women. In the course of the war the Marine Brigade suffered 11,968 casualties with 2,461 killed. But there was also a positive development: the Corps fought in units that were as large as those of the Army, so it was possible for them to measure up to others. “They demonstrated that their unique training and indoctrination produced a more effective and aggressive combat infantryman than the other armies on the Western front.”[10]

Hardened by the World War the Marines were mostly sent to defeat insurgencies in different countries who were often shattered by socio-economic problems like the Phillipines for example. Using the experience of at least 180 operations in 37 countries within the first three decades of the 20th century a compendium was written: the Small Wars Manual (published in 1935). It is a manual on counterinsurgency operations that was used from that time forth for almost all adequate tasks and established the Marines as leaders in unconventional warfare.[11]

2.2.2. World War II

In 1941 World War II followed. After the shock of Pearl Harbor the United States started to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. Supported by the Navy's heavy artillery and tactical aircrafts the U.S. Marines executed amphibious missions on many islands. They also played an important role in turning the tide in America's favor on Guadalcanal after seven moths of fight.[12]

One of the most famous battles in history was for sure the Battle for Iwo Jima. A huge amount of Marines was brought ashore to capture the tiny island (8 square miles) with approximately 20,000 Japanese inside tunnels and caves throughout it. Although 6,800 Americans died during the 36-day battle, Iwo Jima gave the Corps its most famous image, the raising of the American flag atop Mount Suribachi. The picture which was awarded with the Pulitzer Prize was used for a monument that stands in Virginia and is dedicated to all Marines.[13]This was maybe the most defining moment of the USMC's history, immortalized by a photograph.

2.2.3. Interim: World War II to Vietnam

The next job for the Marines after the Second World War was to support the South Koreans against the Communist threat from the north. In 1950 they were among the first reinforcements to arrive. In South Korea the leadership of the Corps developed a new concept that allowed them to act independently, without special Army, Navy or Air Force assistance, which gave the Marines a new flexibility.[14]

Except the Korean War there was another happening in the 1950's that changed the U.S. Marine Corps: the Ribbon Creek Incident. In 1956 a drunken drill instructor marched with his 74 recruits through a creek near Parris Island at night. After they got into deep water six of them drowned. Hence, an investigation began that led to a restructuring plan. From now on the new intructors, whose schooling was reformed, had “[...] to emphasize example, leadership, persuasion and psychology in the process of recruit training.”[15]

2.2.4. The Vietnam War

Then the Vietnam War followed. Marine forces were again among the first ones to arrive at the coast. They played a vital role in America's biggest trauma. This fact is provable just by looking at the casualties: between 1964 and 1975 about 51,000 American soldiers died, 13,000 of them were Marines.[16][17] One reason for the failure in the Vietnam War was ignorance of the lessons in the Small Wars Manual, which included “[...] the need to target the enemy's weakness (in finance and logistics) rather than his strength (small-unit combat in difficult terrain).”[18]Consequently many soldiers couldn't cope with the exhausting situation and commited war crimes (e.g. massacres) or suicide.[19][20]

2.2.5. Interim: Vietnam to the “War on Terror”

During the following decades the USMC was busy with smaller operations concerning American interests. In 1983 for example the Marines took part in the Invasion of Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean.[21]In the same year a bomb exploded in Beirut, Lebanon, at a military base with Marines who were stationed there for a peace-keeping mission. 241 people died, 220 of them were members of the United States Marine Corps. It was “[...] the Corps' bloodiest day since Iwo Jima”[22]and led to it's withdrawal. Nevertheless they returned to that region in 1991 when Kuwait was overrun by Iraqi forces. The combats of “Operation Desert Storm” lasted for only six weeks until the Iraqi aggressor was defeated by more than 500,000 US soliders accompanied by another 33 nations.[23][24] Furthermore the Marine Corps served in Somalia from 1992 to 1995 within the framework ofhumanitarian aid during the Somali Civil War.[25]

2.2.6. The “War on Terror”

Nine days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/01 the President at that time, George W. Bush, proclamated the “War on Terror”.[26]On October 7th the first U.S. and UK forces invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime, this undertaking was called “Operation Enduring Freedom”. One and a half years later, in March 2003, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” began, whose aim it was to end the regime of Saddam Hussein. Both operations are still in progress and Marines are in the thick of it. The statistics show that until 8/2/09 4,683 Americans died in Afghanistan or Iraq. And although the Marines make up only 10.8% of the total amount of soldiers, they suffered 23.3% of the combat related deaths.[27]

3. The USMCs image

After being familiar with the history of the United States Marine Corps, one can see that the Marines took part in the most important wars and battles of the past century. Their victories made them famous, but what do people actually think about when they hear the term “U.S. Marines”? What is the image propagated by themselves and the media? This question will be answered in the following.

3.1. The USMC as seen by itself

3.1.1. Symbols and slogans

Like every usual association or company, the USMC has several symbols and slogans, which are frequently used and are known by many people.

One of those symbols is their emblem: the “Eagle, Globe and Anchor”. It depicts an eagle with spread wings on a globe. The globe, which shows the American continent, is pierced by an anchor from one side to another. The eagle holds a banner in his beak that reads “Semper Fidelis” (“Always Faithful”).[28]Some early versions of the emblem have been worn from 1812 to 1868, when the emblem as we know it today was designed.[29]It has a few similarities to the Royal Marines' emblem, for example the globe and the anchor, with the difference that the British version shows the eastern hemisphere instead of the western.[30]“Each part of the Marine emblem holds a special significance. The eagle represents the United States and the people who make up the nation: brave, proud and free. The globe represents the world where the Marines have fought [...] for liberty and democracy. The anchor represents the Marines' connection to the U.S. Navy.”[31]In addition to these meanings the emblem symbolizes the air, the land and the sea.[32]Each recruit receives this symbol at the end of Recruit Training as a sign of having earned the title of“United States Marine”.[33]


[1] cf. Appendix No.1

[2] as seen on 11/03/2010

[3] Clancy, Tom/Gresham, John: Marine. A Guided Tour of a Marine Expeditionary Unit, New York: Berkley Books, 1996 pp. 3

[4] as seen on 11/03/2010

[5] as seen on 11/03/2010

[6] as seen on 11/03/2010

[7] as seen on 11/03/2010

[8] Chapultepec.htm 11/03/2010

[9] as seen on 11/03/2010

[10]T. Clancy, Marine, p. 7

[11], pp. 3 as seen on 11/04/2010

[12] p. 235-359 as seen on 11/04/2010

[13] seen on 11/04/2010

[14]T. Clancy, Marine, pp.12

[15] as seen on 11/04/2010

[16] seenon 12/20/2010

[17] as seen on 11/05/2010

[18]T. Clancy, Marine, p.8

[19] as seen on 11/05/2010

[20] seenon 11/05/2010

[21] seenon 11/05/2010

[22] as seen on 11/05/2010

[23] seenon 11/05/2010

[24] seenon 11/05/2010

[25] seenon 11/05/2010

[26] as seenon 11/05/2010

[27] as seen on 11/05/2010

[28] cf. Appendix No.2

[29] as seen on 12/04/2010

[30] as seen on 12/04/2010

[31] cf.<29>

[32] cf. <29>

[33] as seen on 12/04/2010


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United States Marine Corps Army War Media History US Military America Navy MEU Warfare



Titel: The U.S. Marines - an inquiry into their history and image