Social and Political Commentary

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The redundant Marine Corps

... overtaken by events

by Jerry Norton

From the halls of Montezuma to the alleys of Iraq (via the shores of Tripoli) the United States Marine Corps has served this nation faithfully and with great distinction.  It is, however, time to recognize the duplication which has existed for some time now in the mission of the Corps and our other military services. A previous unsuccessful attempt to dismantle the Corps occurred in 1947, but was negated by Congress with the Military Reorganization Act of that year.

The concept of sea-going soldiers (marines) was a valid one when men-of-war with wooden hulls locked in mortal combat. The cannonading between enemy ships was at close range until the grappling hooks were thrown and the call, “away the boarding party” rang out. On the deck of the enemy ship the cutlasses slashed and the flintlocks flashed until the scuppers ran with gore. These warriors were quite often the deciding factor as to which ship would strike its colors.

Modern sea warfare is conducted from a far greater distance (with long-range gunfire and/or aerial assault) by opposing navies often not in sight of one another - thus rendering boarding parties obsolete. What then today is the function of marines as part of ship’s company? They have been reduced to a largely ceremonial status and as orderlies or to provide security; duties which could be accomplished by the ship’s crew. Navy personnel have derisively referred to on-board marines as “sea-going bellhops”, (damn sailors). They have also been heard to suggest that they “go click their heels.” Your author, however, has never been heard to make either of these boorish utterances.

This brings us to examine the Marines’ function in modern amphibious assaults on enemy shores – a technique which the Corps had developed and honed over the years since WWI. Along the way they have learned costly but valuable lessons at such places as Tarawa and Peleliu in the South Pacific. This knowledge, of course, was shared with the Army.

With the advent of WWII the Army proved that it could successfully conduct similar operations – witness North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. A skill possessed by both services could very easily be combined under one command and thus eliminate a duplication within the Defense Department.

The Marines, presently a component within the Department of the Navy, utilize Navy medical, supply, legal and chaplain staff personnel in support of their operations. The Naval Academy graduates many who opt to become marine aviators and fly primarily from land bases. This is within the scope and duplicates the efforts of the Air Force.

The nature of warfare has been refined and centralized to the extent that we now have a military Joint Chiefs of Staff planning the strategy for our forces. The fewer components within this group would make for better coordination of their efforts (and relieve taxpayers of one less General’s salary). The proliferation of the rank of General and Admiral within our military is startling … but that is a whole different subject.

The Marine emblem of the globe and anchor (which sailors called “buzzard- ball and meat hook”) has earned its place in warriors’ Valhalla. Still, a good case could be made for the elimination of a proud military service which has always been faithful and deserves this nation’s eternal gratitude.

May 1, 2009

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