The Latest Marine Hymn

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Marines storm Inchon, 1950 / Dod photo

As Battleland comrade Chuck Spinney predicted last week, the warfare among the services for bigger pieces of a shrinking pie has begun. All the services are engaged, although most tend to do it covertly. But the Marine Corps is different – their leader has written Defense Secretary Leon Panetta a letter implicitly pleading for special treatment.

Commandant James Amos makes a good case for how vital the nation’s smallest military service is. “Naval forces” – that would be the Navy, and the Navy’s army, which would be Amos’ Marines – “are not reliant on host nation support” – take that, Army! – “or permission.” – Take that Air Force, and your pesky requirement for overflight rights! “With the increasing concentration of the world’s population close to a coastline, the ability to operate simultaneously on the sea, ashore and in the air” – Amos is the first Marine aviator to serve as commandant – “and to move seamlessly between” — Proofreader! — “these three domains represents the unique value of amphibious forces.”

He concludes his two-page letter to his new boss by declaring that the “Marine Corps and [emphasis in the original] the Navy’s amphibious forces, represent a very efficient and effective hedge against the Nation’s most likely risks.”

The letter raises a couple of questions.

First of all, when did military leaders start capitalizing the first letter of Nation? The Marines, among the four services, have always won capitalization for their troops: there are Marines, but only airmen, sailors and soldiers (the Army has fought to get Soldier capitalized, but that rarely occurs outside of official Army documents. A couple of years later, it mandated the Family of a Soldier also must be capitalized; that has been even less successful. Nonetheless, it’s a Worrisome Trend.)

Secondly, and more importantly, no one is arguing that the Marines don’t play an important role in the defense of the Nation. But so do the Air Force, Army and Navy. What’s insidious about Amos’ missive is the suggestion that the Marines deserve special handling as the U.S. military prepares for deep cuts. It’s a safe bet the other three services could – and probably already have, just not so publicly – detailed their particular rucksack of unique contributions to National security.

The Marines are never shy about their clout. “The Marine Corps was specifically directed by the 82nd Congress as the force intended to be `the most ready when the Nation is least ready,'” General Amos let Panetta know with all the subtlety of a tactical nuclear weapon (the SecDef, after all, merely served in the Army). The corps loves to point out its standing on Capitol Hill, and that mere defense secretaries ignore at their peril. Just not sure the Marines should be brandishing poor U.S. preparedness for the Korean War – which is when that congressional direction came down – as justification for continued special treatment for the corps. The Korean War, after all, also was the last time the corps launched an amphibious assault, the primary reason for its existence.