Anyone who has been in the marine corps for any length of time knows that the corps prides itself on its history and traditions. I’m sure we can all remember during bootcamp, being indoctrinated with assorted tales of Smedley Butler, the Battle of Chapultepec, the “Frozen Chosin”, and the list goes on. But to say that the marine corps prides itself on its long and illustrious history is something that no one who has ever served in the corps can deny.
However, history is written by the victors, and victors have a nasty habit of skewing facts in their favor and the corps is no exception to that rule.
Let me start at the beginning, the marine corps birthday. Tradition holds that the usmc was created at Tun Tavern, Philadelphia on Nov 10, 1775. The facts are, the Continental Marines had it’s origins in Tun Tavern, on Nov 10, 1775. After the Revolutionary War was won, the Continental Marines were disbanded. The usmc was created on July 11 1798. This date continued to be recognized as the marine corps’ birthday until 1921 when Gen Lejeune decided that the usmc and it’s predecessor, the Continental Marines, were one and the same, and changed the birthday accordingly. I feel it is also noteworthy that prior to 1921, the marine corps birthday was not a cause for a giant celebration as it is today, it was just another day at work.
Moving on, marine corps tradition holds that the “Blood Stripe” is worn on the trousers of Officers, SNCO’s and NCO’s to commemorate the heavy losses of these ranks during the Battle of Chapultepec. History, on the other hand, tells us that the Battle of Chapultepec occurred on Sept 12-13, 1847, meanwhile marines began wearing the Blood Stripe in 1837 (a full 10 years earlier) by order of President Andrew Jackson, so that the corps would match the army’s practice of wearing trouser stripes of the same color as the jacket facings.
So there is an issue of chronology, this much is beyond doubt, but the misrepresentation of history doesn’t end there. If you do a little bit of independent research, you’ll shortly learn that the Battle of Chapultepec involved 13,000 U.S. troops. Of these 13,000 men, 130 were killed, 703 were injured, and 29 were missing, for a grand total of 862 casualties, or 6.6%. Now I personally know several marines who went to Afghanistan and never came back, so I fully realize that any loss of life is a tragedy, and I’m not trying to downplay that. However, at the same time we have to realize that in war people are going to die, and for the battles of the Mexican-American war, 6.6% is actually pretty average. So to say that this particular battle – and these particular 130 dead – were somehow worthy of being commemorated with a stripe on a dress uniform while no other dead have been deemed worthy of being forever commemorated by such a gesture, is an absurdity. (The closest thing to this is the French Forage, which is only allowed to 2 Regiments)
Continuing on our review of marine corps history, let us move on to the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI. Any good marine will tell you that this was battle in which the Germans gave us the nickname “Devil Dogs” or ”Teufel Hunden” (Or “Teufelshunde” as it should be spelled). I once had the pleasure of serving with a marine of Canadian origin, who showed me in Canada’s military history, that the Germans had called Canada’s soldiers “Teufelshunde” in 1917 a full year prior to the Battle of Belleau Wood. So at the end of the day, it wasn’t that marines were necessarily that frightening, it was just the nickname claimed by any force that happened to soundly beat the Germans on any particular day.
Our final stop on this lovely journey through time is the Chosin Reservoir. Possibly the most brutal battle (in terms of weather) ever fought, with temperatures around -40* F. (This battle has, in practice, already been reduced to little more than a reason for a SNCO to throw a fit over a cold marine with his hands in his pockets, because the “Frozen Chosin” fought through colder conditions. Be that as it may, I wish to address the battle without regard to the cheapening which the corps has done for me)
I have also had the pleasure of speaking to a marine who was on the front lines of this battle, and after he recounted how the 1st marine division was outnumbered 8 to 1 by the Chinese Army, and the extreme weather conditions meant no air support (This is the place where most well known versions of the story end) he went on to describe the enemy he and his comrades found themselves pitted against. His description was as follows: “Those who had bullets had no boots, those who had boots had no coats, those who were not freezing to death were starving to death… That battle was 60,000 mercy killings…”
Again, my aim in this is not to belittle the men who fought and died during the Chosin Reservoir, Belleau Wood, and the many other battles throughout this nation’s short history. I aim instead to demonstrate through these instances the disturbing trend of high-ranking officials of the marine corps altering or omitting facts of the marine corps’ history in an effort to continue to ride the coattails of a renown which is not theirs and which they have not earned. It is this rigid clinging to delusions of grandeur that lead President Truman to say “The Marine Corps is the Navy’s police force and as long as I am President that is what it will remain. They have a propaganda machine that is almost equal to Stalin’s.”
“But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.” ~ Adolf Hitler
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