Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Institutional Identity, Culture, and the United States Marine Corps
Abstract: The United States Marine Corps is a unique military organization that has struggled for over a century to determine its identity; the papers presented in this panel examine different aspects of this search for identity. The first paper, presented by Paul Westermeyer, looks at the question in broad terms, identifying the four types of military organization which have most often defined the Marine Corps and the degree to which Marines and others accepted those definitions. The second paper, presented by Dr. David Ulbrich examines how identities and polices shaped the Marines performance as Colonial infantry in Haiti the long intervention there in the first half of the 20th century. Allyson Gates' paper examines how Marine self-perception conflicted with the Army's view of service relationships through the lens of the interservice conflict during the invasion of Saipan.
Paul Westermeyer, Marine Corps University
Participant's Paper Title: A kind of a giddy harumfrodite: Institutional Identity and the United States Marine Corps
Participant's Paper Abstract: 'E isn't one o' the reg'lar Line, nor 'e isn't one of the crew.
'E's a kind of a giddy harumfrodite -- soldier an' sailor too!
"Soldier an' Sailor Too" Rudyard Kipling (1893)

Rudyard Kipling nicely defined a Marine in his 1893 poem; it was clear at the end of the 19th century what a Marine was. But with the death of sail navies, it was not clear what the institution of the United States Marine Corps was, or should be. Throughout its storied history the Corps has acted as naval infantry, palace guard, colonial infantry, and even as a second land army, embracing these roles to vary degrees as Marines sought to preserve the institutional existence and integrity of their Corps. The search for identity and purpose has strongly shaped the culture of the Marine Corps and its veterans, and equally strong shaped how the Corps was perceived by American civilians, its fellow military services, and military rivals across the globe. The unique military environment of the United States has produced a singular institution in the Marine Corps, not quite duplicated in size, function, or capabilities anywhere else in the world.

This paper will examine the ways in which the Marine Corps has fulfilled these for identities, which of the identities it rejected, and how it has attempted to shape its own identity over the centuries. As part of this process it will define the four identities and briefly compare the Marine Corps to other military institutions which fulfill similar roles.
Jacob Stoil, US Army, Ft. Leavenworth
David Ulbrich, Norwich University
Participant's Paper Title: Paternalism and Progressivism: The U.S. Marines as Colonial Infantry in Haiti, 1915-1934
Participant's Paper Abstract: In the early twentieth century, as many as 4.000 U.S. Marines found themselves stationed in Central America where they served ostensibly as colonial infantry and implicitly as agents of American "empire." The Marines brought with them paternalist and progressive attitudes regarding themselves and their mission in the Central America. Paternalism can be seen in the culturally embedded "self" among U.S. Marine officers as Caucasians, mostly Southern, and mainly Protestants. They left the United States imbued with progressivism that made the goals of exporting democracy and stability to the Central American "others" who did not share presumably superior American political, religious, or economic beliefs. These two isms blurred together into a circular model: The U.S. Marines intended to improve Central America because the region's child-like peoples could not raise themselves up without parental guidance that only Marines could provide. Call this the mission civilatrice - U.S. Marine Corps-style! Among the nations in the region, serving in Haiti from 1915 to 1934 proved to be particularly challenging for the Marines because Haiti was an exotic amalgamation of different races, cultures, religions, languages, and traditions. That these factors clashed so conspicuously with the Marines' collective worldview makes Haiti a timely case study for analyzing intersections between occupying forces and the indigenous peoples.

This paper will examine the interactions between the U.S. Marines and the Haitians through official perspectives and more fluid cultural filters. The ways the Marines dealt with Voodoo in Haiti, for example, will illustrate how practical policies and embedded biases blurred together. The religious practices of Voodoo presented the Marines with challenges of balancing law and order with Haitian belief and agency. The Marines' use of force as colonial infantry did not necessarily strike the right balance. Sometimes less coercive approaches could achieve better results.
Allyson Gates, Florida State University
Participant's Paper Title: Holland Smith Against the Army: Interservice Rivalries on Saipan
Participant's Paper Abstract: Relations between the Army, Navy, and Marines deteriorated during the 1944 campaign for Saipan beyond the issues of the early war concerning leadership of the Pacific Theater. While Soldiers and Marines fought for control of the island's high ground, Marine Corps General Holland Smith's decision to remove Army General Ralph Smith from his command of the 27th Infantry Division proved highly inflammatory to the already poor relationship between the Army and the Marine Corps. The action also hurt the Navy's relationship with both due to the decisions of key naval officers' to remain neutral or to side with or against Holland Smith. Relations continued to worsen as the services the debate over Holland Smith's decision continued in the major news sources of the United States. The timing of this fiasco, occurring just over six months after the introduction of defense unification to the national agenda, is not coincidental. Interservice tensions had already started to grow in the wake of the opening of debates in 1943 over the possibility of unifying the military services under one powerful secretary of national defense, commonly referred to as defense unification.

While the military leadership attempted to recreate harmony in the wake of Saipan, the campaign for Okinawa the following year experienced numerous issues caused by the inability of the various services to truly overcome their differences so clearly highlighted by the Saipan operation, and work harmoniously together. These issues continued well into the postwar period. The interservice controversy that erupted at Saipan had a significant impact on relations between military leaders. In its immediate aftermath, the controversy adversely affected the Okinawa operation in 1945 and defense unification which heated up in 1946 before coming to a head with the passage of the National Security Act and the creation of a department of national defense.

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