When the Marine Corps Saved Itself by Recruiting Politicians

When U.S. Marines raised the U.S. flags on Iwo Jima during World War II, secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who had just landed at the beachhead, turned to Marine lieutenant general Holland M. "Howling Mad" Smith.  Forrestal exclaimed, "Holland, the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for five hundred years."

That seems a strange thing to say.  Was the continued existence of the United States Marine Corps actually in jeopardy?

Yes, it was.  The U.S. Army had been targeting the Marine Corps for absorption at least since World War I.  And the Marine Corps had been fighting back, by recruiting as officers promising persons who might rise to Congress some day.  Two of these promising recruits included future senator Joseph McCarthy and future televangelist Pat Robertson.

The fundamental imperative of a bureaucracy is to expand itself, and the U.S. Army is as susceptible to this urge as any.  In addition to the usual stratagems of increased budgets and staffing levels and added mission responsibilities, there is also the stratagem of absorbing other bureaucracies that perform similar functions.  This, the Army attempted to do to the Marine Corps.  As justification, the Army cited the fact that during World War I, the USMC had functioned as a second U.S. Army, to the point of operating two infantry brigades, in much the same way that the Waffen-SS later functioned as a second German army during World War II.  Why have two U.S. Armies?  Just merge them.

President Harry Truman agreed.  An Army veteran himself, he so much accepted that the Army should absorb the Marines that he said, "The Marine Corps is the Navy's police force, and as long as I am president, that is what it will remain."  Truman had assistance from that supreme, consummate military bureaucrat himself, General Dwight Eisenhower (whom Douglas MacArthur called "the best clerk I ever had").  When Eisenhower became Army chief of staff after the war, he worked with Truman to abolish the Marine Corps, as part of the centralization campaign creating the new, consolidated Department of Defense.

But the Marine Corps likewise obeys the fundamental imperatives of bureaucracies, no less so than the Army, and another such imperative is to resist absorption by larger rivals.  Thus, the Marine Corps was in permanent floating talent hunt mode, looking for "a few good men" to serve not as warriors, but as up-and-coming politicians who might rise to Congress someday.  Identifying them, the Marine Corps would get them commissions as officers in the Marine Corps and hope they would vote "the Marine Way" if and when they eventually made it to Washington.

Thus, Second Lieutenant Pat Robertson found himself on a troopship bound for Korea in 1951, alongside Second Lieutenant Pete McCloskey, USMC (himself later a U.S. congressman).  The USMC's confidence in Robertson was well founded, for he could well have inherited his father's Senate seat eventually, indeed did run for president in 1988, and masterminded an amazing career as a television evangelist and businessman, building up the Christian Broadcasting Network from nothing.

As for McCarthy, he had been nurturing political ambitions since before World War II.  He had already run, unsuccessfully, for district attorney in Shewano in 1936 and successfully for district judge in 1939.  (Both times, curiously, as a Democrat.  McCarthy was a New Deal liberal!)  When the war broke out, McCarthy recognized an opportunity when he saw one: a war record could only enhance his future electability.  But how to get one?  At age 34 in 1942, he was already long in the tooth.

Along came the Marine Corps.  It, too, recognized an opportunity when it saw one: a politician who could vote "the Marine Way" someday.  The Corps offered McCarthy a direct commission as a first lieutenant.  Evidently, McCarthy wasn't even required to attend Officer Candidate School.  What an expression of confidence this was in Joseph McCarthy's future electoral prospects!

It was a marriage of convenience made in heaven.

But having recruited McCarthy for his real mission, which was to represent the Marine Corps in Congress someday, was the Corps going to get him killed, like an infantry officer?  No way.  It assigned McCarthy to be an Air Intelligence Officer for a squadron of SBD Douglas Dauntless dive-bombers — my father's squadron.

In that squadron, McCarthy flew about a dozen missions in the tail-gunner position, providing the genesis of the legend of "Tail Gunner Joe."  McCarthy seems to have embellished his record, claiming 32 flights instead of the dozen he actually flew, qualifying for the Distinguished Flying Cross but making his DFC as phony as Lyndon Johnson's Silver Star.

Probably, McCarthy flew those missions with the encouragement of the Marine Corps, on the grounds that it is no bad thing for an Air Intelligence Officer to have personal familiarity with the combat missions for which he is providing briefings and debriefings.  The Corps likely even gave him flight pay and combat pay.  My father may even have taken him up on some of those missions himself!

Nowadays, there no longer seems to be any fear that the Army might absorb the Marine Corps.  The government seems to have realized that "inefficiencies" notwithstanding, it's actually good to have competing bureaucracies that do similar things.  "Competition is good for business."  In law enforcement, for example, there is a veritable alphabet soup of agencies, including the FBI, ICE, DEA, BATF, the Marshals Service, the Border Patrol, the Secret Service, Homeland Security, etc.  In the area of national intelligence, there must be some seventeen agencies doing that work.

Same with the Armed Forces.  We have the Army and the Marines.  Sometimes they do each other favors.  It was the Army that showed the Marines just how useful helicopters are, while the Marines so impressed the Army with the potential of sniping that the Army has made scout sniper a military occupation specialty.  Both services are actually good for each other, and there is no longer talk about one absorbing the other.

When U.S. Marines raised the U.S. flags on Iwo Jima during World War II, secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who had just landed at the beachhead, turned to Marine lieutenant general Holland M. "Howling Mad" Smith.  Forrestal exclaimed, "Holland, the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for five hundred years."

That seems a strange thing to say.  Was the continued existence of the United States Marine Corps actually in jeopardy?

Yes, it was.  The U.S. Army had been targeting the Marine Corps for absorption at least since World War I.  And the Marine Corps had been fighting back, by recruiting as officers promising persons who might rise to Congress some day.  Two of these promising recruits included future senator Joseph McCarthy and future televangelist Pat Robertson.

The fundamental imperative of a bureaucracy is to expand itself, and the U.S. Army is as susceptible to this urge as any.  In addition to the usual stratagems of increased budgets and staffing levels and added mission responsibilities, there is also the stratagem of absorbing other bureaucracies that perform similar functions.  This, the Army attempted to do to the Marine Corps.  As justification, the Army cited the fact that during World War I, the USMC had functioned as a second U.S. Army, to the point of operating two infantry brigades, in much the same way that the Waffen-SS later functioned as a second German army during World War II.  Why have two U.S. Armies?  Just merge them.

President Harry Truman agreed.  An Army veteran himself, he so much accepted that the Army should absorb the Marines that he said, "The Marine Corps is the Navy's police force, and as long as I am president, that is what it will remain."  Truman had assistance from that supreme, consummate military bureaucrat himself, General Dwight Eisenhower (whom Douglas MacArthur called "the best clerk I ever had").  When Eisenhower became Army chief of staff after the war, he worked with Truman to abolish the Marine Corps, as part of the centralization campaign creating the new, consolidated Department of Defense.

But the Marine Corps likewise obeys the fundamental imperatives of bureaucracies, no less so than the Army, and another such imperative is to resist absorption by larger rivals.  Thus, the Marine Corps was in permanent floating talent hunt mode, looking for "a few good men" to serve not as warriors, but as up-and-coming politicians who might rise to Congress someday.  Identifying them, the Marine Corps would get them commissions as officers in the Marine Corps and hope they would vote "the Marine Way" if and when they eventually made it to Washington.

Thus, Second Lieutenant Pat Robertson found himself on a troopship bound for Korea in 1951, alongside Second Lieutenant Pete McCloskey, USMC (himself later a U.S. congressman).  The USMC's confidence in Robertson was well founded, for he could well have inherited his father's Senate seat eventually, indeed did run for president in 1988, and masterminded an amazing career as a television evangelist and businessman, building up the Christian Broadcasting Network from nothing.

As for McCarthy, he had been nurturing political ambitions since before World War II.  He had already run, unsuccessfully, for district attorney in Shewano in 1936 and successfully for district judge in 1939.  (Both times, curiously, as a Democrat.  McCarthy was a New Deal liberal!)  When the war broke out, McCarthy recognized an opportunity when he saw one: a war record could only enhance his future electability.  But how to get one?  At age 34 in 1942, he was already long in the tooth.

Along came the Marine Corps.  It, too, recognized an opportunity when it saw one: a politician who could vote "the Marine Way" someday.  The Corps offered McCarthy a direct commission as a first lieutenant.  Evidently, McCarthy wasn't even required to attend Officer Candidate School.  What an expression of confidence this was in Joseph McCarthy's future electoral prospects!

It was a marriage of convenience made in heaven.

But having recruited McCarthy for his real mission, which was to represent the Marine Corps in Congress someday, was the Corps going to get him killed, like an infantry officer?  No way.  It assigned McCarthy to be an Air Intelligence Officer for a squadron of SBD Douglas Dauntless dive-bombers — my father's squadron.

In that squadron, McCarthy flew about a dozen missions in the tail-gunner position, providing the genesis of the legend of "Tail Gunner Joe."  McCarthy seems to have embellished his record, claiming 32 flights instead of the dozen he actually flew, qualifying for the Distinguished Flying Cross but making his DFC as phony as Lyndon Johnson's Silver Star.

Probably, McCarthy flew those missions with the encouragement of the Marine Corps, on the grounds that it is no bad thing for an Air Intelligence Officer to have personal familiarity with the combat missions for which he is providing briefings and debriefings.  The Corps likely even gave him flight pay and combat pay.  My father may even have taken him up on some of those missions himself!

Nowadays, there no longer seems to be any fear that the Army might absorb the Marine Corps.  The government seems to have realized that "inefficiencies" notwithstanding, it's actually good to have competing bureaucracies that do similar things.  "Competition is good for business."  In law enforcement, for example, there is a veritable alphabet soup of agencies, including the FBI, ICE, DEA, BATF, the Marshals Service, the Border Patrol, the Secret Service, Homeland Security, etc.  In the area of national intelligence, there must be some seventeen agencies doing that work.

Same with the Armed Forces.  We have the Army and the Marines.  Sometimes they do each other favors.  It was the Army that showed the Marines just how useful helicopters are, while the Marines so impressed the Army with the potential of sniping that the Army has made scout sniper a military occupation specialty.  Both services are actually good for each other, and there is no longer talk about one absorbing the other.