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  • Don’t you belong on a beach?

    Posted by Nathaniel T. Lauterbach on February 18th, 2016 (All posts by )

    In comment thread of another post, Grurray asked:

    “I know the Marines are the best fighting force in the world, but haven’t you had enough of building nations in the middle of the desert? You’re called Marines for a reason. Shouldn’t the future should be closer to the shore?” (sic)

    I’ll take the sentiment kindly. Marines usually do fine when compared to other forces. I hesitate to call ourselves the “best” or “finest.” But the Marines are probably as good as any force out there.

    As for meat of the question: Marines are amphibious fighters, right? What are you doing in a landlocked country?

    That’s a complicated thing. Here’s the text from Title 10, US Code:

    The Marine Corps, within the Department of the Navy, shall be so organized as to include not less than three combat divisions and three air wings, and such other land combat, aviation, and other services as may be organic therein. The Marine Corps shall be organized, trained, and equipped to provide fleet marine forces of combined arms, together with supporting air components, for service with the fleet in the seizure or defense of advanced naval bases and for the conduct of such land operations as may be essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign. In addition, the Marine Corps shall provide detachments and organizations for service on armed vessels of the Navy, shall provide security detachments for the protection of naval property at naval stations and bases, and shall perform such other duties as the President may direct. However, these additional duties may not detract from or interfere with the operations for which the Marine Corps is primarily organized.

    There’s a lot to this little bit of law.

    The Marine Corps is the only service to have it’s organization enshrined in law, as three combat divisions, and three air wings, and “other services as may be organic herein.” No other service has this feature, and it’s a vestige the very real political battles the Marines have experienced with the US Army, Navy, and Air Force, and often with the help of the President. So the Marines appealed to Congress to have this written into law. Any attempt to dismember the Corps, or to reduce it in strength to insignificance, will thus be not without a fight with Congress.

    Next, the Marines are organized to seize or defend advanced naval bases, or to conduct such land operations that may be essential to a naval campaign. So the Marines do belong ashore. But how far ashore? They belong as far ashore as required by a naval campaign, so that’s a bit fuzzy. It’s possible to affect a naval campaign from very far inland these days, given the ranges of coastal cruise missile batteries, anti-ship ballistic missiles, the range of land-based aircraft, and the effectively unlimited range of cyber weapons. (Yes, the Marines do maintain a small cyber-warfare force.)

    Also, the Marines shall provide security detachments for the protection of naval property at stations and bases. Ok. So wherever the Navy is, the Marines can be. That’s innocuous. The Marine Corps thus maintains Security Forces.

    And lastly, “the Marines shall perform other duties as the President may direct.” So, the Marine Corps does windows. It just so happened that within 24 hours of President Obama ordering the “Afghan Surge”, Marines of the 6th Regiment were en route to Afghanistan. Words mean things, especially when the words are “as the President may direct.”

    That’s the legal question and answer portion. Now I’ll talk a bit of history.

    The Marines have many historians, and most of them tend to fit into one of three schools. There are the historians of the Stormtrooper school, who emphasize that Marines are shock troops held at exceptionally high readiness, who don’t really know the definition of a “warning shot”, and who like to emphasize operations in the World Wars, Korea, Operation Iraqi Freedom I, the seizure of Fallujah (1st and 2nd), the seizure of Marjeh and Sangin, etc. These folks tend to think the Marines are “above” police actions, occupation duty, and stability operations.

    Then there are those who I will label the Colonialist or School, who basically see the Corps as an ideal occupation force of light infantry. They look back at occupation duties in Central America from the 1910s to the 1930s, where the Marine Corps basically operated at the behest of American corporate interests, enforced the “law” at gunpoint, while trying to win hearts and minds. These folks had a bit of a renaissance of late with occupation duties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Max Boot, and others are among their number.

    And lastly, there are the Consensus historians, who recognize that the truth is in the middle. Are Marines fine occupation forces? Yes, if called on, we’ll do it, and provide service with a smile. Are they excellent shock troops? Yes. If called on, we’ll do it, prove the maxim made famous by General Mattis, that Marines are “No better friend and no worse enemy.” Bing West is probably a consensus historian.

    The schools ebb and flow, with the story-line often paraded about to fit the political necessity of the moment. Currently, with the land wars winding down, the Marines are doing their best to become Best Friends Forever with the Navy once again, as emphasized in Expeditionary Force 21, the current Marine Capstone Concept. If a huge land war were to break out, trust me, the Marines would be delighted to become a part of the land and air campaigns. That’s not a bug–it’s a feature.

    As the Marines Hymn says, we have fought in every clime and place. That’s all true. It just so happens that it’s been in landlocked desert locales of late.

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    13 Responses to “Don’t you belong on a beach?”

    1. dearieme Says:

      The marines are used in land-locked countries because the US has run out of coastal countries to invade.

    2. Pouncer Says:

      “we have fought in every climb ” Well, yeah, hillsides and mountaintops and flatlands, yeah, but I think the word is actually CLIME meaning hot places and cold places and wet places and dry places …

    3. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

      Dearieme – No worries. China is rapidly creating new islands for us to fight over. But even so, there’s a good number of countries in the littoral that the Marines have never been to as an invader.

      Pouncer – I mistyped that. I fixed it just for you.

    4. Mike K Says:

      The most important feature of the Marine Corps, in my opinion, is that fact that they have their own close air support. The Army has battled the Air Force over this for a half century and there is still a battle over the A 10.

      Three good friends of mine were Marine fighter pilots, which means they did a lot of air to dirt combat.

    5. Will Says:

      Plenty of coasts left. Things in the past few years have gone from bad to much, much worse. Venezuela is toast, Cuba is full of jihadists, Mexico’s got two coasts…even the UN is right on the East River. And that’s just in this hemisphere. Lot’s of work for the Devil Dogs in the years ahead.

    6. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      Baltimore and Philly are right in the littorals. They would both benefit from a few decades of Marine Corps occupation.

    7. Grurray Says:

      Thanks for the explanation Nate. I suppose I am inclined towards the shock troops school after seeing the political problems we have sustaining protracted wars ( and false peace).

      Now that the world’s political/economic center of gravity has moved from the Middle East oil fields to large Asian urban areas just ashore from important shipping lanes, the littorals are becoming more important. The Navy’s plan to deal with that reality looks to me to be confusing, unproven, and inadequate. We’re seeing the Navy with their LCS Ships that can’t maneuver close to shore and the Marines getting F-35s that won’t survive unless they stay beyond the horizon.

      The complex, high tech route seems to have a lot of problems. Maybe it’s time to get back the basics, and work with the Marines’ advantage in amphibious warfare.

    8. TangoMan Says:

      Baltimore and Philly are right in the littorals. They would both benefit from a few decades of Marine Corps occupation.

      So would Harvard, Columbia, NYU, UCLA, UPenn.

      If liberals can inject their values into the military and transform it, then I don’t see why the Marines can’t force their values onto liberal faculty and students.

    9. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      If liberals can inject their values into the military and transform it, then I don’t see why the Marines can’t force their values onto liberal faculty and students.

      The military is capable of learning. Liberals and liberal institutions aren’t.

    10. Eric Says:

      Michael Hiteshew:
      “They would both benefit from a few decades of Marine Corps occupation.”

      Tangoman:
      “So would Harvard, Columbia, NYU, UCLA, UPenn.”

      See http://milvets.columbia.edu/

    11. PenGun Says:

      Syria is having a nice civil war. What’s holding you guys up?

    12. Eric Says:

      Nathaniel T. Lauterbach:
      “The schools ebb and flow, with the story-line often paraded about to fit the political necessity of the moment.”

      That’s as it should be.

      Soldiers should be like multiple-sport varsity athletes, baseball, basketball, football, wrestling, track, the gamut. Specialize and generalize. Ready to put on helmet and pads, or hit the hardcourt or mat, or pick up a bat, as the demands of the competition require.

      Soldiers compete for the school, not just the team, and the competition isn’t just 1 sport. And the sports are constantly evolving.

    13. dearieme Says:

      Good Lord, Eric, you should like a 19th century English schoolmaster.