10 November marks the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Marines around the globe will take time to celebrate the founding of the Corps, toast our success in combat, and, most importantly, remember those who have made the supreme sacrifice for Corps and Country. Like many Marines, I am often asked by those on the outside looking in to describe the Corps. After careful research I have found the best one-word description of the Marine Corps is “cult.” Yes, you read that correctly. I believe the Marine Corps is a cult.
Before you decide to organize a march on the Gazette offices with torches and pitchforks, let me explain. Now, with the advantage of the Internet, I am the smartest man in the world as I have all information at my fingertips. I found the following definitions of “cult” on Dictionary.com:
1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. 2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult. 3. the object of such devotion. 4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc. 5. Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering on their sacred symbols.
If the foregoing definition does not accurately describe the Marine Corps and Marines, nothing on the Internet or in the printed word does. It may be hyperbole to say that the Corps is a system of religious worship but very little in life, except for perhaps faith and family, exerts such a powerful influence on Marines, whether active duty or veteran, than the Marine Corps does. In reference to rites and ceremonies, on 10 November Marines will take part in a ceremony in which we read holy writ (the Commandant’s and Gen John A. Lejeune’s messages) and pass a piece of birthday cake from the oldest to youngest Marine. Look at the second definition. Even the example it uses of “physical fitness” is part of our cult. Who and what do we venerate? We venerate the selfless leader, the Marine who is willing to sacrifice his life for his fellow Marine, and the ideals of honor, courage, and commitment, just to name a few. The third definition fits us. The Corps is the object of our devotion. The fourth definition easily describes us. Once you have earned the title Marine, you are bound forever to that long line of Marines stretching back to Tun Tavern who have done the same. It is an unbreakable and, to those who have never earned the title, unexplainable bond. The fifth definition provides us with insight from the world of social science. We have a sacred ideology. It is a strong belief in our Nation and that the Corps is the guardian of her freedom. We even have a sacred symbol called the eagle, globe, and anchor. No one who has seen the conferring of that symbol on a recruit series after earning the title Marine can be unmoved or doubt that those young men and women have joined something larger than them, being indelibly marked for the rest of their lives.
So on the 237th birthday of our Corps, I for one intend to take part in the rites and rituals that mark this most exclusive and special of all cults and to reflect on the fact that no one can claim a greater honor than to be a United States Marine.
Happy birthday, Marines!