June 2017

Our Corps’ Soul at Stake

Our greatest strength is at stake
Volume 101, Issue 6
Marine Female Engagement Teams have deployed to Iraq and are now deploying to Eastern Europe.
Photo by Sgt Michelle Reif

The soul of the Marine Corps is under attack. Sadly, our soul—our center of gravity—is imperiled by our own inaction. We, as a Corps, are in an existential fight, put at risk by our own failures to reinforce and protect our greatest strengths. The ethos, camaraderie, and esprit de corps which differentiate us from the other Services are weakening and vulnerable. Without these traits, we lose the special qualities which set us apart; which make us different; which raise us above the others. If we don’t actively protect our ethos and all of our Marines, we will lose that which makes us Marines.

The recent scandal surrounding the MARINES UNITED website exposes a rift within the Corps and lays bare an uncomfortable truth in our organization. There are those who do not believe all Marines are created equal, deserve the same level of acceptance, or rate a spot on the team and, as such, are not worthy of the same acceptance, protections, and respect due others. These beliefs must be attacked and defeated before our Corps is destroyed from within. MARINES UNITED is not the first website to contain postings of intimate photos, whether illicitly taken or privately shared, of our fellow Marines. In this instance, the Marines in the photos happen to be female, but the photos attack us all. While the posting and sharing of the photos are vile enough, the streams of disparaging, derogatory, and denigrating comments accompanying the photos and posted by some current, retired, and former Marines are much more disturbing. The thoughts conveyed in the comments violate the trust of fellow Marines and weaken the bonds among Marines.

Many will dismiss the behavior as a result of society’s changing mores. They may blame the World Wide Web, the pervasiveness of social media, and a culture of over sharing. They will say that today’s society undermines the Corps—that, somehow, the raw material we bring to boot camp and Officer Candidates School is so corrupted by the views of society that we just won’t be able to overcome these different experiences and outlooks. Excuses such as these imply there was a time when the views and beliefs of our society didn’t impact the Corps; that there was a time when the Corps and society shared the same values. This is, quite simply, a fallacy. The Corps has always been different than society. We have always set a higher standard. We have always believed in a core value system that set us apart, to the point where others have even called us “extremists.” To blame society is to deny our ability to instill Marine Corps values in our Marines.

Leaders of Marines at all levels set the standards and enforce our core values. Our duty is to the Marines in our charge and to the spirit of our Corps. As a Corps, we set and enforce the culture and expectations of the organization. We determine what is acceptable. Our core values may be different than society’s, yet that is no excuse. That is the point—Marines are different. The shenanigans of a frat house are not acceptable in the Corps. The bigotry and racism of this, or any other, era are not acceptable in the Corps. Misogyny and derogatory views toward other Marines have no place in our Corps. Joining the Marine Corps means living by the Corps’ values and  culture, and we must enforce the highest ideals of our core values. We must not allow any of our Marines to be attacked. Just as we would ruthlessly pursue any enemy intent on harming a fellow Marine, we must ruthlessly exorcise Marines who intentionally harm or fail to keep the faith with fellow Marines. Doing anything less destroys the very fabric of our Corps.

Bold, individual actions on the battlefield are inspired, in part, by a trust that other Marines will follow—that no Marine will ever be left alone. Our unit cohesion, even in the face of tremendous odds, is built on a trust in the Marines to our left and right. We Marines claim our special bond spreads through all MOSs and across all generations of Marines. We tout the inviolability of the Marine bond and claim that the title Marine, once earned, “signifies all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.” We make no caveat to this claim. Color, creed, religion, and sex are immaterial to the Corps. This belief is central to who we are. It is our faith. The Marines posting the photos and making the comments undermine this faith—they violate the trust we place in our fellow Marines. They sow doubt in the minds of good Marines and create segregation among those who have earned the eagle, globe, and anchor. If allowed to fester, the inability to trust each other will tear apart all our bonds as a fighting force.

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The photos of MARINES UNITED specifically target our female Marines. They demean and disparage the contributions of those Marines. The distorted beliefs reflected in the website undermine the trust among all Marines and threaten the faith we all place in our Corps. If we, as leaders, do nothing, we will lose the fight for our Corps. We must protect the special qualities of our Corps. We must restore our character and vigorously defend our ethos. We must restore the trust of our Marines. To do otherwise will not just put our soul at stake, it will put a stake in our soul.

LtCol McAleer is currently the XO, Special-Purpose MAGTF-Crisis Response-Africa, and 2d Marine Regiment. He is a career infantryman.