GUNG HO! The Corps’ Most Progressive Tradition
Before “oorah,” the Marine battle cry was “gung-ho!” The term originated during World War II and was coined for the Marine Corps by the 2d Raider Battalion’s maverick leader, Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson. Before our entry into the savage war with Japan, Carlson had been a military observer attached to Mao Tse-tung’s 8th Route Army fighting in China. Loosely translated, “gung-ho” means “working together.”
Even before WW II, Marines had a long and distinguished history of serving in the Far East. There, they observed and considered the oriental ways of war. The writings of Sun Tzu, the methods of Mao, and the prewar Japanese were carefully examined by Marines who served in China. Additionally, Marines became familiar with the oriental penchant for waging guerrilla warfare.
H. John Poole’s “Gung Ho,” with a foreword written by retired General Anthony Zinni, carefully dissects the methods, tactics and techniques that were developed and employed by the 2d Raider Bn and draws the reader into the operational art of winning in combat. Using an unorthodox squad approach, Carlson is credited with founding the three-fire-team squad model still in use today. Each fire team, acting with maximum flexibility during infiltration, was heavily armed with additional automatic weapons. Combining that firepower with “swarming tactics” proved most effective in small unit combat such as seen each day in the ongoing war on terrorism.
Poole also draws attention to one of the more controversial elements of Carlson’s small-unit training, the “gung-ho sessions.” Carlson, a former enlisted man, had great faith in allowing his men to think through and solve perceived problems. Unique to Carlson’s Raiders, the Raiders were encouraged to critique their actions, as well as the actions of their leaders. For the traditional Marine Corps leadership, this was considered highly unorthodox and quickly drew fire from an otherwise top-down military mindset.
The Asian model, grounded in Sun Tzu, survives even today. For example, it was successfully employed by the North Vietnamese, arguably some of the world’s best light infantry troops. Poole points to the Marine combined action platoons of the Vietnam War as an effective “gung ho” military tactical idea with strategic implications that came from the WW II experiences of the commander of III Marine Amphibious Force in Vietnam, Major General (later General and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps) Lewis W. Walt.
By gaining the confidence of the people, MajGen Walt’s Marines combined a balanced approach to winning with search and- destroy techniques, counter guerrilla tactics and local pacification. Today’s counterinsurgency operations throughout the world, including our urban-based firefights, require us to become reacquainted with some of the Raiders’ unconventional small-unit warfare tactics. The concept of the “Strategic Corporal” has required a new appreciation and regard for bottom-up training and decision making.
Many of our modern special operations units stand on the shoulders of the early small-unit operations skillfully developed by their forefathers, Evans Carlson and the 2d Raider Bn. This well-conceived, highly controversial book requires that we rethink our strategy to face and defeat modern-day terrorism.
The book’s author closes with a thought-provoking notion: “WW III won’t be like WW II. It may well be lost unless both U.S. infantry branches allow units in close contact with an Asian foe to learn and operate from the bottom-up. Only by ‘systematically’ working together will they achieve Carlson’s dream—maneuver warfare at the squad level.”