Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr. was a combat Marine, historian, journalist, columnist, and author who published his first Proceedings article, “What Is the NROTC?” while a student at Yale in 1936. He fought in the Pacific in World War II and had command in the Korean War. Two of his later Proceedings articles, “Special Trust and Confidence” and “The Right to Fight,” published in 1956 and 1962, respectively, earned him enduring acclaim. The first examined Americans’ declining respect for commissioned officers and what the services should do about it. The second, a chapter from his Marine Corps history Soldiers of the Sea, captured the Marine Corps’ bitter but successful post–World War II battle for survival against powerful unification forces in the executive and legislative branches.
With Marines again in front-line combat, Heinl published “The Marine Corps—Here to Stay” in the October 1950 Proceedings. In these edited excerpts, he reviews the arguments that had been set forth for abolishing the Marine Corps:
• The next war will provide no occasion for amphibious warfare.
• The Marine Corps maintains substantial ground and aviation units that needlessly duplicate the Army and Air Force.
• The United States cannot afford to maintain special-purpose forces for missions any Army division can perform.
• If the elite Marine Corps were divided among the other three services, the military establishment would benefit.
The nine previous attempts against the Marine Corps, dating at regular intervals from 1829, foundered each and every one in Congress—on the rock of public feeling. This is very well as a starting point . . . that the Marine Corps constitutes part of the national heritage and ought to be preserved like the bison or Yellowstone Park. . . . But there are major reasons, good military reasons—even beyond today’s urgency—why the United States needs its Marines as never before.
In an era of unification, the Marine Corps is wholly unified. In no other Service can you find not a few but many regular officers who have served in routine rotation as infantrymen, military aviators, general staff officers, and watch or division or gunnery officers aboard U.S. men-of-war.
The Marine Corps provides the public a military yardstick to hold up to other Services. This “yardstick” can be used in two ways—performance-wise and dollar-wise.
The Marine Corps is America’s amphibious fountainhead. Now, as in the 1930s, the country is again compelled to look to the Marine Corps for amphibious leadership.
The Marine Corps is conspicuously efficient and frugal. The entire 1949 budget of the U.S. Marine Corps amounted to about as much as the cost of five Air Force air groups.
The Marine Corps brings true professionalism to its tasks. To be a Marine is something like taking holy orders—a “vocation.”
The Marine Corps is America’s national force in readiness. Readiness, more even than quality, is the attribute Americans have come to expect of their Marine Corps.
Marines were ready to move out for Korea. Now, with new expeditions ahead, the Corps must be permitted to develop and realize to the full its dominant readiness—as opposed to its amphibious characteristic alone.
Voltaire declared, “If God did not exist, we should have been compelled to invent him.” We might well reshape that epigram by the statement that if the Marine Corps did not exist today, the United States would have to invent one.
Where else, as of 1950, in a single package, do we find (1) readiness, (2) mobility, (3) the elite characteristic? And how many battles could the United States win without these?
The U.S. Marine squarely faces those who, from whatever motives, would have denied his Corps the realization of full usefulness; and echoing a Marine battalion commander in 1918, today’s Marine rejoins: “Retreat, Hell! We just got here.”