The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Semper Fi!


The transformation model proposed by miltiary historians Allan Millet and Williamson Murray proposes a number of different factors that can influence an organization’s ability to be innovative and transform itself.  What factors do you think most influenced the USMC’s adoption of amphibious warfare doctrine in the interwar years?  In particular, was the USMC more driven by war plans and the nature of the threat than it was by the very real possibility that budget constraints might eliminate it as an organization?  In an era of real budget restrictions that the US military will face in the future, what core capability does the modern USMC bring to the table?  Does that capability warrant a USMC that is 25% the size of the army?  Will there be a future fight over the USMC and its mission or is the USMC so much of a part of the American military tradition that it doesn’t have to justify its mission?


December 14, 2011 - Posted by | Current Events, H200, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Honestly, I believe that IF the USMC is faced with elimination, much as it did after WWI, its supporters will use the THREAT of China much as did Japan was used after WWI. As China spreads its influence into the Pacific and Indian Oceans the USMC provides the USG with the capability to conduct amphibious operations IOT seize ports and key coastal facilities. Since the USAF, USN, or Army do not have this capability the USMC will have a continued place in the US military.

    Now, if our nation’s senior leaders, civilian and military, do not foresee a future that requires the US to seize ports or other coastal facilities than by all means bust up the USMC by capabilities and redistribute its personnel/resources among the Army, Navy and Air Force. Heck, the elimination of the USMC may in fact force the other services to become more “joint” than they are now. Imagine, without the USMC and its very joint-like capabilities (air, land, sea) the Army, Navy and Air Force would have to execute more joint operations to achieve the same effects that a MEB can now…

    To me, a truly joint US military is more detrimental to the USMC’s future than our nation’s budget crisis. Just think about it. If our military was to truly be in nature than Sailors would transport Soldiers that would seize ports and coastal facilities while the Air Force provided air support. Heck, why do we have separate services again???

    Comment by MAJ Chris Moore, 17A | January 3, 2012

  2. Although partially motivated by the emerging threats, I believe the Marine Corps saw an opportunity to fill a unique niche and secure its future and funding. The existence of the USMC is secure because the political backlash against any lawmaker proposing its demise would be too extreme. I think the USMC still has a significant role in the defense of the country but will again have to prove its worth in the next conflicts. If this does not occur, the Marines will still exist, but will likely face budget cuts and shrinking support in Congress.

    Comment by Matthew Wilder 17D | January 5, 2012

  3. I believe survival was why the Marines adopted the amphibious doctrine, they saw a need and exploited it. I agree with MAJ Wilder that the backlash of its demise would be too great especially with all the issues that America is facing. With all the services downsizing and the different dynamics the Marines bring to the fight, I feel it is still a need for them. I can see increased joint training and deployments due to budget constraints. We have to ensure as we “rightsize” we maintain our superiority. I believe the Marines are part of our absolute power base.

    Comment by MAJ Carl Mason, 17A | January 7, 2012

  4. I agree with MAJ Mason that survival was a critical reason why the Marines adopted the amphibious doctrine. They say an apparent need and proceeded to exploit it. Marines bring a great innovative mechanism to the fight and play a major role in defending the U.S. As seen in previous and current conflicts the Marines maintain a great power base and capability unlike other services.

    Comment by MAJ LaShaunda Jackson 17A | January 9, 2012

  5. The factor that most influenced the USMC adoption of amphibious doctrine was the need to preserve the Corps. The navy understood the importance of the Corps and the extra capability that makes up the sea services. LtCol Ellis’ work that outlined war plan orange and the Japanese provided a solid foundation to work from. The difficulties and failures of amphibious operations in WWI caused senior leaders to hope away the tactic, yet Ellis’ work provided the requirement. The Marine Corps to advantage of the requirement, back it with horse power from a Marine General Officer who was respected by the Army and moved forward with creating the doctrine.

    The Corps brings an air ground task force that is scalable to meet any immediate or emergent requirement. Coupled with the navy and positioned around the world, the Corps can provide immediate response in the form of humanitarian assistance to combined arms combat forces within hours.

    After a decade of fighting terrorism the Corps should not be 25% the size of the Army. With significant downsizing the Army end strength the Corps should become a larger percentage when weighed against the Army. The requirement for a large Army to fight a long drawn out war is not the future. Most conflicts of the future will require swift action and even a combination of Army/Air Force will not be able to be as swiftly scalable as the Corps can be.

    The Marine Corps mission is justified everyday with the forward deployed Marine Expeditionary Units and the operations they conduct. The Corps may face budgetary challenges in the coming years, but they will always be the best at conducting their mission.

    Comment by Paul Corcoran | January 18, 2012

  6. Several factors influenced the USMC’s adoption of amphibious warfare doctrine in the interwar years. One was necessity. It had to distinguish itself from the Army to survive and the Army, in yet another period of limited funding, chose to focus on Cavalry and Armor and didn’t put up a fight. The USMC was more driven by the possibility that budget constraints might eliminate it as an organization than by war plans and the nature of the threat. However, another factor was opportunity. The USMC had distinguished itself in WWI and took advantage of that sentiment as well. LTC Pete Ellis takes the opportunity to incorporate new doctrine “Advanced Base Operations” into the existing War Plan Orange – a series of joint Army and Navy plans for dealing with a possible conflict with Japan. This became the basis for amphibious assault operations. Yet another factor was having a strong advocate. LTC Ellis benefited from his relationship with Gen Pershing and Gen Lejeune in pushing for an amphibious capability.

    In times of budgetary constraints, no service has the luxury to think of itself safe due to being part of a military tradition so as to not have to justify its “existence”. Each service has to explain the capabilities it brings and undergo some serious reflection as to the composition and disposition of its future force.

    In the case of the USMC, former Defense Secretary Gates alluded to a change in their mission as technology developments have allowed our enemies to arm themselves with long-range systems that could impact Marines well before they reach the beach. Does this mean we can disregard opposed landing on enemy beaches in the face of hostile fire? Some will say that the threat of this amphibious capability is still a powerful deterrent. Others argue that this is clearly not the only thing Marines do. In a resource constrained environment, the debate will rage on.

    Comment by MAJ Efrain Ramos | January 24, 2012

  7. Survival was the reason for adaptation by the Marine Corps following WWI. However, the Marines secured their place in the US’s defense architecture during the Korean War. Since then, the Marines secured a seat at the Joint Chiefs of Staff table; along with the recent add of the National Guard Bureau. As the Army well knows, just being a member of the JCS does not guarantee enough funding for survival. The Marines are struggling to find their unique capability, same as the Army is today. Type words like Interagency MAGTF and Foreign Internal Defense MAGTF into a search engine and see how many hits you have.
    To counter Chris’ comment in the first blog, as the budget begins to decrease and War becomes less appealing on the political landscape, I believe this “Joint” atmosphere within the services will begin to fall apart. Each service is already looking at what unique capabilities they bring to the fight. Once determined, each service will lobby congress for the resources (i.e. funding) to support and sustain that capability. Interesting times are ahead.

    Comment by MAJ Ryan Barnett, SG17D | January 24, 2012

  8. The USMC is a unique organization. They are the only service that has perfected the amphibious attack and have had many years and battles to do so. Yes, they are the smallest of all the services, but at times they seem to carry most of the hardest missions. They serve as our protectors at embassies around the world when we are vacationing, and have fought in the sands of Iraq where they alone were in charge of MNF-West, which covered almost a third of the country. As the smallest military in the US arsenal, they are always first to battle. I do believe that with all of the budget restraints that are forth coming, as MAJ Barnett has stated “interesting times are ahead”. Additionally, I believe the USMC has achieved status quo as the “tip of the spear” for the US military, when it comes to ground warfare and thus have secured theie existance as a US military asset.

    Comment by MAJ Kim DeJesus, 17A | January 25, 2012

  9. The USMC by their own admission or self-restriction is an elite organization and rightly should be. No offense to my Airborne and Air Assualt brothers but the USMC is America’s entry force of choice. If anything the Corps needs better equipment and ships as we turn our eyes to the Far East.
    At the same time the Army needs be a force designed to fight the big wars not brush fires; we need to leave that to SOF and Marines. The nation needs the Army to be heavy weight fighter capable of going toe to toe with enemies for 12 rounds. Is a 60 ton tank too heavy? Maybe, but we still need the capability. Perfect example the T-80 lost in checnya….but the russians aren’t stoping tank development. They are increasing their armor on top to fight in urban areas.
    Let the Marines have the beach and littoral areas. Let them do the NEO for Taiwan. Because if North Korea ever decides to try their luck holding the peninsula it will be the US Army who with a lot of help from our our ROK partners who defeat and occupies North Korea. Not tactical CAS aircraft, not ticonderoga ABM Aegis cruisers, or nor a mere two divisions of Marines. Everyone but the Army Infantrymen is support. If you don’t understand that read a history book and revaluate your “joint” mindset.

    Comment by MAJ Matt Starsnic | January 30, 2012

  10. I agree with Matt Wilder to some extent that they were partially motivated by the emerging threats and saw an opportunity to fill a unique niche and secure its future and funding. Remember Billy Mitchell in the 1930s during a fact finding mission to Japan already saw what the Japanese were going to do in the Pacific. The only thing he recommended different was to use Alaska as the invasion route to Japan. The Marines understood this and used it to their advantage. The Marines have just announced that they are going back to the basics of fleet operations having fought the OIF and OEF fight for the last ten years. The future of the Marine Corps is secure because of the history and tradition of the Marines and it would be like Matt said that no one would survive the political backlash to recommend getting rid of them

    Comment by MAJ Ronald Eggelston/17D | February 17, 2012

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