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Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corpsby Aaron B Oconnell
Synopses & Reviews
The Marine Corps has always considered itself a breed apart. Since 1775, America's smallest armed service has been suspicious of outsiders and deeply loyal to its traditions. Marines believe in nothing more strongly than the Corps' uniqueness and superiority, and this undying faith in its own exceptionalism is what has made the Marines one of the sharpest, swiftest tools of American military power. Along with unapologetic self-promotion, a strong sense of identity has enabled the Corps to exert a powerful influence on American politics and culture.
Aaron O'Connell focuses on the period from World War II to Vietnam, when the Marine Corps transformed itself from America's least respected to its most elite armed force. He describes how the distinctive Marine culture played a role in this ascendancy. Venerating sacrifice and suffering, privileging the collective over the individual, Corps culture was saturated with romantic and religious overtones that had enormous marketing potential in a postwar America energized by new global responsibilities. Capitalizing on this, the Marines curried the favor of the nation's best reporters, befriended publishers, courted Hollywood and Congress, and built a public relations infrastructure that would eventually brand it as the most prestigious military service in America.
But the Corps' triumphs did not come without costs, and O'Connell writes of those, too, including a culture of violence that sometimes spread beyond the battlefield. And as he considers how the Corps' interventions in American politics have ushered in a more militarized approach to national security, O'Connell questions its sustainability.
"Exploring the U.S. Marine Corps's 'stories, assumptions, and habits of mind,' O' Connell, professor of history at the U.S. Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer focuses on the period from WWII, when the corps was viewed as 'the least attractive military service,' to Vietnam, when the corps emerged as the elite American armed force. His thesis is that the Marines synergized their distinguished combat performance in the Pacific and Korea with an active, interventionist role in American society. The corps cultivated relationships with journalists and members of Congress, and combined sophisticated marketing with hard-core politics, forming alliances yielding benefits to all participants. Structuring the process was a Marine sense of superiority that facilitated redefinition as 'an elite force of military first responders with a global reach' and 'a wariness of outsiders that bordered on paranoia.' This sense of separateness allowed the Marines to de-emphasize bureaucracy and view war 'through the language and logic of art.' They privileged sacrifice and suffering in the context of a blood-sworn community. The resulting cultural capital has defined Marine performance from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan as central players in national defense. O'Connell offers an excellent analysis of how the marines became the Marines. 24 b&w illus." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The Marine Corps has always considered itself a breed apart. Since 1775 America's smallest armed service has been suspicious of outsiders and deeply loyal to its traditions. Undying faith in its exceptionalism made the Marines one of the sharpest, swiftest tools of American military power, but developing this brand did not come without costs.
Bad or toxic leadership, abusive supervision, and petty tyranny in organizations are perennial issues. But to date, there has been little effort to examine the scope and nature of bad leadership in the military. Tarnished rectifies that lack of attention by defining the problems and suggesting possible solutions appropriate to the military’s unique structure and situation.
Leadership is central to the identity of the U.S. military. Service academies and precommissioning processes have traditionally stressed the development of conscientious leaders of character. The services regularly publish doctrinal works and professional journal articles focusing on various aspects of leadership. Unsurprisingly, in most of those publications leadership is presented as a universally positive notion, a solution to problems, and something to be developed through an extensive and costly system of professional military education.
Leadership expert George E. Reed, however, focuses on individual experiences of toxic leadership at the organizational level, arguing that because toxic leadership has such a detrimental impact on the military organizational culture, additional remediation measures are needed. Reed also demonstrates how system dynamics and military culture themselves contribute to the problem. Most significant, the book provides cogent advice and insights to those suffering from toxic leaders, educators developing tomorrow’s military leaders, and military administrators working to repair the current system.
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2013
About the Author
Aaron B. O’Connell is Assistant Professor of History at the United States Naval Academy.
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