Paul Westermeyer, The United States Marine Corps (Casemate, 2019)
Paul Westermeyer’s slim volume on the US Marine Corps (USMC) is part of Casemate’s Short History collection. It is split into six chapters, each defining an era of USMC history. It is a longer history than some might suspect, having been weaned on John Wayne WWII movies, grainy Vietnam War footage, and shocking HD television news stories from the blurred frontlines of Iraq.
The USMC dates to 1775 when Congress authorized its formation. They performed like other marines, fighting ship-to-ship or carrying out amphibious landings. With independence secured, it would not be long before the USMC became the spearhead of US foreign policy, performing the role of an Expeditionary Force against the Barbary Pirates among other actions. Ever since, the USMC has been involved in every major combat from capturing John Brown at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 to patrolling the chaotic streets of Fallujah in the 21st Century. Westermeyer argues that the USMC came of age from 1899 to 1919, covering the Spanish-American War and World War I. The latter also saw the USMC deploy two aviation units. The inter-war period was a time of learning and putting doctrine into place, which was timely given the work they had to do in the island-hopping campaign against the Japanese in WWII, though they made their WWII reputation defending Guadalcanal. The USMC has rarely seen peace, and during the Cold War they fought in Korea, saving themselves and Korea with their legendary withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir, and Vietnam where they fought the Tet Offensive to a standstill in key locations such as Hue. By the 21st Century, the USMC had developed into a powerful combined-arms force, incorporating the latest technology on land and in the air, but each Marine is never allowed to forget that no matter his specialty he is a rifleman first. As such, the USMC has fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, developing their tactical abilities while maintaining their strategic role as America’s expeditionary force.
Westermeyer’s tidy narrative of USMC history is interspersed with vignettes, describing the USMC’s various roles and adding colour to the story. His accounts of pivotal battles highlight the multiple roles the Marines have adopted, though he allows some of the lengthy quotes to escape his authorial control. The United States Marine Corps also contains useful illustrations and photographs that assist the narrative. Though more detailed histories exist, this is certainly an excellent introduction to the USMC and a great companion to take along if you visit the superb USMC museum in Virginia. 8/10.
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