Gung Ho

Evans Carlson (of the Raider Marines) asked

Too many men waited for orders–and while they waited they died. What if they had been trained not to wait for orders?

According to Dick Gaines

The basis of Carlson’s thinking was what he called Gung Ho, basically, “work together.” But his concept of this was not merely a battle cry, a slogan or a motto, etc.; it is an ideal that goes to the very root and core of leadership and the social structure of the military unit. He held open ” Gung Ho Talks” with his troops with all hands having a say in the matters at hand. Leaders were those who were recognized by their ability to lead, rather than being appointed to rank. Of course, this all came from his experience with the Chinese 8th Route Army, where he had first recognized that the true basis of leadership was ethics itself (something he had pondered upon all his life to that point). Thus he attempted to teach and guide his raiders in what he referred to as Ethical Indoctrination. Some thought that he carried this too far, but not his own men. He did not carry his ideals of leadership and organization beyond the confines of Marine Corps regulations, but others feared that he would. Carlson insisted on officers and enlisted alike eating the same food, being provided the same quarters, etc. They sang hymns and patriotic songs together, often with Carlson playing his harmonica. He not only allowed, he insisted  each of his own men make decisions on their own.

Carlson had a grasp of what it is that makes men fight. His long and varied service plus his constant study and reflection upon the subject left him with beliefs and theories that he had been developing for many years. These he used in establishing his 2d Raider Battalion. He knew it was necessary for men to know why and for what they were fighting. He taught his Marines the implications involved between the war in Europe and the war in the Pacific. And every man could ask questions and state his views. They also discussed matters such as what kind of society they wanted after the war, etc.

Interviewed by Robert Sherrod aboard ship just prior to the Tarawa invasion Carlson said, “You spoke about espirit de corps…the Marine Corps has it to a high degree. But when the going gets toughest, when it takes a little more drive to stay sane and to keep going, and a man is hungry and tired, then he needs more than espirit de corps. It takes conviction….Our greatest weakness is the caliber of our officers, and that, of course, is a reflection of our system of education.” Carlson went on to state that the best officers were enlisted men after they had proven themselves in battle.

Within a few days after the battle for Tarawa, Carlson was flown home. He spoke before a meeting of one thousand officers at Camp Pendleton. “Tarawa was won,” Carlson told them, “because a few enlisted men of great courage called out simply to their comrades, ‘Come on, fellows. Follow me!’ And then went on, followed by men who took heart at their example, to knock out, at great sacrifice, one Jap position after another, slowly, until there were no more. Tarawa is a victory because some enlisted men, unaffected by the loss of their officers, many of whom were casualties in the first hour, became great and heroic commanders in their own right.

“But–” He paused for a long time. “But with all that courage and fortitude and willingness to die on the part of some of the men, too many others lacked initiative and resourcefulness. They were not trained to understand the need for sacrifice. Too many men waited for orders–and while they waited they died. What if they had been trained not to wait for orders?”

He was deeply angry. Lives could have been saved. It was this very matter he had mentioned to Robert Sherrod of Time….”What if they had been trained not to wait for orders?” Carlson had asked. And how extraordinary was the resourcefulness of the few!…But if all had been trained to act by themselves….”Our leaders did not give them that chance,” Carlson told the thousand Marine officers at Camp Pendleton.”

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