In the aftermath of Barack Obama’s re-election, many mainstream Republicans are undergoing a crisis of conscience. Having lost two presidential elections in a row, the Republican Party is questioning the validity of its traditional values and principles. Some party professionals are even recommending a shift to the left in an attempt to appeal to what they view as the new American electorate. Some key decision makers in the Republican Party think the time has come to cast aside their opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, gun-control, and the immigration policies of the left. In other words, instead of changing how they do things some Republicans think they should change who they are.
The soul searching that is currently taking place in Republican circles reminds me of when I served in the United State Marine Corps. It was a time that is now widely acknowledged to among the worst years in the Marine Corps’ history. The Viet Nam War was in its worst and most unpopular phase. Anti-war, anti-military, and anti-America protests, demonstrations, and riots were the order of the day. The more conservative hairstyles and dress of the early 1960s had been replaced by long hair, dirty blue jeans, and tie-dyed tee-shirts. Spit-and-polish Marines with their high-and-tight haircuts stood out like a sore thumb in a society of hippies and flower children. Once admired universally for its strict adherence to a creed characterized by duty, honor, country, commitment, and courage, the Marine Corps found itself out of step with the society from which it drew its new recruits.
The youth of the late 1960s and early 1970s were into drugs, casual sex, and rejection of traditional American values, not the discipline and values held dear by the Marine Corps. In short, the socio-cultural trends were the antithesis of everything the Marine Corps stood for. In this new anti-establishment environment, the Marine Corps was considered passé. Some pundits even predicted the ultimate demise of this hallowed branch of the American military.
It is difficult to believe today that in the early 1970s there were those who thought the Marine Corps represented the past and needed to be replaced by a new branch of the military that comported more closely with current social trends. The attitudes of those who believed this were the antithesis of the Marine Corps’ traditions and methods. As a result, Marine Corps enlistments had dropped dramatically. In fact, recruiters had to scrape the bottom of the social barrel just to make their minimum enlistment numbers each month. Those who did join often complained that the training was too hard, the discipline too strict, the deployments too long, the marksmanship standards too stringent, and the expectations too high. As a result, discipline cases, unauthorized absences, brig time, and AWOLs were at the highest levels in the Corps’ history.
In view of all of the social upheaval in America at the time, some weak-kneed leaders in key decision-making positions had begun to question the Corps’ values and its methods as well as long-standing regulations concerning hair length, the uniform, and spit-shined shoes and so forth. In short, there were some who thought the answer to the recruiting problem would be found in diluting the very principles and values that had made the Marine Corps the proud and highly-respected organization it had been for almost 200 years. Some leaders in key positions of authority had come to doubt the values, methods, and principles that had made Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Inchon, and the Chosin Reservoir hallowed names in the Marine Corps’ illustrious history.
Fortunately, cooler heads eventually prevailed and the Marine Corps decided to change how it did what it did rather than who it was and what it stood for. Recruiting, training, and discipline standards were increased, not decreased. The Marine Corps focused on doing a better job of choosing it leaders and preparing them for the challenges they would face. Finally, they did a better job of communicating why their values, principles, and traditions were so important to America’s on-going national defense. As a result of these decisions, the Marine Corps emerged from the 1970s a better and stronger Corp. There is a lesson in this for the Republican Party of today.