Shared experience
: organizational culture and ethos at the United States Marine Corps’ Basic School 1924-1941

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


A significant gap exists in historical study of the United States Marine Corps, centered on the conduct and curriculum of its “Basic Officers’ Course.” There is no extant history of basic officer education in the Marine Corps. The current official history is broad, lacks detail, and focuses primarily on the last thirty years. A “History of The Basic School” was written in 1945, covering the early decades in slightly more detail. It is, unfortunately, almost entirely devoid of citations and does not approach the subject in a scholarly way. Other existing publications about the history of the Marine Corps Schools fail to make a detailed survey of the content of basic officer instruction courses, though there are a handful of detailed works on field officer education. Finally, no previous project has attempted to place the instruction of Marine officers within the broader political, social, and demographic environment of the United States in the interwar period. This paper will help fill that gap.
The history of the Marine Corps, like any other long-lived and large institution, has been written from a variety of perspectives, many times over. Before the American Civil War, Marine Corps history was so closely tied to that of the Navy that a unified maritime history tradition was sufficient for both institutions. Then, beginning in 1875, every generation of Marines has produced their own single-volume “History” of the Marine Corps, distinguishing the Corps’ identity from that of the Navy. Accompanying most of these are specialized monographs which consider more narrowly the conduct, composition, missions, and personalities. Only in more narrowly focused scholarly works are disputes or controversies really worked out in detail. To date, none of those inquiries attempted to explain the influence that education had on the unit cohesion or individual camaraderie which were evidenced during the Second World War. Single-mindedness in both tactical and operational environments were a hallmark of USMC operations in the Pacific Theatre, yet no analysis has been made of the one educational experience the vast majority of those combat commanders had in common.
The purpose of this paper is not to settle a dispute, but rather to explain the nature of education for junior officers during a specific time period. Between 1920 and 1940 the true “professional” schools consisted of: the US Army War College, the US Army Command and Staff School, the US Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, the US Naval War College, the Marine Corps Field Officers’ Course, the Marine Corps Company Officers’ Course, and the Marine Corps Basic Officers’ Course. This last named, the particular subject of this paper, was the only professional school being conducted at the “basic” level. It was the single point of entry for commissioned officers into the Marine Corps during the interwar period, and its operations were consistent during that same interval.
Date of Award1 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAndrew Lambert (Supervisor) & Marcus Faulkner (Supervisor)

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