Treading Softly: U.S. Marines in China, 1819-1949

Treading Softly: U.S. Marines in China, 1819-1949

Treading Softly: U.S. Marines in China, 1819-1949

Treading Softly: U.S. Marines in China, 1819-1949

Excerpt

This is a brief history of the U.S. Marines’ service in China from 1819 to 1949. For some of the Marines, those 130 years meant, for the most part, exotic service and extravagant living. For the men of the 4th Marines and of the Peking Legation Guard, it was nirvana. They lived the life of Riley, and Riley may even have been there. For others, like those who went to China after World War II, it was dangerous, highly unpleasant, and usually very boring.

I became interested in the U.S. Marine Corps many years ago, primarily because of one man—John W. Thomason, Jr., and his exciting fictionalized stories of the “old Corps.” That wasn’t all; I even joined the Marines, to enjoy the life that Thomason had written about. But by that time it had all changed. There was a serious war going on, and the seeming casualness of the Thomason period had completely disappeared. Many of his stories were about service in China, and they were the most exhilarating of all. No questions were ever raised in a ten-year-old’s head about right and wrong, like “Why were U.S. Marines in China?” It was just like the British in India—it was their “inalienable” right to be there, that’s all. Hollywood told us it was O.K. For the most part, so did our history books, if they bothered to identify right or wrong.

As an adult I began to search for published material describing the American experience in China and found numerous memoirs of missionaries, writers, travelers, and Sinophiles. But there was little in the way of what soldiers or sailors experienced, and a paucity of what U.S. Marines thought of the whole thing. After all, of American military personnel, they spent . . .

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