Date of Award

Fall 12-7-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

School

Humanities

Committee Chair

Dr. Andrew Wiest

Committee Chair School

Humanities

Committee Member 2

Dr. Kyle Zelner

Committee Member 2 School

Humanities

Committee Member 3

Dr. Andrew Haley

Committee Member 3 School

Humanities

Committee Member 4

Dr. Heather Stur

Committee Member 4 School

Humanities

Committee Member 5

Dr. David Davies

Committee Member 5 School

Communication

Abstract

Between the Spanish-American War and World War II, the United States Marine Corps institutionalized the use of public relations and publicity to craft an elite military identity and to endear the Corps to the American public. The Marine Corps adapted this approach in the wake of threats to its existence and as the service benefited from the power of a sensationalist press in the early twentieth century. Fundamental to the Corps’ public relations strategy from 1898 to 1945 was the employment of community-level public relations through the use of “human interest” stories, a practice that brought the stories of Marines to their hometowns. That the Marine Corps focused much of its publicity on the experiences of individual Marines from the turn of the twentieth century through World War II is often overlooked.

During the interwar period, Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune served to legitimize the Marine Corps’ position in the military establishment and in front of the American public. Lejeune applied progressive principles of education, professionalization, and public relations in order to assure that the Marine Corps survived the post-World War I downturn in funding. Lejeune also helped to establish Marine Corps alumni groups like the Marine Corps Association and created lasting traditions such as the birthday celebration, which helped to ensure that even when Marines left the service, they still had an important role in supporting the Corps. Lejeune’s eight-year tenure as commandant established lasting policies and the interwar commandants who succeeded Lejeune secured his legacy through reinforcing and even expanding his reforms.

Many historians argue that the Marine Corps’ survival and public endearment in the twentieth century was rooted in its military actions in World War I and World War II. However, it was the early institutionalization of the Corps’ public relations efforts that provided consistent community-level support for the Corps during and between these wars. From the “follow-up” book in Chicago in 1907 to “Joe Blow” stories in World War II, the Marine Corps demonstrated a clear understanding of the need to bring the stories of Marines to their hometowns in order to effectively establish a lasting public image.

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