Date of Graduation

Summer 2015


Master of Arts in History



Committee Chair

William Piston


In 1942, the U.S. Marine Corps activated the Marine Raider battalions, the first American special forces units of World War II. However, the introduction of an elite subculture within the ranks of the Marine Corps, which already prided itself on being the nation's elite fighting force, resulted in conflicting cultures and competing identities. Many Marines felt that the creation of an elite within the ranks of the elite was superfluous and undesirable. The preferential treatment and widespread publicity accorded to the Raiders, combined with the Raiders' sense of exceptionalism and claims to superiority, garnered resentment among other Marines. Ultimately, the leadership of the Corps concluded that the Raider battalions were a detriment to the morale and esprit of the Marine Corps. Such resentment, in conjunction with the changing realities of the Pacific War in 1944, led to the end of the Raider program in early 1944. As an elite organization operating within the culture of a recognized corps d'elite, the Raiders present a unique case study in the nature of elitism in military cultures. This thesis examines the unique circumstances surrounding the creation of the Raiders, their rise to fame, and sudden fall from grace, concluding that the operational necessities of the late war period converged with the on-going cultural unrest within the elitist culture of the Corps to spell the end of the Raiders.


U.S. Marine Corps, Raider battalions, Evans F. Carlson, Merritt A. Edson, military elites, military cultures, special operations forces, Pacific War, World War II.

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© Stephen Mark Houseknecht

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