In 2011, the Obama administration announced that it was re-balancing United States diplomatic, military and economic policies to focus on the Pacific, the Rim countries and Asia in general. The “pivot to the Pacific” is intended to recognize the importance that the region will play in this century and the importance that the United States places on the region.
The United States Marine Corps provided three senior officers last week to discuss several topics related to the pivot policy. For the Marines, the Pacific is not new territory. It has been, in some ways, the Corps’s ocean for two hundred years. Marines have fought for the United States in various parts of the region since 1813.
A United States naval expedition in 1813 took possession of the island of Nukahiva, in the Marquesas Islands. While the ships of the expedition were off, engaged in the events of the War of 1812, a Marine lieutenant named Gamble and a few volunteers were left to hold the fort. Under heavy attack by native forces, Gamble manned the cannon and single-handedly fought off attackers. He made his escape with seven other Americans and was captured at sea by the British.
In 1831, Marines took part in an expedition to Sumatra to punish Malay pirates for an attack on a U.S. merchant vessel. At dawn, sailors and marines assaulted the four forts guarding the town of Quallah Battoo. Under heavy fire from javelins, muskets and cannon, the force captured all the forts, and razed the forts and the town. One sailor and two Marines died in the battle.
The Marines were first used at Canton, on the Chinese mainland, in 1844. From that moment on, the term “China Marine” became part of the Marine Corps legend. The Marines would leave China after the Communist revolution in the late 1940’s.
Okinawa and the Japanese home islands first saw the Marines with Commodore Perry’s visit in 1853-54. Prior to his arrival in the Home Islands, he visited Okinawa and landed two companies of Marines as part of a display of force for the island’s isolationist rulers. He followed the same demonstrative practices while negotiating with the Japanese and obtaining treaty access to the formerly closed nation.
United States Marines first entered combat in Korea in 1871. An expedition to discover the fate of an American merchant ship discovered that it had been attacked and burned by the Koreans. The Asiatic Fleet responded and came under fire as it sailed the Han River. Four officers and 105 Marines were landed to attack three of the Korean forts defending the river. Six Marines received the Medal of Honor for their valor in the fighting.
The Marines are not strangers to the Russian Far East. Fleet Marines originally landed in the Russian city of Vladivostok in 1918 to protect the consulate. The last of the Marines left this part of Russia in 1922 after fighting the Communists and supporting allied forces in the region.
The United States Marine Corps clawed its way from island to island across the Pacific in World War II. It served in the Korean War, in Vietnam and in East Timor in 1999 and 2000. The Marines defend American embassies and consulates, provide security in chaotic conditions and, as the response to both the Indonesian tsunami in 2004 and the Japanese tsunami in 2011 showed, they provide humanitarian assistance in the direst of circumstances.