Unless you’ve been avoiding all news, then you know that President Trump has ordered the creation of the U.S. Space Force—a sixth branch of the U.S. military that would oversee war-fighting in the final frontier. Under the newly-formed Space Command, a four-star flag officer will lead the Space Operations Force and Space Development Agency to “strengthen security, ensure our prosperity and . . . carry American ideals into the boundless expanse of space.” While additional details are scant, we here at The Legal Geeks have decided that one critical issue must be decided first and foremost: Will the Space Operations Force be modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps or the U.S. Army?
Tapping our contributing blogger talent pool, we have enlisted the top military legal minds to solve this problem. Thomas Harper—Han Solo fanboy and U.S. Army Judge Advocate—believes that the Space Force should take its cues from the pride of ole’ George Washington himself, the U.S. Army. Caesar Kalinowski IV—Philip K. Dick devotee and former U.S. Marine—contends that calling the interplanetary troops anything other than Space Marines is tantamount to blasphemy.
Because settling the issue is needed before Thanos is prosecuted for murdering half of Earth and faces a Space Force firing squad, we asked them to make their case. So should it be Space Marines or Space Soldiers?
General Washington, were he here today, would no doubt proclaim (after first seeking some modern dental care) his beloved U.S. Army as the obvious choice to form the backbone of the new Space Force™. Although the Marine Corps may seem like a tantalizing choice, it’ll take more than the few and the proud to defend our blue marble against the evil that undoubtedly lurks in the great beyond. Enter the U.S. Army, the nation’s go-to force when you need to get embroiled in a long-term conflict far from home, whether that’s across the globe, or across the stars.
At its core, the Army has the perfect origin story to lend to the Space Force. As the very first military branch (we beat the Marines by a whole five months), the original Continental Army was proudly formed out of citizen-soldiers who comprised militias in each of the 13 colonies, as opposed to a few drunken brawlers at a bar. While the modern Marine Corps has admittedly expanded its recruiting beyond the bar at your local Applebee’s, the Army has always truly been a force comprised of the average American. Likewise, the Space Force should model itself on those same humble roots, representing a true cross-section of America as it whoops ass around the solar system.
The fatal flaw in using the Marine Corps as a model comes from the Corps’ own recruiting motto, “The Few, The Proud, The Marines.” After all, why would you use a scalpel when you can wield a sledgehammer, especially a space-sledgehammer? When it comes to slugging it out across the galaxy, we need a numerically superior force capable of going toe-to-toe with any hostile alien force. Sci-fi has repeatedly proven that there is strength in numbers: Darth Vader didn’t roll around the galaxy far, far away with a small contingent of Marines, he brought an entire legion of troops to smash Rebel scum. When it was time to take the fight to the Bugs in Starship Troopers, it was the iron fist of the mighty Mobile Infantry that delivered the haymaker on Earth’s behalf (please ignore the inconvenient fact that Robert Heinlein was a U.S. Naval Academy graduate).
With a current strength of just shy of one million active, reserve, and National Guard soldiers (compared to a measly ~200,000 Marines), the Army is the only military branch capable of marshaling the sheer numbers it will take to defend our space borders. Despite its size, the Army also has the ability to strike quickly. Rapid deployment forces like the 82nd Airborne Division and 75th Ranger Regiment are capable of having combat troops en route to fight within 18 hours. Perhaps the Marine Corps can rapidly assemble a force to tag along if the Uranus Embassy needs some guards, though.
It also bears mentioning that, while the Marines have a vaunted place in sci-fi, they seem to get their asses kicked left and right. In Aliens, it was a pissed off civilian pilot with a Class 2 rating in a Power Loader who took down the Queen, rather than the force of Colonial Marines. Meanwhile in the Battlestar universe, the Colonial Viper Squadron pilots always seem to be the ones doing the heavy lifting against the Cylons. With such a suspect record, the Space Force is better served looking elsewhere for inspiration.
Finally, when planning the newest military branch, the coolness factor is an absolutely essential consideration. Coolness is something the Army has in spades. In real life, all the coolest service members wore Army green, including General Patton, Colin Powell, Clint Eastwood, Jimi Hendrix, and even Ice T. The Army’s legend looms just as big on the screen, boasting legends like Johnny Rico and Dutch in Predator. Meanwhile the Marines are stuck with duds like Private Hudson from Aliens.
While the Marine Corps may very well form the eventual backbone of the Space Force, it’s a virtual certainty that the Army will be close behind to bail them out when they eventually call “Game over, man!” In the meantime, surely this Space Force will need Space JAGs, right? You know where to find me.
Caesar Kalinowski IV
Although Secretary of Defense and former Marine General James Mattis initially seemed bearish on the idea of a Space Force, I have to assume it was only because he always assumed the Marine Corps would take over that role. As a fundamental Mattisonian, I too had expected that the U.S. would simply give Marine Lance Corporals some space suit training and then send them into orbit to wreak havoc at a bar on the Moon until they were needed to police call space trash. But now that the President has announced that an entirely separate force be created, it’s obvious to me that we should create the Marine Corps Part II: Marines in Space.
First, the history of the Marine Corps is pretty much the history of all space troops. In 1775, the Marine Corps was born in a bar called Tun Tavern during the American Revolution. The bar’s owner, Robert Mullan, became the Corps’ first Captain and recruiter—allegedly luring drunks and degenerates to fight in the new force with promises of cold beer and steady pay. Like the infamous Mos Eisley Cantina, Marine recruits from this “wretched hive of scum and villainy” were loaded half-drunk onto ships to fight the British in the hostile waters of the Caribbean. I mean, who else would sail into enemy territory with no reinforcements except men with nothing to lose and a voracious appetite for conquest and booze? Similarly, we should expect that the first people recruited to stand watch on an asteroid base are going to be folks with (1) little left on Earth to miss, (2) a desire for adventure, and (3) more than a few screws loose. If that doesn’t sound like a Marine, I don’t what does.
Second, Space Marines have already played a prominent role in nearly every outer space battle. From the Colonial Marine Corps in Aliens and Battlestar Galactica to the EarthForce Marine Corps of Babylon 5, Space Marines have been kicking butts and taking names for decades. Even the mighty Chinese Space Defense Force was defeated by U.S. Colonial Marines at the Battle of Tannhäuser Gate, asserting American dominance during off-world colonization in Blade Runner. So if Space Marines are good enough for sci-fi legends James Cameron and Ridley Scott, why would we even look elsewhere now?
Third, the American space mission demands a small, flexible Space Force that acts as a force-in-readiness just like the Marine Corps does today. The current Corps is America’s first response force—small (~200,000 personnel), fast (able to place Marines on the ground in less than 24 hours), and designed solely “to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver or to repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat.” In the open expanse of space, America will not be able to send large amounts of troops on short notice to defend distant outposts. Accordingly, the Space Operations Force will need to be staffed by a small number of expertly trained fighters, capable of hopping the nearest transport to fight skirmishes off the Belt of Orion at a moment’s notice.
The U.S. Army, however, is a large (~2.1 million Active and Reserve soldiers), clunky, bureaucratic organization that needs four field-grade officers to sign out a pen. How could we depend on them to respond quickly when they can’t even mobilize troops for 72 hours? See Thomas F. Lippiatt, et al., Mobilization and Train-up Times for Army Reserve Component Support Units, RAND Corporation Published Research. The answer is we cannot. We must have fit and fast Space Marines, not slow soldiers whose current mission includes “providing prompt, sustained, land dominance.” See Army Mission Statement.
Ultimately, the Space Force cannot just sit on space bases providing “prompt” support; instead, it instead must draw on the Marine Corps’ historic mission of delivering proven results in expeditionary and asymmetrical warfare. And Secretary Mattis, in case you’re reading this, I’m totally open to being your new Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space.
Thomas is a Captain in the US Army serving as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer. During his time in the JAG Corps, he has served in a variety of positions, including as an Operational Law attorney advising on the law of war and rules of engagement in Afghanistan. After completing 7 years on active duty, he now serves in the Army Reserves as a military defense counsel, representing accused soldiers at courts-martial and other proceedings.
While he loves all things geek, he is a massive Star Wars fan, collector, and the reigning back-to-back Dragon Con Star Wars Super Fan trivia champion. His frequently favorable comments regarding the Empire and Dark Side are his own and do not reflect those of the DoD and Army. Follow his ramblings about the galaxy far far away on Twitter at @thomasLharper.