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Marines and other subjects



Scholarly Ed Jajko clarifies my memory, for which I am sincerely grateful:

"The 19th century poet is undoubtedly Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888, and the poem his "Sohrab and Rustum." See http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/authors/arnold.html. We had to read it in our Jesuit high school in Philadelphia, where it made no sense. Now I know that it describes a duel between father and son, from Persian literature, notably the Shahnameh, the Book of Kings, of Firdawsi (Ferdosi to the Iranians). As for Parthians, who are of course not Pushtuns, see, believe it or not, http://parthia.com. The OED says: "A. adj. Of or pertaining to Parthia, an ancient kingdom of western Asia. The Parthian horsemen were accustomed to baffle the enemy by their rapid manoeuvres, and to discharge their missiles backward while in real or pretended flight: hence used allusively in Parthian fight, shaft, shot, glance, etc". Interesting how "Parthian shot" has been transmogrified into the more easily understood, and virtually identical, "parting shot." How apropos is the line by -- I think -- Dorothy Parker, "One man's Mede is another's Persian."

I am equally grateful to Ed for informing us that Salah Feteih, the subject of a posting, was a graduate student at Stanford.

Finally, I am grateful to him for scolding me, and I am sure General Sullivan and Tim Brown will be delighted: "I completely disagree with your statement that "In the US, the Marines have been less well-known" (presumably in contrast to the Royal Marines, who were enshrined in the OED). The US Marine Corps was, if memory serves, the first officially-constituted fighting body established by the US government. The British phrase "tell it to the Marines" has never really taken root here, or rather has had quite the opposite meaning, that whatever it is can be handled by the Marines, because the Marine Corps has always been recognized as an especially tough and elite group. I recall reading in a Soviet publication in the mid 1960s that the US Marine Corps was a specially chosen force open only to whites; utter nonsense then as now. If I recall correctly, for most of its history the Corps has been open to enlistees only; men were drafted into the Marine Corps during the Vietnam war, and this was recognized as unusual.

But back to the main point: the Marine Corps is not "less well-known" than the Army, Navy, or Air Force; it has been in the forefront for two centuries. The contribution of the Marines to US military campaigns is legendary. The Marines hymn is part of our general knowledge. Even the fact that John Philip Sousa spent a great part of his career leading, and writing great marches for, the Marine Band is well known. [As a boy, I played Sousa on a violin. As a youth, Sousa played the violin too. I must read his autobiography to find out who he got his Portuguese name. RH].

What can be argued is not that the Marine Corps is less well-known here, but that its position in the US military is anomalous. The Marine Corps is, as you noted, part of the US Navy. But it now has autonomous status; hence the presence of the commandant of the corps as one of the joint chiefs of staff in the Pentagon". [General Sullivan reports that when sailors tell Marines that they are only part of the Navy, they reply "Yes, and the best part!" RH].

Ronald Hilton - 12/1/01


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