Semper Fi

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Every Marine is convinced they're the toughest guy in the room.
Capt. Nathaniel Fick, USMC (Ret.), One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer

So, you think you miserable lot of baby-faced tropers want to make a trope about us? If you work hard enough you might be good enough to lick our boots. For we are the best in the world and you better know it. When you answer me, the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be 'sir'! Is that clear, troper?! Louder! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!

Yes, United States Marines are just better. They are a Proud Warrior Race all their own. Every Marine is a Blood Knight and they are held in check only by their Drill Instructor Nasties. They are commanded by Colonel Badasses and General Rippers, and they are the truest devotees of The Spartan Way. They are so committed to their job that they are almost a Church Militant. Do not mess with the Corps. Ooh-rah!

That is the Marine myth. Like most successful myths, it has some basis in fact. A propagandist can't really create such things unless it is plausible and fulfills some natural human impulse. The Marine myth is recognizably similar in kind with the myths of several other elite military units, like the French Foreign Legion or the Gurkhas. What makes the Marine myth special is simply that many Americans take pleasure in it and therefore Hollywood does, creating wider mileage.

That said, the "Marine myth" is a myth. Marines are as fallible and human as the rest of the species, and while they are invariably well-trained and dedicated, you find just as many Jerkasses among Marines as you do among every other group on the planet.

The earliest American Marines were based on their British counterparts, although the modern USMC is a quite different thing. For one, the Royal Marines are a special operations force, whereas the USMC are primarily advanced infantry (with integral close air support, artillery, heavy armor and motor transport abilities but oddly missing Combat Medic personnel[1]).

The present role of the USMC is to serve as a multipurpose rapid response force. So at any given time they are more likely to see action even in supposedly "peaceful" times. In World War II the Marines were a specialized amphibious force. They were originally formed to provide an onboard force of infantry for the wooden sailing vessels, both to keep order among the crew, and to form the core of a Boarding Party when that was still a viable tactic in naval warfare. Though we think about this less, they also provided military police at a time when mutiny was a reasonable fear.

In fact the developing of US Marines into what is a veritable "Naval army" stems from a number of strange historical circumstances. One was the continual brushfire conflicts in various, usually Latin American countries. The marines became the instrument of choice above the army for Gunboat Diplomacy because there would be less paperwork. As time went on they often ended up in country for long periods doing this kind of work. This caused considerable expansion as well as the writing of a classic tome of counterinsurgency The Marine Small Wars Manual.

The primary cause however of the Marines from folklore and to some degree reality, the elaborate amphibious specialists meant to hold territory as well as raid came about because of a quirky mixture of bureaucratic fear of being declared redundant, and the actual military facts. From the end of the Spanish American War it was realized that Japan and the US were two ambitious powers with interests in the Pacific. Because of this the contingency plan War Plan Orange was developed. This was originally not a prediction of the actual circumstances leading to a clash but a simple understanding that the strategic situation had reached a point where it would not require either of them to be particularly evil as nations go, for there to be a war between them. The political events only brought to fruition what was long a theory. In any case the marines seized upon War Plan Orange as leverage to lobby on the grounds that bases were needed and they were the logical ones to secure them. After that they became the centerpiece of a large effort of study on the procedures for landing a force on an opposed beach. Naval and Army officers took part in this study but the Marines were the ones created into whole divisions of amphibious specialists, comparable to armored divisions for spearheading the army, or airborne for making parachute drops. It is this Marine force that went through World War 2 and it is to some degree this one that is primarily remembered, at least by Americans.

The concept of "marines" as soldiers that fight aboard ships, however goes back to long before when ships would grapple each other and send over forces to fight. In earlier days, a ship's crew would be assumed to handle both their shipboard duties and fighting. Later on, they specialized into crew members who handled the ship and marines who handled the fighting. This distinction is, at the very least, Older Than Feudalism: the Roman Navy had several dedicated marine legions that could be deployed on ships or as auxiliary units on land. The current U.S. Marines still have their naval traditions, as well as patrolling with the world's largest amphibious fleet (by far) provided by the Navy to this day, but generally just consider themselves the first troops to go into the battle, wherever it is.

The U.S. Marine's official motto, "Semper Fidelis" means "Always Faithful" in Latin. It is commonly shortened to "Semper Fi", hence the trope name.

If you happen to run across a now-civilian who served in the USMC, be careful that you don't address them as an ex-Marine; that ignoble distinction is (usually) reserved for personnel who receive a dishonorable discharge from the Corps. In one Marine's words , "Lee Harvey Oswald is the only ex-Marine." The title of Marine is permanent once it is earned, as long as it is not revoked for dishonorable behavior. Former or Veteran Marine is preferred, though if you know it you can also use their last achieved rank before leaving the service. Retired Marine works too, depending on the context. It's kind of odd to refer to a 25-year-old currently working in the same place as you as "retired." The Marines' attitude is summed up by this statement: "Once a Marine, always a Marine".

For that matter, don't call 'em "soldier". Most of 'em don't like that, either. Don't try debating them at it, either; it's a whole thing.

If you want to make a Marine even more badass, make him a member of USMC Force Reconnaissance ("Force Recon"). If you want to make him even more badass than that, make him a member of MARSOC (Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command), which is so new (2006) that nobody even knows how badass it is yet.

Compare Space Marine and A Space Marine Is You, where most of their behaviors, practices and general worldview will remain totally unencumbered by the march of time. A subtrope of Elites Are More Glamorous.

Fun fact: Semper Fidelis is also the motto of the following military units across the world...

But how many of you knew that?

And by the way, the quote in the page picture was actually said in a very fitting situation.

Examples of Semper Fi include:


Comic Books[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Marvel Comics published a comic book titled Semper Fi featuring fictionalised accounts of conflicts the USMC had been involved in.
  • Not only was The Punisher a Marine in The Vietnam War, he was a Force Recon Marine and even attended the U.S. Army Airborne School, received US Navy Underwater Demolition Team training, and cross-trained with the Special Air Service.
  • The modern Green Lantern John Stewart is a veteran marine.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Doom, The Movie.
  • Full Metal Jacket, with Drill Sergeant Nasty R. Lee Ermey.
  • Somewhat averted in Aliens where the Colonial Marines, while definitely Badass, were something less than admirable. However they definitely felt like real life marines. Specific examples include: the "badass" guy who goes on and on about how tough he is and then completely panics when things go wrong, the smart-ass attitude even at times when, in military terms, it is completely inappropriate and the Most Triumphant Example, a statement made by every single Marine at least once in his or her career: "I hate this job."
  • Semper Fi... duh
  • Subverted in The Rock. Ed Harris is a mega-Badass who wants the US Government to own up to how badass his Marines were (or just pay their families for being super secret and thus not getting the moolah). Interestingly, when the Navy SEALs show up to kill his team (led by Michael Biehn, who didn't learn from The Abyss), the Marines kill them all, which is due to them being on higher ground with cover with better weapons. The subversion kicks in when the Marines go nuts and try to launch poison gas at San Francisco for the lulz.
    • Explained in that their team had already turned its back on the government by falling in with Ed Harris' character, so they were going down either way. When they lost confidence in him by the government essentially calling his bluff and him folding, these "ex-Marines" decided to be out for themselves.
  • Taking Woodstock has a bad-ass cross-dressing Marine: "Semper-fi you little prick".
  • In Resident Evil: Degeneration, a squad of Marines attempts to take down a G-Type at the Will Pharma headquarters. They don't fare all that well by virtue of their weapons simply not causing enough damage to the G-Type to bring it down before it brings them down.
  • Jarhead, a film about a group of Marines in the Gulf War. The film portrays them as being much like any group of people: there's the one who doesn't believe in the cause of the war but is there because he signed up; there's the borderline psychotic dick; there's the withdrawn, nerdy guy; and the everyman protagonist and his friend—and, of course, there's their unit commander, a proud career Marine who loves the job. (For those wondering where the word comes from: it was originally a pejorative term for Marines bestowed because a Marine's very short haircut and tight hat make it look like the hat is screwed on to his head, like the lid of a jar. It has, to a certain extent, been adopted by the Corps itself. More poetical observers, both deriding and defending the Marines, note that it can also mean that the Marine's head is an empty jar until it is filled by training.)
  • The Right Stuff, both book and film, suggests ever so subtly that Maj. John Glenn, USMC, thinks he is better than his fellow Mercury astronauts from the Navy and Air Force. He's also the original Space Marine!
  • The Marine, of course, where kidnapping the wife of a Marine proves to be the worst idea a group of criminals ever had.
  • One of the main protagonists of Independence Day is a Marine pilot.
  • In The Maiden Heist, George is a former Marine who takes his military past a little too seriously.
  • Michael Corleone is a former Marine Captain, veteran of the Pacific War, was awarded the Navy Cross, and perhaps not coincidentally is one of the most ruthless characters in fiction.
  • Battle: Los Angeles features US Marines as its protagonists, fighting against, appropriately enough, a species of alien invaders who appear to be aquatic in nature, and kicking their ass-analogues in hard. It might just as well be called "Semper Fi: The Movie".
  • The 1957 movie The D.I. was about a Drill Sergeant Nasty's difficulty training a wishy-washy recruit in Marine Corps basic training.
  • It's never properly touched on, but Porter, the Villain Protagonist from Payback, has a USMC tattoo. Like Michael Corleone, he is a tremendously ruthless character.
  • In True Lies, USMC Harriers engage and destroy a pair of terrorist trucks transporting nuclear weapons along the Overseas Highway. After that, Harry then borrows one to kill the rest.
  • 1943's Guadalcanal Diary was based on the autobiographical story of a journalist who landed with the 1st Marine division on Guadalcanal in 1942.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Subverted in Old Man's War by John Scalzi, a science fiction novel in which all the characters are new recruits in an interstellar military. The Drill Sergeant Nasty says that people who have already served in the military on Earth make bad recruits, because they have a lot to unlearn, and makes a point of mentioning that ex-Marines are the worst of all, because their attitude gets in the way.
    • Even he gives the Marines credit, though, for the Rifle Creed.
  • In John Ringo's Prince Roger series, the Imperial Marine Corps are USMC/Royal Marines In Space. They have a number of special units like Raiders, clearly named for the Marine Raiders of WWII. They draw tradition from the originals. Their pilots and medics are drawn from the Navy. And, like US Marines protect the President and Royal Marines protect the Queen, Imperial Marines protect the Empress. And her offspring, which is where the reader comes in.
  • The Space Marines of Honor Harrington qualify here, along with a subversion by Grayson, whose "marines" are just army troops used in shipboard actions. In another subversion, it's mentioned in a somewhat minor (compared to other examples) Info Dump that at one point, the Manticoran Marines were absorbed into the army, then later separated back into their own service.
  • The Starfist series of books by David Sherman and Dan Cragg basically runs on this trope. The Federation Marine Corps is better equipped, better trained, and just outright more badass than any force they come across.
  • Applies to the future intergalactic Marines in Tanya Huff's Confederation novels.
  • The Heritage Trilogy, Legacy Trilogy, Inheritance Trilogy by Ian S. Douglas has the USMC, over a time span of about 2000 years, go from fighting the French-led UN on Mars over alien artifacts, to blowing up a stargate, to hitting a planet with sand accelerated to near the speed of light, to blowing up a star, to blowing up a Dyson sphere surrounding the central black hole of the Milky Way by throwing a star at it, to fighting a race of omnicidal aliens on their own turf and preventing them from completing a weapon that at least would have blown up a galaxy.
  • In the Posleen War Series, the armed forces of Earth are gathered into one giant military force for the Galactics. The USMC is specifically mentioned by "Mighty Mite" as the ideal for ACS troops, for their general policy of taking territory and holding it against all comers, as opposed to his native 82nd Airborne's general use as shock troops that don't stick around after their strike.
  • The Terran Confederation Marine Corps, from the Wing Commander novels, is apparently modeled on the USMC, though their "airtime" is somewhat limited, given the focus of the WC universe is on Old School Dogfighting In Space.
  • Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers was directly inspired by the USMC (with a heavy dose of US Army Airborne for good measure), with the fight against the Bugs patterned after WWII 'island-hopping' in the Pacific.
  • The Marine mentality is discussed at length in One Bullet Away, which provides the page quote. The author, Nathaniel Fick, noted that the reason he joined the Marines is that their advertising contrasted sharply with the other services'. While the other 3 fell all over each other offering scholarships and other perks, the Marines basically asked "Are you tough enough for us?"
  • In the Garrett P.I. fantasy/detective series, Garrett is an ex-Marine, and definitely has a bit of the attitude, especially towards "mere" Army men.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Pacific focuses on the First Marines led by Chesty Puller.
  • JAG and its spinoff NCIS, both of which can seem like recruiting ads for the Navy and Marine Corps.
    • There is a reason both shows are Backed by the Pentagon re: filming them.
    • Both were created and produced by television king Donald Bellisario, who served as a Marine in the 1950s, and who tends to make many of his major characters Navy or Marine vets.
  • At the end of The Librarian, the hero calls headquarters and requests that they send in the Marines to back him up. His rather old and bald Mentor (Bob Newhart) shows up alone. When questioned, the mentor shows him a fouled-anchor tattoo on his arm, to prove that he is a Marine. (Bob Newhart proves more than capable.)
  • Generation Kill is based on an embedded journalist's experiences with the US Marine Corps' First Recon during invasion of Iraq. The trope is subverted to some degree. Although there is an amount of "moto" chest thumping, the series does subvert parts of the Marine Corps myth. Examples: "Captain America," "Encino Man," "Casey Kasem," and who could forget the genius idea of repurposing a reconnaissance unit as a light assault unit in light armored Humvees?

Pearson: I hate that cheesy moto bullshit.
Pearson: You know what happens when you get out of the Marine Corps? You get your brains back.

  • In an episode of Burn Notice, Michael poses as a retired Marine in order to gain the trust of an actual retired Marine.
  • Gomer Pyle, USMC. (Note: If you're thinking about joining the Marine Corps, do not use this series as a model for how a Marine sergeant will react to you being insubordinate or incompetent.)
  • One episode of Jericho has a group of "Marines" arriving in the town to provide aid and reconstruction. They're actually impostors from a refugee camp who stole their gear from the real Marines during a food riot, and use the disguise to con towns out of their supplies. The mayor, a former Army Ranger, realizes this when they use the Army greeting "hoo-ah" rather than the Marines' "oo-rah", and when they address an NCO as "sir".
  • In Warehouse 13, Pete Lattimer is a former Marine. His ex-wife is a serving Marine, as is her new husband, and her entire bridal party. Oh, and the show establishes that US Marine Corps discipline is powerful enough to overcome ancient Egyptian magic mind-control devices, at least temporarily.
    • About that last bit... In a later episode, a group of marines (in full dress) are mind controlled, and are the main adversaries for that episode. With how they move, they might as well have been from the Queen's Guard.
  • CSI's Jim Brass is a former Marine who served in Vietnam.
  • CSI: NY has Mac Taylor, who served in Beirut.
  • Though in Stargate SG-1 most of the work is done by the Air Force, they do have a number of US Marines for combat support. Specifically, SG-3 (led for the first three-and-a-half seasons by Colonel Makepeace), -5, and -18 are drawn from the Marines.
  • NYC 22's Jennifer Perry is a former Marine MP who served in Iraq, then as White House color guard (hence her In-Series Nickname "White House").

Music[edit | hide]

  • John Philips Sousa wrote Semper Fidelis after president William //McKinley// mentioned he disliked "Hail to the Chief" and named it in honor of "The President's Own" (and not coincidentally, Sousa's own) US Marine Corps Band. It may just be the second best march ever written, after The Stars And Stripes Forever.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Traveller
    • The Imperial Marines which harken back to the Terran Confederation Marines which in turn harken back to certain famous Pre-starflight Terran military units.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Crysis features a large deployment of US Marines to the North Korean-controlled Lingshan Islands; much ass-kicking ensues. Then the Ceph show up, and everyone's running for their lives.
    • By Crysis 2 the world is on the receiving end of a gigantic Alien Invasion, and a detachment of US Marines is sent to rescue civilians in an alien-controlled, virus-infested New York after a PMC army fails to contain things. The protagonist is a Marine as well, but... special.
  • Call of Duty 4
    • This could be considered a subversion, as the main USMC troop is killed off, and the final missions are completed with you playing as an SAS member (albeit assisted by a few USMC troops). Of course, it could also be considered to be playing it straight, if you assume the game is saying that you need a nuke to beat the USMC.
  • Call of Duty: World at War features the US marines in the Pacific Campaign of WWII
  • The Battlefield series has a fondness for the Corps, with the USMC as a playable faction in Battlefield 2 facing off against Chinese With Chopper Support and the Middle-Eastern Coalition. And featuring prominently in Battlefield 3.
  • The Marines in Halo, though in the UNSC with the Chief, are unashamedly based off of the USMC (literally, in-universe, where this was specifically chosen and done by the founders.) And though the Spartans aren't officially part of the UNSC Marines, they do have the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, plus Sergeant-Major Johnson.
    • The Spartans are supposed to be Sci Fi Navy SEALs, if giving the hero the rank Master Chief is any clue. Of course, the SEALs myth is a lot like the Marine myth, with the training turned up to eleven. Thousand.

"Dear humanity, We regret bein' alien bastards, we regret comin' to Earth, and we most definitely regret that the Corps just blew up our raggedy-ass fleet!"
"OO-RAH!"

  • In the end of Resident Evil 3, the player finds the aftermath of a huge battle between a squad of Marines and 5 T-103s.
    • Resident Evil Zero protagonist Billy Coen is a former Marine who was framed for a civilian massacre.
  • The game Close Combat: First to Fight (and the Wii port, Marines: Modern Urban Combat) puts the player in the role of a Marine fireteam leader during a fictional war in Lebanon fighting terrorsts, Syrians, and just for good measure, Iranian special forces.
  • In Mass Effect, the Marines and the Navy are effectively the same, and have the same non-commissioned officer and commissioned officer rank structure. The only difference is in the lower enlisted ranks. Shepard even calls him/herself a Marine during conversations with Ashley or Kaidan (who themselves are both Marines) and Captain Anderson started as a Marine.
    • The Navy pilot and maintain the ship, the Marines are troops on board ready to deploy to a combat zone its the Navy's job to get them and drop them off safe. It's pretty much how it is today, Navy pilots, maintains and supplies Corpsmen (Medics), the Marines are dropped off and fight.
      • It's also worth noting that in the Mass Effect-verse humanity does not have an "Army", since all military operations depend on the fleet getting troops to where they're needed and securing orbit, and humanity doesn't, unlike the Turians, maintain huge garrisons for planetary defense. The Systems Alliance military focuses on maneuver instead, and gets troops onto the battlefield by dropping them from Frigates, inside of Infantry Fighting Vehicles.
  • In Prototype, the United States Marine Corps is presented as a Punch Clock Villain (opposing Alex Mercer, an Anti-Hero at best), pretty much only doing their jobs in protecting the people and trying to contain the infection under the command of the Blackwatch, who are really using them as cannon fodder and as a scapegoat if things get bad. The Blackwatch are basically an army of overzealous psychopaths. In the end, the Marines are viewed as heroes by New York, so Blackwatch's plan of using them as fall guys failed. It's a bit of a CMoH, since from what you can see in-game, the average Marine is a good person.
    • Also, it's implied that Alex absorbing countless Marines' personalities is one of the main reasons for his developing a conscience and sense of honor.
  • The Marines are something of a Butt Monkey in Metal Gear Solid:
    • In Sons of Liberty, they've taken the initiative to build Metal Gear RAY as a deterrent against the copies of nuclear-capable REX popping up everywhere, and the thing can cut ships in half with a water-gun. Unfortunately, Ocelot steals it, killing all the Marines on the ship it was being carried on, including the Commandant. The Navy proceeds to steal the design and make several low-end knock-offs that give RAY a pretty bad rap.
      • In the same game, when Snake tries to pose as a Navy SEAL, he blows his cover when he says "semper fi" to Raiden.
    • Years later, circa Guns of the Patriots, Meryl is given command of a Marine task force to capture Liquid with... and then Liquid uses Guns of the Patriots, shutting down the nanomachines that keep military personal from suffering PTSD at the cost of keeping them from dealing with the actual issues that would cause it; the Marines who survive Liquid's assault are rendered little more than emotional wrecks, barely able to stand, let alone fight. It turns around later when a group of Marines who are able to hold it together despite losing SOP are tasked with holding the line against a force that has better numbers, better equipment, and all the advantages of SOP they are now deprived of. They hold.
  • Fallout 2's Frank Horrigan is what happens when a Secret Service Agent is turned into a psychotic mutant and given drugs and Power Armor. His last words are "Semper Fiiii"
  • Act of War has Marines as the basic infantry unit for the US Army faction....which is rather odd considering that the Army ought to have their own infantrymen rather than relying on the Marine Corps for their basic grunts.
  • In Parasite Eve 2, the Marines arrive just in time to save you from a horde of laser-blade wielding, twelve-foot tall cyborgs. And they mop the floor with them, in what is one of the more epic cut scenes in the game.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Survival of the Fittest, the oldest of Danya's Big Four is Steven Wilson, a former US Marine who has betrayed his country for unknown reasons and is implied to have had ties to Danya for a long time.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • On the Looney Tunes Wartime Cartoon Super-Rabbit, Bugs Bunny decides, after losing his super powers, that "this is a job for a real superman!" So he ducks into a Phone Booth and comes out as... a Marine. The Corps were so flattered that they inducted Bugs as a private. At the end of the war he was honorably discharged as a Master Sergeant.
  • On Justice League, Green Lantern John Stewart is a former Marine. When the League got transported to WWII and his ring was running on fumes, his experience helped get him in with Sgt. Rock's Easy Company.
  • Homer manages to pass himself off as a Marine to a former Marine, and almost loses it when he says "Semper Fudge", prompting the guy to ask "Did you just say 'Semper Fudge'?" and Homer to respond "No, I said the right thing".
    • Homer sees a US Marine guarding the American embassy in Australia and, apparently confusing him for a British Beefeater, dances around in front of him to get him to crack a smile. The Marine just hauls off and punches him in the face.

Marine: United States Marine Corps, sir! We don't take that kind of crap in America, sir!

  • On Family Guy, Lois says that the Army is weak and the Marines are the men you want to fuck.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • USMC seen here.
  • Every other branch of the service, including the Coast Guard, tells and retells the joke about how X individual joined the Marine Corps because they couldn't match the IQ requirement of Y branch of service, where "Y" is invariably the branch that the joker belongs to. While these are just jokes (and they aren't just restricted to jokes about Marines; if you're Army, you tell that about Navy, Air Force, etc; if you're Navy, you tell it about the Army, and so forth), there is some truth to the fact that, in general, Marine Corps training creates service members who act first and think later, often to their own detriment.
  • There are, believe it or not, other Marines in other militaries out there. Some—like the Royal Marines—are more of a dedicated special operations force more like Navy SEALs as opposed to the massive rapid-reaction force, while others are more similar to the USMC. The Korps Mariniers of Royal Netherlands Navy are similarly organized with a similar mission, as are the Russian Naval Infantry.
  • The Marine Corps spent most of is life without dedicated special forces units. When the Marine Raiders were established during World War II, many Marines were offended by the concept of an elite force within an elite force and the implication that Raiders could be tougher and more capable than any given Marine. The units were subsequently disbanded and only recently has the Corps revisited the idea of special forces.
  1. Medics are provided directly by the US Navy, in the form of Hospital Corpsmen. They are justifiably respected by their Marine comrades-in-arms, since they undergo most of the same training and carry the same kit, plus medical equipment.