Search This Blog


Thursday, April 24, 2003





I have found that many writers, in many publications, writing about Carlson,
have made the observation that the words Gung Ho have lost much of their
original meaning. Also, it has been pointed out that the translation of the
words themselves from the Chinese produces even more room for confusion, as
there may be multiple definitions or interpretations, just as many American
words have more that one dictionary meaning. And, too, many have noted that
"Gung Ho!" has been "bastardized" to the point that it is now, to many, just
a slogan, a battle cry, or just a word denoting a goodMarine Gung Ho was not
something simple to understand, even for Carlson and his Raider Marines--it
had to be worked on and lived!

In an article titled "The Legacy of Evans Carlson," by Robert J. Dalton
(LtCol USMC Ret.) in the August 1987 Marine Corps Gazette, the author
states, "...Ironically, the term 'gung ho' has come to mean almost the
opposite of how it was originally used. Today, the term has an aggressive,
Prussianistic connotation. It has little of the 'ethical'meaning for which
it was originally used...."

Well, then, what was the intention of the originator of the now famous term,
"Gung Ho?"

For the answer to that we can go to Carlson's own book, Twin Stars Of China,
1941. Carlson wrote, "The superb fighters of the Chinese Eighth Route Army
had studied the Japanese methods, tactics, and psychology for years. They
knew intimately the strengths and weaknesses of the Japanese troops.

Surprise was the Eighth's heaviest weapon against the invaders. With
surprise, they made life a hell for the men from Nippon. But there was
another and even more important element which made the success of the Eighth
Route Army.

I sought this element assiduously. Then the answer came to me one day when I
had completed a march of 58 miles without sleep, along with a column of 600
Chinese. Not a man left the column on this march. I thought: What could be the stimulus which would induce 600 men to complete such an arduous task without even one failing. It could be nothing but the Desire and Will of each individual to complete the task. Here was the secret weapon of the Eighth Route Army.

Through systematic indoctrination, every man had received what I call
ethical indoctrination. "They knew what they were fighting for...."

"In war, as in the pursuits for peace, the human element is of prime
importance. Human nature is much the same the world over, and human beings
everywhere respond to certain fundamental stimuli. So, if men have
confidence in their leaders, if they are convinced that the things for which
they endure and fight are worthwhile, if they
believe the effort they are making contributes definitely to the realization
of their objectives, then their efforts will be voluntary, spontaneous, and

The men of the Eighth Route Army had a term for this spirit of cooperation.
They called it 'gung ho.'"

Later, Carlson taught his men from his experiences relating to the above. In
the Carlson biography, The Big Yankee, by Michael Blankfort, 1947, Carlson
"..Two words--'ethical indoctrination.' Those are big words, boys, but let
me tell you simply what they mean. The reason those 600 men were able to
endure such hardship is because they knew why it was necessary for them to
complete that march.

But much more than that, they knew why that march was important to the whole
series of battles they were fighting; and they knew why these battles were
mportant to the whole war against the Japs. And the war against
the Japs was one they understood and believed in.

In short, they understood why the efforts of every single one of them was
necessary to the whole Chinese people. That's ethical indoctrination.

He explained carefully how out of ethical indoctrination men grow to have
confidence in themselves and their officers; how when every man knows his
efforts count, whether officer or cook, general or quartermaster coolie, no
one thinks of himself or his job as being more or less important than anyone
else or any one else's job; and each man has respect for himself and
confidence in himself and in the others. Out of this mutual respect and
confidence, comes the ability of men to work together wholeheartedly,
without fear or favor or envy or contempt.

He trembled a little inside him as he spoke, for if ethical indoctrination
was the key of the Raiders, it was also the star by which he had finally
come to steer his own life. This battalion, these thousand men, was the test
of himself.

The Chinese have two words for 'working together,' he said. 'Gung, meaning
'work'; Ho meaning 'harmony.' Gung Ho! Work Together! That is the end result
of ethical indoctrination."

"He went on to explain that Gung Ho was important to all of them, because
they were Americans--for it gave them the chance to practice the democracy
they believed, where no man should have priviliges over another man and
where discipline comes from knowledge....a confidence that creates
initiative and daring in battle...greater
damage to the enemy...lower cost in lives to themselves...We will strive for
ethical indoctrination...I
propose that Gung Ho be the spirit and slogan of our Raider
Battalion...Let's hear you say it, He raised his voice and shouted, 'Gung

There was a split-second of silence in the ranks...But the words came and
the grove of eucalyptus trees in the middle of San Diego County heard a
thousand voices say a strange and foreign phrase that, in the necessary
coincidence of human history, was as American as it is Chinese."

As I indicated earlier, Carlson knew that Gung Ho was not something that
could just be simply accepted, either by himself or his Marines--indeed, it
had to be lived and mastered. On the occasion of the first anniversary of
the 2d Marine Raider Bn, Carlson told his men, "...Most important, though,
was the development of what we call the Gung Ho spirit; our ability to
cooperate--work together. Not only was it imperative to understand this
spirit; it was even more imperative to apply it to daily actions no matter
how unimportant they might seem. This called for self-discipline and
implicit belief in the doctrine of helping the other fellow. Followed
through to its ultimate end it would mean that each while helping the other
fellow would in turn be helped by him."

"It was in the matter of Gung Ho that we made our slowest progress, though
progress we have made. We were handicapped by our native background, that
background in which greed and rugged individualism predominated. Human
beings are creatures of habit. Human nature does not change its coat without
a struggle...The important thing was for each individual to have the desire
to help the other fellow, the desire to achieve that mastery over his
mind...This means tolerance of ideas, tolerance of personal eceenticities,
the sweeping away of personal prejudices...Hand in hand with Gung Ho goes
the willingness to endure hardship and pain in order that the hardest job
may be accomplished as economically in terms of exterminating the enemy as
possible...Finally, it was necessary to the success of of this military
pattern of ours that the individual understand the reasons for which they
fight and offer themselves for sacrifice..."

And, there was more, much more to Carlson's teaching of the Gung Ho spirit.
May this short discourse have served to emphasize to you, to some extent,
the depth and significance of the Gung Ho teaching of Evans F. Carlson, the
first Gung Ho Marine!

All Rights Reserved!
R.W. Gaines, GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines
Sites & Forums!