Army Officer, Marine Officer – Roman, Carthaginian

Like many in the Anglosphere, I have a pro-Navy (and implicitly, a pro-Marine) bias. Our empires are strongly nautical in flavour, compared to the land-based bias of the Russians, Germans, Chinese, French, and Romans.

(The Arabs are more into the fast raider school of combat: “the ocean of the sands” if you will. It would be difficult, but possibly quite rewarding, to bring that paradigm into Traveller.

The Spaniards are something of an odd duck: strongly land-based with the sea more for strict transport than as a combat zone of its own, and a unusual fusion of tech superiority, a great understanding of how to politically take over – as opposed to simply destroy – more primitive civilizations, religious zeal, and a love of gold.  I actually find the bureaucratic, stasis-oriented Chinese Empire easier to understand than the Spanish one…)

I instinctively see the maintenance of a proper Army as a huge expense that I want to shove onto the shoulders of others, and if I had my way, there would be no Imperial Army except as an ad hoc organization, created from TL 10+ (especially TL 14-15) planetary militaries when needed (except for a cadre, a few general officers and staff, and a few academies to keep institutional knowledge alive).

All that being said, there really is an Imperial Army in canon, so it pays to understand the differences in perspectives between a Marine officer and an Army officer.

Which is where Quora, quoted below, once again comes to the rescue of this civilian!


Realistically, what are the main differences in being an officer in the US Army and an officer in the US Marines?

Having been both, please allow me to offer my perspective on this question.

In the Army, an officer sees himself primarily as a member of his branch (viz., Infantry, Armor, Field Artillery, Aviation, Air Defense Artillery, Special Forces, Corps of Engineers, Chemical Corps, Ordnance Corps and about twenty other basic and special branches) and identifies as such. Most of his focus, energy, and formal training until Command and General Staff College will be branch-oriented, and large unit employment-influenced. Army officers tend to think in terms of brigades, divisions, and corps—the big war stuff, and leave the small unit business to the senior NCOs.

Oh, sure the company grade and field grade officers are leading the platoons and commanding the companies and battalions and serving as staff officers at battalion and brigade, but they are thinking about the “big picture” and the long-game, and how they can better fit into it. That’s great for wars that take months or years, and require conquering and occupying a nation… and for producing future generals…, but conquering and occupying nations seems to be out of fashion these days, and less than 1% of officers ever make it into the general officer ranks, so….

As an Army officer, one will perhaps have more opportunity for specialized and advanced training, and more possibilities, both State-side and overseas, for different duty stations. Deployments are usually longer but the return is that you normally have more “home” or garrison time.

Marine Corps officers see themselves as Officers of Marines, first, second, and third, and then allow themselves to be identified by their MOS last (the Marine Corps does not have branches—we are a unitary branch service—Marine Corps. Most of a Marine Corps officer’s focus, energy, and formal training is infantry-centric, combined arms-oriented, amphibious-minded, expeditionary-influenced, and joint service-actualized (primarily with the Navy, of course). Yes, Marine Corps officers master the skills required by their MOS, but they are constantly thinking about leading their Marines and how they and their unit can better support the infantry (unless they are infantry, in which case they focus on being the best platoon/company/battalion in the Corps). Marine Corps officers think a lot more about the small-unit, small-war scenario and how they can quickly get in, accomplish the mission (usually against unfavorable odds and under unfavorable conditions and circumstances), and get out safely, back to the “boat” to either go home or standby for another mission.

Relatively speaking the Corps has very few general officers and not that many colonels, as compared to the Army, and we only have four divisions, four aircraft wings, and four logistics groups in the entire Corps, including the Reserves. The Marine Corps task organizes for combat from the battalion/squadron up, and our largest Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) are our three Army corps-level equivalent, Marine Expeditionary Forces, so our emphasis is naturally “capped” at that level and therefore our emphasis is most heavily placed on preparing and deploying our Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Brigade (MEB) MAGTFs. The MEB is essentially equivalent to an Army division (-), or a “demi” division and a MEU is roughly equivalent to an Army brigade combat team (-).

There is not a lot of opportunity for specialized or advanced training, but you will be able to become an “expert” in your own officer MOS, and probably develop a sub-specialty or two along the way. Marines deploy frequently and often, and much of that time will most likely be aboard ship. Travel, is almost guaranteed, and will probably take you to several places you otherwise would never visit.


So, after reading the above from Quora, I would add a caveat: If you want to build a single unitary civilization (instead of just run the maximum number of worlds with the minimal expense), you really should set up a major occupying army.

An army is really useful for actual long-term nation-building. A single organization with a single culture and ethic, getting various disparate peoples to work together with a single language… and a great way to get all those troublesome young men to fight for the Emperor, building loyalty to the Imperium, while teaching them to think like an Imperial.

Instead of leaving all those young men glaring at the Imperial government from the outside, following their alien thought patterns, looking for ways to hit back in the name of their own culture and families and gods and worlds.

(The Solomani always seem to think that technological superiority will insulate them from such consequences. The Vilani know better: ‘The locals watch, and the locals learn.’ So, you had better either fully integrate them, or wipe them out1: the longer you leave them in a grey area, the better they get at figuring you out, and sniffing out your weak spots…)

But a large standing army costs real money, for a long time.

And — like those British or Roman residents of old, staying at a particular Imperial Post for three decades to truly understand and master the people and the region — it requires a high commitment in time, and of many of your best men. Men that are in high demand, and which could be busy making new businesses and building wealth, discovering new technologies, or raising your level of culture and arts and science and theology. (Opportunity cost, anyone?)

Since I personally am into making money and reducing expenses, I lean to the Marine way of thinking: get ready, get it done, get out. My view of the Imperium is shaped by my financial instincts of maximum return right now, for minimum expenditure. Post 1950, technology is also a decentralizing force, and I don’t want to fight the march of technology like the Soviet Union tried to do! And I just don’t want to pay the cost for a massive bureaucracy (fundamentally grounded on the Army, but naturally expanding over all of society).

No doubt, if I was born a Russian or Chinese or Arab or Iranian Persian or a Roman, I would have a very different Imperial frame of mind!


Light, wealthy naval empires can hold together, so long as the money and the technology flows. The Third Imperium was a loose organization, navy based, but managed to keep the ‘honest broker’ position among her worlds instead of enforcing one single culture like the Vilani Ziru Sirka.

Amusingly, it is almost as if Carthage won her war against Rome… and then took up the name of the Imperium for herself.

Actual Carthage had the love of trade and money that the British (and other nautical empires) had, but unlike the British, they didn’t have the technological drive that would have successfully leveraged their wealth against Rome.

If they had it (and the Romans didn’t): or if they has successfully allied with Rome and Greece, and pushed a naval expansion of the Classical world…

( perhaps ranging even as far as Newfoundland to the west, Scandinavia to the North (hooking up with a Viking-style nautical culture, perhaps…), Madagascar and parts of South Africa to the south, and the traditional borders of Asia Minor, Judea and Egypt to the East (with trade outposts on the Indian subcontinent, with a chance of grabbing Ceylon) )

…well, things would have been very different from the real timeline. Especially if they were able to keep up the technological pace, and industrialize somewhere around 500 AD or so.


1 You could also just let them be: why go to the military, financial, and spiritual expense of conquering and enslaving and slaughtering, when you could just make a deal, keep a happy customer around, and get rich?

Empires never think that way, though. They can learn, but usually after it’s too late.

  • Feels bad about Japan, who should have just skipped the whole Empire thing and become a stinking rich Asian Switzerland by 1940 or so.
  • And looks wistfully at a still disunited – and a still vibrant and vigorous – German culture. “Bismark, you and your worthless militaristic cant about German Greatness!”
  • And France. All those Imperial wars with Britain that bankrupted the French Crown, and led to Emperor Napoleon who basically took the blood of young French manhood and smeared it across Europe, forever setting France demographically behind Germany.
  • And we all know that Rome grew ossified and brutally bureaucratic under the expense of Empire, how her money became worthless, and her army rotted away.

I write in the setting of a vast interstellar empire. I love the setting, and enjoy it. I’m happy with the ‘light naval empire’ emphasis, rather than the ‘heavy land empire’ flavour. I even recognize that in some ways, the Imperium is more of a single Mixed Vilani nation, or even a aristocratic federation, than a truly oppressive centralized empire in the Vilani style.

But I still want something more, something better, something more noble and righteous and glorious and wonderful.

Still an idealist, after all these years!

About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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