Historian David J. Bettez has written what can be considered one of the most authoritative studies on the Marine Corps during its “golden era” (1898–1935). Bettez’s Kentucky Marine: Major General Logan Feland and the Making of the Modern USMC traces Major General Logan Feland’s career in the Marine Corps, which began immediately following the conclusion of the war with Spain (1898) and lasted until his retirement in 1930. Although he was denied a promotion to Marine Corps Commandant in 1930, Feland became one of the main architects of the pioneering amphibious warfare doctrine during the first two decades of the twentieth century and, more important, its “small wars” doctrine, which Marines have used in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Feland’s military career began when he volunteered to serve in the Spanish-American War in 1898. After that brief war ended, he joined the Marine Corps in order to serve in the war in the Philippines, a new U.S. colony acquired from Spain. Indeed, as Bettez notes, “the Marine Corps’s role in the new American empire [was] solidified,” as the new mission came on the heels of the appointment of a whole generation of Marine leaders who led the corps during one of the most crucial periods in its history and influenced its development as a modern combat force-in-readiness during the first fifty years of the twentieth century (p. 33). It was during those years, when the Marine Corps was “called on to engage in combat and peacekeeping operations throughout the new American empire and beyond,” that Feland would, [End Page 728] as Bettez writes, be one of the Marines who oversaw the transformation of the Marine Corps from a small force that guarded naval yards and served as a landing force aboard the ships of the U.S. Fleet to a force of some seventy-five thousand during World War I (p. 29).
The chapter on Feland’s service during the U.S. intervention in Nicarauga (1927–1929) is particularly relevant for today. Employing tactics that Marines and soldiers used in Iraq and Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Marines under Feland’s command laid the foundation for the Marine Corps’ counterinsurgency doctrine through their relentless pursuit of the Nicaraguan bandelero. Although stymied by the Herbert Hoover administration and its desire for a political settlement in Nicaragua, the author illustrates Feland’s operational and administrative frustrations in capturing the elusive Nicaraguan bandits and the pitfalls that all American commanders have faced since then in combating guerrillas. As one might expect, Bettez’s chapters on Feland’s role as commanding officer of the Second Brigade and his role in peacemaking and peace-enforcing in Nicaragua are superb in both detail and content.
Bettez provides an excellent description of the obstacles Marines had to overcome from inside and outside the Marine Corps and Navy in the acceptance of what Marines then called “advanced base force” operations. Bettez has provided students of the Marine Corps and U.S. interwar military history with a magnificent, well-written, and well-researched book. Although he tends to sometimes overemphasize Feland’s contribution in the ultimate acceptance of the Corps’ amphibious warfare doctrine, he nonetheless points out that Feland had a role in the development of this important warfighting doctrine, especially while serving as an instructor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in the early days of the advance base force (1903–1910) and later during the 1925 Oahu maneuvers in Hawaii. The author does a superb job of illustrating Feland’s role in the development of the Marine Corps’ evolving small wars doctrine and how this Kentuckian took part in the most significant counterinsurgency fought by the Marine Corps in the twentieth century in Nicaragua. [End Page 729] Finally, Bettez’s Kentucky Marine illustrates how the transformation of the Marine Corps as a modern force-in-readiness occurred during an era of extreme austerity. This is...