The Marine Corps has a widely-held reputation as a fierce and effective fighting force and the Marines take pride in their gung-ho attitude, are indoctrinated with a strong belief in their chain of command and the
importance of esprit de corps, a spirit of enthusiasm and pride in themselves and the Corps. The Marine Corps is popularly seen as possessing a degree of fame and infamy among the enemies they fight, and examples of this effect are readily seized upon and publicized by the Corps and its supporters. During the 1991 Gulf War, after Iraqi forces had already been bloodied by the Corps in the first ground engagement of the war at Khafji, U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf used a public demonstration of a Marine landing on Kuwait and the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr to pin down Iraqi units, while the Army then executed a sweep from the West.
Most recently, Iraqis in the Persian Gulf War and 2003 invasion of Iraq were said to have taken special note of Marine Cobra helicopters and the distinctive look of the Marine combat uniform. The Marines have taken steps to build on this psychological advantage by, for instance, developing a new utility uniform that makes Marines easier to distinguish from other US servicemen.
The Marine Corps has also recently initiated an internally designed martial arts program, an idea borrowed from the South Korean Marines, who train in martial arts and who, during the Vietnam War, were widely rumored to all be black belts. Due to an expectation that urban and police-type peacekeeping missions will become more common in the
21st century, which will place Marines in even closer contact with unarmed civilians, it is expected that the Marines will benefit from having a larger and more versatile set of less-than-lethal options for controlling hostile, but unarmed individuals.
While the reputation of the Marine Corps has remained largely positive in recent years, at least within the United States, the Corps has still struggled with occasional negative press and perceptions. In many conflicts, members of the other armed forces of the United States have complained that the Marine Corps often emphasizes its prowess at the expense of the reputation of Army or Navy units which are nearby. An example occurred at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War, when a Marine officer (probably Lt. General Lewis “Chesty” Puller) disparaged the undermanned Army infantry regiment which took the initial Chinese attack. Additionally, the aggressive tradition of the Marine Corps, and the public perception of the Corps’ as both an agressive organization and an elite force within the US military, has at times led to public relations issues surrounding accusations of bullying, harrassment and hazing since WWII.
In its post-World War II history, the Marine Corps reputation has been damaged several times. The first major event was the Ribbon Creek Incident on April 8, 1956, when the junior DI, Staff Sergeant Mathew Mckeon, led his assigned platoon into a tidal stream on Parris Island in the purpose of disciplining his platoon, while violating several basic Marine and training regulations. In the end, 6 recruits died, McKeon was court-martialed, and, with significant media coverage, an extensive Congress investigation took place.
This issue was revived in the late 1980s with the release of the movie Full Metal Jacket, which, although it meant to associate loosely to the incident in 1956, was completely located in the Vietnam era. Still, it projected some attention on then-current basic training in the USMC.