Many people know of the Rifleman’s Creed from the movie “Full Metal Jacket”, in the scene where the recruits had to recite it from their bunks in boot camp. Written in 1942 by Marine General William H. Rupertus, the creed represents a key element of the unique warrior culture that permeates the Marine Corps. We call this “Warrior Ethos.”
“Ethos: the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.”
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
General Rupertus wrote the Rifleman’s Creed at the start of WWII because he needed his Marines to understand “that the only weapon which stands between them and Death is the rifle…” He wanted his Marines to view their rifles not merely as a tool of war, but as a close companion in combat.
To a large extent, he succeeded. The creed that he wrote became a cornerstone of Marine Corps culture and soon it became a requirement for recruits in boot camp to memorize the creed. Marines began to develop an almost familial bond with their rifles which they now understood was indeed the one thing that would carry them through battle. This encouraged Marines to strive for higher standards of proficiency and discipline with their rifles.
Unfortunately, in recent years the Corps has pushed the Rifleman’s Creed to the wayside. It is no longer required for recruits in boot camp to memorize it, and in fact it is discouraged. When I was in boot camp, I was the “knowledge recruit”, responsible for assisting the rest of my platoon in memorizing the knowledge in our recruit books. I saw the Rifleman’s Creed in the back of the book, and decided to start having the platoon memorize it with me. After a few days of this, my drill instructors told me to stop and instead have the platoon focus on memorizing things like the first female Marine and the first black Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. Decades of warrior ethos cast aside for politically correct bullshit that wouldn’t mean a damn thing to these recruits when they became Marines! I memorized the creed on my own anyway, the only recruit in my company to do so.
The Rifleman’s Creed (original)
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will …
My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit….
My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and damage as I will ever guard my legs, my arms, my eyes and my heart against damage. I will keep my rifle clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will ….
Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy, but peace!!
Breaking Down the Creed
The Rifleman’s Creed is powerful because it identifies the attributes a rifleman should strive for on the physical, mental, and spiritual levels. Let’s look at what the creed says about each of these.
Physical Attributes of a Rifleman
Physical attributes are the most readily apparent ones, so we’ll start here. First the creed identifies the most important attribute of a rifleman; marksmanship. Phrases such as “I will shoot straighter than my enemy” and “it is the hits that count” drive this point home. The rifle will do its job if you do yours. A rifleman who cannot hit his target is not a rifleman, he is dead.
The second physical attribute is that the rifleman maintains his weapon, “guard[ing] it against the ravages of weather and damage“. Every weapon needs some level of maintenance to keep running. If you take care of your rifle, it will take care of you.
Mental Traits of a Rifleman
Although physical attributes are the most apparent, they are merely the outward expression of mental traits. The most important one is discipline. “I must master [my rifle] as I must master my life.” Self discipline is the single most important skill of a warrior, upon which all other skills and traits must rest. Without the mental discipline to maintain your rifle even when you are tired and hungry, it will not remain “clean and ready“. You cannot “fire [your] rifle true” if you do not have the discipline enough to keep it within arms reach for when you need it.
The other mental attribute is knowledge. Knowing your rifle’s “weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel” will enable you to make full use of it’s capabilities to protect your life.
Humanizing the Rifle
This is where the creed truly stands out. By anthropomorphizing the rifle, the creed describes a close, almost spiritual bond between rifleman and rifle.
At first the rifleman refers to his rifle as his “best friend.” This is an understandable place to start since the rifle and the rifleman work together towards the same goal. The iconic third line begins; “My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless.” The rifleman and his rifle must be inseparable, for they need each other to survive.
This relationship deepens to the level of “as a brother” as the rifleman describes how he will learn as much as he can about his rifle. As comrades in arms working towards the same goal, the bond between the two strengthens deeper than simple friendship. The rifleman would never abandon his rifle on the battlefield just as he would never abandon a fellow Marine.
Finally, the rifleman goes so far as to say that he and his rifle “become part of each other.” This is where the meld between man and weapon is complete. The rifleman must become so skilled with his rifle that he no longer carries it, it becomes an extension of his body. This is the apex of proficiency that every rifleman should strive for.
The rifleman summarizes by citing the end goal of this relationship. “My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.“
The Creed and You
It should be clear at this point just how invaluable the Rifleman’s Creed is to the nurturing of a warrior’s spirit, even if you are not of the profession of arms as I have been. If you read it through, and I mean really read it and take it to heart, you can begin to adopt the attitude necessary to drive you down the path to tactical proficiency. You will recognize that being skilled with your rifle is not only a virtue, it is a duty. A duty to yourself and those you seek to protect. And knowing this, you will be motivated to train just a little bit harder, and become a little bit more dangerous every day. That is the power of warrior ethos.
So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy, but peace!!