How the United States Marine Corps Differs from Cults

How the United States Marine Corps Differs from Cults

Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D.

Janja Lalich, M.A.

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The Marine recruit clearly knows what the organization is that he or she is joining.... There are no secret stages such as people come upon in cults. Cult recruits often attend a cult activity, are lured into "staying for a while," and soon find that they have joined the cult for life, or as one group requires, members sign up for a "billion year contract...."

The Marine recruit retains freedom of religion, politics, friends, family association, selection of spouse, and information access to television, radio, reading material, telephone, and mail.

The Marine serves a term of enlistment and departs freely. The Marine can reenlist if he or she desires but is not forced to remain.

Medical and dental care are available, encouraged, and permitted in the Marines. This is not true in the many cults that discourage and sometimes forbid medical care.

Training and education received in the Marines are usable later in life. Cults do not necessarily train a person in anything that has any value in the greater society.

In the USMC, public records are kept and are available. Cult records, if they exist, are confidential, hidden from members, and not shared.

USMC Inspector General procedures protect each Marine. Nothing protects cult members.

A military legal system is provided within the USMC; a Marine can also utilize off-base legal and law enforcement agencies and other representatives if needed. In cults, there is only the closed, internal system of justice, and no appeal, no recourse to outside support.

Families of military personnel talk and deal directly with schools. Children may attend public or private schools. In cults, children, child rearing, and education are often controlled by the whims and idiosyncrasies of the cult leader.

The USMC is not a sovereign entity above the laws of the land. Cults consider themselves above the law, with their own brand of morality and justice, accountable to no one, not even their members.

A Marine gets to keep her or his pay, property owned and acquired, presents from relatives, inheritances, and so on. In many cults, members are expected to turn over to the cult all monies and worldly possessions.

Rational behavior is valued in the USMC. Cults stultify members' critical thinking abilities and capacity for rational, independent thinking; normal thought processes are stifled and broken.

In the USMC, suggestions and criticism can be made to leadership and upper echelons through advocated, proper channels. There are no suggestion boxes in cults. The cult is always right, and the members (and outsiders) are always wrong.

Marines cannot be used for medical and psychological experiments without their informed consent. Cults essentially perform psychological experiments on their members through implementing thought-reform processes without members' knowledge or consent.

Reading, education, and knowledge are encouraged and provided through such agencies as Armed Services Radio and Stars and Stripes, and through books, post libraries, and so on. If cults do any education, it is only in their own teachings. Members come to know less and less about the outside world; contact with or information about life outside the cult is sometimes openly frowned upon, if not forbidden.

In the USMC, physical fitness is encouraged for all. Cults rarely encourage fitness or good health, except perhaps for members who serve as security guards or thugs.

Adequate and properly balanced nourishment is provided and advocated in the USMC. Many cults encourage or require unhealthy and bizarre diets. Typically, because of intense work schedules, lack of funds, and other cult demands, members are not able to maintain healthy eating habits.

Authorized review by outsiders, such as the U.S. Congress, is made of the practices of the USMC. Cults are accountable to no one and are rarely investigated, unless some gross criminal activity arouses the attention of the authorities or the public.

In the USMC, the methods of instruction are military training and education, even indoctrination into the traditions of the USMC, but brainwashing, or thought reform, is not used. Cults influence members by means of a coordinated program of psychological and social influence techniques, or brainwashing.

--adapted from Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives, Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich, Jossey-Bass, 1995. Reprinted with authors' permission.