Evans Carlson

Evans Carlson, the son of a church minister, was born in the United States in 1896. He ran away from home at the age of 14 and two years later lied about his age in order to join the United States Army.

Carlson was sent to the Western Front in France during the First World War but arrived too late to take part in the fighting. He left the army after the war and worked as a salesman until 1922 when he joined the United States Marine Corps.

In 1927 Carlson was sent China with the 4th Marines. After three years in China he served in Nicaragua where he had to deal with local bandit groups. This experience started a lifetime interest in guerilla warfare. After one successful operation against these bandits Carlson was awarded the Navy Cross.

After another tour of duty in China (1933-35) Carlson was appointed commander of the Marine Guard at the presidential home at Warm Springs. Carlson got to know Franklin D. Roosevelt and when he was sent to China again in 1937 he was asked to send weekly reports to the president.

Carlson witnessed the Japanese capture of Shanghai before working as an observer with the Chinese Army. Carlson noticed that while the Chinese conventional forces performed badly the small Red Army was much more successful against the Japanese invaders. For the next two years Carlson spent a considerable amount of time with the Red Army. He was impressed with the effectiveness of their guerrilla warfare tactics and the way they developed good relationships with the local people.

After finishing his period as an observer Carlson upset his superiors by giving a newspaper interview where he praised the Red Army for forming co-operatives and accusing the US government of helping Japan's war effort by supplying them with oil and other raw materials. When he was officially censored for the interview he resigned from the US Marines.

Carlson returned to the United States where he wrote two books on the subject, The Chinese Army and Twin Stars of China. He also joined the committee established by Henry L. Stimson to campaign for an embargo against Japan.

In 1940 Carlson made a private visit to China in order the investigate the progress of the cooperatives set up by the Red Army. While there he became convinced that Japan would attack the United States. He visited General Douglas MacArthur and urged him to establish guerilla units in case the Japanese Army invaded the Philippines. However, MacArthur ignored his advice.

On his return to the United States Carlson rejoined the US Marines. After the Japan attacked at Pearl Harbor Carlson and Merritt Edson advocated the use of guerrilla warfare against the Japanese Army in the Pacific War. Eventually Edson was given command of the 1st Raider Battalion whereas Carlson got the 2nd Raider Battalion.

Over 7,000 applied to join the 2nd Raider Battalion but only 1,000 were accepted. Each candidate was interviewed about the political significance of the war. He later said he favoured men with initiative, adaptability and held democratic views. James Roosevelt, the son of Franklin D. Roosevelt, became Carlson's assistant.

Based in San Diego, the Carlson's Raiders were taught the military tactics employed by the Red Army against the Japanese. This included learning how to kill silently and quickly. Following the example of the guerrillas in China, Carlson abolished the traditional privileges enjoyed by officers. They ate the same food, wore the same clothes and carried the same equipment.

Carlson's observations of the Red Army convinced him that men perform better when they believe in they are fighting for a better political system. Therefore Carlson provided information on the undemocratic nature of the governments in Nazi Germany and Japan. He also encouraged the men to discuss the kind of society the men wanted after the war.

In August 1943 Carlson and 222 marines set off from Pearl Harbor and they were landed on the small island of Makin Atoll. After two days of fighting Carlson's men were able to destroy the radio station, burned equipment and captured important documents. Thirty marines were killed before General Alexander Vandegrift ordered them to leave the island. As a result of the raid the Japanese Army fortified the Gilbert Islands.

On 4th November 1943, the Carlson's Raiders landed in Guadalcana. Over the next month Carlson's men killed more than 500 Japanese while only losing 17 men. Carlson's was himself wounded and forced to return to the United States for treatment.

Carlson's superiors told him they were concerned about his unorthodox ideas and tactics. They were also concerned about his close friendship with Agnes Smedley, the radical journalist who was involved in campaigning for USA support of communist forces in China in order to help them to fight the Japanese Army in Asia.

In May 1943 Carlson was promoted to be executive officer of the Raider regiment and was stripped of direct command of his battalion in Guadalcana. Carlson now upset his superiors by becoming involved in a controversial project of publishing pamphlets on the contribution of the Afro-American in the war.

Carlson eventually returned to action in November 1943 at the battle of Tarawa. On Saipan he received severe wounds when trying to rescue a radio operator who had been shot by the Japanese. He never fully recovered from his injuries and was forced to retire from the United States Marines.

Carlson's exploits were celebrated by the book, The Big Yankee: The Life of Carlson of the Raiders (1947) and the feature film, Gung Ho.

After the war Carlson ran for the Senate in California but was forced to withdraw after suffering a heart attack. Evans Carlson died after another heart attack in May 1947.

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