Trying to find an updated nickname for a US marine for a book revision, I stumbled across, first a Wikipedia page on US Marines terminology, and then by two steps, this short description of the origin of the term "gung ho."
I grew up with the term, using it as a synonym of "enthusiastic," and was eventually aware that it probably had a Chinese derivation, but not until now specifically what that was.
During the 15-year Japanese invasion and occupation of parts of China (a timespan I repeatedly emphasized when teaching high schoolers about WWII), the US maintained formal, diplomatic relations with the nationalist and communist partisans resisting the invaders. One such diplomat, Marine Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, reported on the industrial cooperatives the Chinese government set up to replace the output captured by the Japanese Imperial Army in the coastal regions.
The Chinese government agency that coordinated this industrial effort was called Gongye Hezhoushe, which might mean something as simple as "industrial cooperative." (Maybe that's what the cooperatives were called, and the agency was called something else. It doesn't matter for this story, though of course it matters in the larger picture.)
Lt. Col. Carlson was very impressed with these efforts, and took the philosophy "Gong He" (work together, i.e. for a common goal) as the motto of an elite group of Marines he later commanded. The spelling "he" in the current pinyin phoneticization of Chinese is better represented to English speakers as "HUH," an accented syllable with a vowel not unlike the "oo" in "hoof" (NOT like the "oo" in "roof" for most of us.)
At the time of Lt. Col. Carlson's exposure to the industrial cooperative spirit, the dominant romanization of Chinese words was the Wade-Giles system, in which that sound was represented by the letter combination "ho." This is the source of our pronunciation - I'm assuming you pronounce "gung ho" the way I do, rhyming with the garden tool or the female deer.
We can bring this full circle (or would this be half a circle?) to today, when the interests of the US Military have for decades been associated in the public's mind more with the Republican than the Democratic Party, and the interests of capital as well. (Don't believe the hype.) Currently, Republicans voting in primaries and attending candidate debates seem to favor the aggressive military and industrial posture of the United States of a century ago (in the midst of conquering around the Caribbean and the Pacific) - a kind of remanifest destiny. They want the US military to defend US economic interests abroad.
Our greatest economic competitor, and one of our biggest collaborators (are you reading this on an iPad?) is China, a country beset by industrial cooperation in some pretty nasty forms. (Again, reading this on an iPad?) Our hawkish citizens tend to fear this competition and favor militarism, at least, on our country's part. (The trick will be getting all the other countries to unilaterally concede our superiority.)
Therefore, an unofficial motto of our US Marine Corps, "Gung Ho!" may come to stand in part for the military adventurism favored by whoever the Republican nominee will be (note to Ron Paul supporters: ...oh, never mind, you won't believe me anyway), including the aggressive military stance his supporters will want him to take against [drum roll, please] industrial cooperation in China!
Now, can someone please give the justification for calling a 1980s movie about a Japanese company opening a plant in the US "Gung Ho"?
- Steve Shea
- A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!