The Marine Corps’ Umbrella Rule Is Dumb

Conservatives get outraged at President Obama for "breaking" a very silly rule.

I respect Marines. I’ve known a few, know how rough and tough and loyal and committed they can be, both to each other and to their mission. I know I’ve never possessed the physical resources to be a Marine, and their “see the hill, take the hill” ethos has usually been refashioned to “see the donut, take the donut” in my own hands. They’ve given more and sacrificed more in defense of this country than I have at my piddly little keyboard.

Still, the Marine Corps’ umbrella rule is awfully dumb.

If you didn’t know about this rule before last week, you probably do by now. President Obama held a news conference in the Rose Garden, it was rainy, and so he had a pair of Marines hold umbrellas to protect him and the Turkish president from the downpour. Because conservatives hate everything the President does—if he sneezed, they’d complain that he has a cold instead of a good old-fashioned American flu—the umbrella incident quickly became fodder for a million angry Facebook memes.

It wasn’t just that Obama didn’t hold his own damn umbrella—though that was part of the criticism. Instead, conservatives grumbled that the President had shown a profound disrespect for the Marines and their protocol. And the protocol doesn’t let Marines—boy Marines, anyway—hold umbrellas.

First of all: It must be hugely tedious to be an Obama critic. To wake up every day knowing that he’ll do something to enrage you that day—and to never question whether, maybe, you’re a little crazy for seemingly waiting around all the time to be offended—I mean, that’s got to be incredibly exhausting, right?

That’s not even including the moral gymnastics many of the President’s critics must have to go through to justify their outrage: Ordering hundreds of Marines to die in a badly thought-out, indefensible war is apparently OK, but asking a Marine in uniform to briefly handle an umbrella: unspeakably evil.


What makes all of this worse: Creating that much outrage over a dumb, useless rule.

Listen, there’s an old phrase where I come from—you’ve probably heard it too. It’s a phrase used to signify when a person lacks smarts or simple common sense and thus isn’t to be trusted with too much responsibility.

There are variations, but it goes something like this: “He’s so dumb, he doesn’t know when to come in out of the rain.” The Marines have codified the exact opposite sensibility into their protocols.

Well, wait, surely there’s a good reason for such a rule, right?

Neither Flanagan nor an Army spokesman could explain the reasoning behind the gender divide. An attempt to change the policy in the 1990s failed, with some suggesting that there was something effeminate about umbrellas.

“They seem to be very nervous about what constitutes unmanly behavior,” said Cynthia Enloe, a professor at Clark University who researched military uniform codes in the book Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives.

Ah. So Marines are afraid of looking girly. Which is why they allow themselves to needlessly get soaked to the bone rather than hold an umbrella.


I get it. The Marines are supposed to be tough. And nobody would want a Marine to be fiddling with an umbrella in one hand and a machine gun in the other while approaching a terrorist hideout, even in a downpour. Heck, it’s probably even good training to go out on 20-mile march during a gullywasher, just to test that toughness. Fine.

Still, there comes a point—even for Marines—where macho B.S. surpasses good sense by far too wide a margin. The umbrella rule is on the wrong side of that line. Maybe the motto should be “semper humida.

So be irritated all you want at President Obama for forcing those innocent young Marines to “act against protocol.” Just remember: The rule those Marines supposedly broke was a dumb rule. Surely the commander-in-chief gets to override a dumb rule now and again, eh?