Meriwether Ball is a communication doctoral candidate at Regent University, VA. She holds a master of science from London School of Economics and Political Science in England, a master of arts from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and a bachelor of arts from Regent University. She has authored two books about U.S. Marines: Puller Chronicles: Secrets and Mysteries about the Greatest Marines’ Heroic Ancestral Faith (2014), and Great Marines of Virginia (2016). She is the head and founder of Corps Stories Inc., a U.S. Marine feature news site and nonprofit organization. Ball served in the U.S. Navy Reserves, rate of journalist, and was honorably discharged as a petty officer third class. She was also a correspondent for several Associated Press newspapers. Dr. William J. Brown is a professor and research fellow in the Department of English and Communication Studies in the School of Communication and the Arts at Regent University. Brown also served as the dean of the School of Communication and the Arts from 1992 to 2002; and as chair of the Department of Strategic Communication and Journalism and director of the PhD program from 2003 to 2016. Brown also completed a five-year appointment as a Fulbright senior specialist with the Fulbright Scholar Program in Washington, DC.


Strategic Communication through Narration


by Meriwether Ball and William J. Brown, PhD




Abstract: During the past four decades Walter R. Fisher’s narrative theory has been developed and applied to many different areas of communication study. Yet, to date, extraordinarily little research has applied Fisher’s theory to the study of military communication, despite Fisher’s own formative experiences as a Marine, combat veteran in Korea, and drill instructor. This study illustrates how Fisher’s theoretical framework provides a useful model for studying how Marine Corps Commandants strategically use storytelling to communicate important messages to those within their community. By examining three artifacts as communicative narratives, we explore how Commandants have used Fisher’s tools to persuade their fighting forces to grasp their perspective about the situated circumstances, posture, and future direction of their command. Implications of storytelling as a powerful communication tool in the military and recommendations for future research are discussed.
Keywords: narrative paradigm, oral history, military strategic communication, Walter Fisher, U.S. Marine Corps history, Commandant of the Marine Corps, David H. Berger, Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., Clifton B. Cates




The sitting Commandant of the Marine Corps gave an interview to a Marine veteran member of Congress recently, which was posted as a video podcast to YouTube.1 General David H. Berger shared much in the way of new information during the interview. He revealed stories not previously publicized about his family, his education, and his start as a U.S. Marine. He revealed struggles and inspirations that anyone—civilian and Marine alike—could find relatable. His life’s trajectory, from the most ordinary nonmilitary, middle-class upbringing to leading a highly regarded fighting organization, is delivered matter-of-factly. While his intentions and descriptions were unquestionably sincere, this was perhaps no accident; it was likely quite strategic. General Berger was doing what Commandants have done through the ages: he was using story to attract attention to and to motivate support for the Marine Corps.
      The purpose of this article is to show how com- munication scholar and Marine veteran Walter Fish- er’s narrative theory can be applied to understand how military leaders strategically communicate through storytelling.2 Through sharing their experiences in story form, Commandants can connect with their audiences by breaking down barriers between warf- ighters of all ranks and seasons, allowing the audience to make sense of the problem and to participate in the solutions. First, the authors explain narrative para- digm theory, or storytelling theory, through the scholars who developed and evolved it. Second, we analyze the artifacts of oral history interview transcripts of Commandant Generals Clifton B. Cates and Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., and the video interview of General Berger. These artifacts were selected from the collections of documented publicly published interviews of these three wartime leaders to provide examples of narration that clarify and unify the intended message of supporting Marines and the Corps. The stories Commandants told during armchair interviews decades ago have real meaning well into the twenty-first century. Third, we examine literature regarding the ways in which storytelling compels warfighters to learn to decipher important messages in narration.
      This article also explores how Marine veteran Walter Fisher changed modern communication scholarship. Terms that are critical to this article are dis-cussed for their purpose in this specific thesis. First, strategic communication is defined and the intended audience considered. Second, the value of oral histories as strategic communication artifacts is addressed.



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