Book Reviews

First, the book: Significantly, the subtitle is "The Battle History of the United States Marines." In this book you will neither find long tales of the interwar years, hear mention of Tun Tavern, nor read of uniforms and equipment—unless it had a verifiable connection with fighting. This is the true grit version of our history—as it should be. The language is direct and unapologetic. Colonel Alexander's writing—in conjunction with that of veteran television writer Norman C. Stahl—evokes memories of others, both fighters and authors—Thomason, Leckie, Mailer, Webb, and Manchester. The others were noted for their fiction, however, and it is rare to find non-fiction writing this powerful. Some of the writing is dramatic prose; the lessons are better learned because of it.

A strange equation of death began to balance itself in the Pacific War. Both sides learned miserably expensive lessons from each succeeding bloodbath. The Japanese would change tactics and defenses in ways that would undoubtedly have defeated the American Marines in previous assaults. But with equal intensity, the Marines improved the weaponry and tactics of their invasions. So each new island campaign varied markedly from the one before in combat technique and technology, though not in the ultimate balance of terror.

Machiavelli might have written the last mocking word on it, but the Washington, D.C., of post-World War II could have given him another chapter. For suddenly the bloody masterpieces that the Marines had wrought in the Pacific were thought so trifling that the Princes—whose bacon the Marines had done so much to save—thought there should be no Corps at all. Several things saved the Marines—narrowly. "First to fight" is nice. Getting to the newest battlefield quickly is better. But getting there trained, armed, organized, and highly motivated to fight outnumbered and win is everything.

This book not only is enjoyable to read, but also provides a sense of history that goes far beyond simply recording it. It is not a book to be read in one sitting. This is not light fare—these are important notes on the brutal battles that brought the credit and prestige to the Marines. You should pull lessons from this book—not just lore. A Fellowship of Valor is written so that you will not forget it quickly, and will have cause to go back to it for reinforcements when you need them. The formatting is wonderful; if you enjoy powerful quotations, you will see them strategically positioned throughout. The photographs also are carefully selected and complement the text well. Anecdotes and asides are mixed in, and provide humor or insights with titles such as, "A Good Man Gone," "The NCO Weapon," and "Incident at Liberty Bridge." The book is rich grist for speeches, Marine Corps Birthday Balls, and lectures. And if you're looking for professional military education that educates and inspires, look no further.

I also would commend A Fellowship of Valor to those not of the Corps. The lessons are eternal and for everybody. First note that the book is unashamedly proud of the Corps' history—but then, that's the point. As the late Don Horan, the driving force behind the book and video, explained, "I want this to be the John Wayne version, not the Henry James version." The style and intent are the way we prefer our battles—no temerity or apologies. (This is not to say that the book avoids talk of the blemishes and mistakes. They are there, and buttress the credibility of the author.) Major H. R. McMaster, U.S. Army, author of the wonderful book Dereliction of Duty , noted recently his high regard for the Corps and our affection for history—and the reason for the first is not unrelated to the second. The current assaults on the foundations of the warfighters' ethos, of whatever service, should be enough reason for professionals to study beyond their own particular uniforms.

My single criticism of the book is that there are too few maps. I, and I suspect others, like to follow the course of the campaign or battle with a sense of place, and this often was not possible. Those who lived through any of the events in the book may yearn for fuller treatment of their own battles or wars. But no single volume can do full justice to a 223year battle history. The central point of the book is captured in its title. It is not just about battles or wars; it is about the peculiar chemistry that builds bonds among stout-hearted men.

The video edition is being aired on The History Channel and is a 150 minute-long videocassette. Like the book, it is strong stuff. The video is introduced by our 32nd Commandant, General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., and interspersed with excellent historical footage and the narratives of legendary (and other less renowned but equally valorous) retired and former Marines. Much of the commentary is provided by the author of the book. The video focuses almost exclusively on the history of the Corps since World War I, when battle films first appeared. The footage often is spectacular, with strong images of the last 80 years of Marines in combat: Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tarawa, Peleliu, Bougainville, Tinian, Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Da Nang, Khe Sahn, Con Tien, Hue City, and more.

Although either the book or the video can stand alone and compare well with any others of their genre, they are better in combination—particularly as professional military education resources. The book and the video accomplish basically the same purpose. They remind. They remind us that the cost of war is hideous, and that the cost of not being prepared is much more so. In one sitting, the experience of watching the mounting total cumulative losses in our ranks can become quite difficult. I recommend viewing each of the video's segments separately.

We are not through with fighting. Not by a long shot. Marines who struggle in the future to live up to the battle legacy of their forefathers cannot be hamstrung by any compromises made by any of us who have inherited the Corps and its traditions. The book and the video make this point without ever saying so directly. The peacetime battles are not as stark as those in war, but they need equal amounts of courage and vigilance to preserve the most rugged of recruit regimens, our rough-hewn ethos, a near-mystical belief in the power of strong men armed, and sacred (but nearly incomprehensible to others) traditions. Don't forget, in the period before the Korean War, the Secretary of Defense prohibited the celebration of the Marine Corps birthday. And just days before the landing at Inchon, the Secretary of the Navy removed 500 trained Marines from the invasion force because they had not yet turned 18. Didn't know that? Read the book.

 

No Easy Answers: The Development of the Navies of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, 1945-1996

Cdr. James Goldrick, RAN. New Delhi, London, and Hartford, Wisconsin: Lancer Publishers,1997. 225 pp. Bib. Ind Ill. $28.00 (plus $6.00 S&H). Order directly from publisher by fax: (414) 673-9064, or by e-mail at books@spantech.demon.co.uk .

Reviewed by A. D. Baker III

The U.S. Navy has been messing about in boats in the Indian Ocean in a major way since World War II, but its actions there never have given much evidence of a deep understanding of the cultural, political, and economic forces that drive the vast area. Indeed, U.S. treatment of India, the largest and potentially most important nation on the Indian Ocean littoral, in general has been so quixotic that, whenever a new era of good feelings is proclaimed, no one on either side seems seriously to believe it.

It has fallen on a serving Royal Australian Navy sea officer and scholar, Commander James Goldrick, to provide what is by a wide margin the most comprehensive, thoughtful, and useful analysis available of the origins, travails, and likely future paths of development of the four South Asian navies in an excellent new monograph in the "Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs" series.

Of these navies, only India's has a pretense of being a major force capable of a very modest degree of power projection. Pakistan's navy is purely a hedge against perceived Indian intent on aggression; Sri Lanka's has evolved into a prototypical inshore warfare force to counter (with only occasional effectiveness) the Tamil rebels, and that of Bangladesh is a perennial basket case dependent on foreign largesse.

All four fleets had their origins in the breakup of the British Empire, which provided the initial senior leadership for the new navies of India and Sri Lanka (then still Ceylon), and later that of Pakistan. While the subsequent sundering of the Indian subcontinent into Pakistan and India provided the political and cultural impetus to sustain a modicum of naval development, their subsequent fortunes were governed more by mutual distrust than by fear of extra-regional interference. All have been involved in combat since their founding, and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 had all the features of modern war at sea: carrier attacks on land targets, submarine warfare, and the successful launching of antiship missiles. Tactics were largely extemporized, but Goldrick's trenchant analysis of the actions of the war show that the potential for leadership was displayed when needed at the operational level, even as senior officers failed to grasp the outcomes of their continued jockeying for power.

Bangladesh's combat experience at sea is the least significant, mostly involved in having to back down in the face of vastly superior Indian sea power over a dispute over ownership of a mudbank, while Sri Lanka's beleaguered navy has been involved in a particularly vicious civil war for more than a decade, losing some two dozen combatants since the end of the 1980s.

Nonetheless, for too long the United States has served as a convenient bogeyman, with China an occasional—if not very convincing—alternative maritime threat. Goldrick's book, however, makes it clear that the rhetoric of the discussion of threat in these countries is governed more by economic and cultural tensions than by any serious perception that invasion from the sea is imminent. The fact that the rhetoric tends toward shrillness is an artifact of the attempt to gain attention for forces regarded largely as window dressing by their respective ministries of defense.

Indeed, all four fleets are distinctly subordinate—both in social status and funding—to their nations' land and air forces; the Indian Navy receives about 12% of the defense budget, while in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, the navies receive lesser portions. The navies always have found it difficult to justify even their small shares, leaving them outfitted with inadequate and outdated equipment for most of their histories. Population pressures, religious strife, economic vicissitudes, and even the calamitous climate are of far more importance than the local navy's fate—except in terms of its employment as an economic engine to generate employment or, in some well publicized cases, kickbacks to senior officers on foreign contracts.

Commander Goldrick's well-researched and authoritative monograph encompasses all of the strands that combine to form naval power. It stands in sharp contrast to the many books and articles that deal with Indian Ocean naval politics, and all too often have concentrated on the "numbers game" of who has more of what kind of equipment.

The Royal Australian Navy has been singularly blessed in recent years by the presence in its officer corps of such distinguished thinkers and authors as Commodores David Campbell and Sam Bateman and Commanders James Goldrick and Allan duToit. Perhaps it is no accident that the RAN has been so successful in pressing its case for force-wide modernization. In No Easy Answers , Commander Goldrick has provided a valuable primer on the currents of history in four important littoral navies, one that should be required reading for intelligence officers and staffs assigned to operate in the Indian Ocean region.

 

 
 

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