Book Review: Fire and Fortitude: The US Army in the Pacific War, 1941 – 1943 by John C. McManus (Four Stars)
“And on the American side, the land war was fought primarily by the Army, though popular memory has focused almost exclusively on the comparatively smaller Marine effort.”
A corrective for the incomplete and Marine Corp-centric detailing of the other half of World War Two. Based on original sources from dairies of dead Japanese and American soldiers to those of the three-stars. Excellent context for American involvement in subsequent Southeast and Southwest Asia conflicts.
The Death March was not an organized, calculated atrocity, in the manner of the gas chambers at Auschwitz or the cold-blooded executions in Katyn Forest. Instead, it was the product of chaos, poor planning, command confusion, inertia, disorganization, and dismissive cruelty. The ubiquitous cruelty of many Japanese guards and their propensity toward mindless violence was another matter altogether.
Probably more than the average reader wishes of the brutality of war, especially of the inhuman treatment of the survivors Bataan. Repetitious and slow moving. McManus repeats whole paragraphs and pages of previous material.
“He was . . . the only commander I recall who used the heading bearing his own name for official messages and communiqués,” Eisenhower later said. Of 142 communiqués dispatched by USAFFE headquarters during this period, 109 mentioned only MacArthur.
Exhaustive detailing of the leadership foibles which helped and hindered the Allied effort in the Pacific and Asia. Probably only needed to be told once what an egomaniac MacArthur was. He was not alone. That the Army, Navy and Marines fought their own intercollegiate war is not news either.
One soldier, writing to his mother late in 1943, expressed a fairly typical sentiment. “I guess everyone back home thinks MacArthur is some swell fellow. But the boys in the Southwest Pacific have another idea. He doesn’t do anything but ride around in his big car and live in a Hotel. He doesn’t know how it is up here in the jungle.”
Much has been written, then and now, about the huge materiel advantage of the United States, but having all that stuff and getting it to the soldiers at the front are two different things. Over and over the United States flunks logistics. In Vietnam, in the Gulf War and (I suspect) since we ship piles of stuff to the warfighters, the medics, the cooks, and much of it ends up rotting on some beach. (I was at Dhahran in 1990; the desert next to the cargo ramp was filled with hundreds on pallets (big, modern pallets) of stuff and nobody knew where it was or who it was for. My aircraft maintainers searched it for pallets for other maintainers throughout Arabia, but the war was practically over before that backlog got cleared away.
“The true determining factor in this conflict’s outcome, as with nearly all wars, was human will. In the Pacific, the Americans would be determined to fight to the finish with all weapons at their disposal, while observing only the rules that led to survival and victory. This has not been true in the decades since.”
This book ends with Tarawa in November 1943.
Though none of the soldiers could have known that the reversal at Moresby foretold the future pattern of the war, when the Japanese would seldom again advance strategically, at least on land, they did sense that a terrible moment had come. “We never knew how to retreat because we had never done it before,” one [Japanese] NCO later said.