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Manchester fought as a marine in the Pacific in WWII, and he returned there to visit and to drive out the demons of black memory in 1978. His memoir of the trip and of the gruesome horrific events of the 1940's island warfare is the best war memoir I have read in 50 years of reading. The oral presentation in this audiobook is equally well done. The listener begins to think that the speaker himself experienced what Manchester wrote about. Surperlative, simply superlative.
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William Manchester sounds to be the source of much of today's ambivalent confusion about war, and is writing a fact filled, yet soppy emotional memoir / history of compelling stuff. Writing in 1978 or thereabouts, he illustrates perfectly a Me Generation dream sequence which is absent the conviction of necessity. Manchester writes as if, and clearly you can hear it in his articulation, the war was a great revelation to him and thus to everyone. In this regard he displays a kind of shocked naiveté, as if the two World Wars were something just invented for his father and himself, custom-made to drive him to madness. So he deals with repressed memories, and the shock of being amidst the random chaos and violence, and the amazement of how empty such places were after the war.
Manchester plays the role of the callow youth experiencing war, trying to deal with cowardice and bravado, and how neither of these simple expressions of manhood seem to have much to do with who dies and who survives the brutalities of the Pacific theater. A sergeant trying to lead men, who develops through sheer luck, an ability to survive the horrors of jungle warfare on extremely remote inhospitable islands.
The book serves as my first look into the complexities and the battles of the Pacific. Ask me yesterday and I might have said, Iwo Jima, Midway and Pearl, but now my understanding has been extended a great deal. Recognizing how close the Japanese came to Australia was a great revelation of the book, as well as the parallel drives northward of McArthur and Nimitz. The change in tactics by the Japanese and their all-consuming drive for victory as Dai Nippon has given me a new appreciation for why they were so hated by the Chinese. The devotion of many Pacific island natives to the Americans was something you never hear about, nor the primitive manner in which they lived and how Dai Nippon forced them into labor. The Solomons, the Marianas.
It may be because he also wrote extensively about McArthur and Churchill that his own experience as recounted in this book seems to define so well many of the anti-war sentiments of the a man who clearly absorbed the import of the counterculture in American life. He ends the book describing the traditional values of the America he grew up in as if they were long gone and never to return. He so concludes that he fought for the equivalent of an instinct for his fellow soldiers, all of whom possessed a logic in defense of things that no longer exist in the modern world, which only goes to demonstrate how mashed up in the illusory narrative he became, all the while railing against its ignorance through the book. It is this tension between the personal in the context of
Manchester is nothing if not an intelligent and articulate master of languages and betrays the kind of respect for it that makes all of his descriptions of dialect and war era terminology quite a treasure. Terms erased by polite and cowardly conventions spell truths that defy historical revisionism stand out everywhere in Manchester's writing. In reading this book you are submerged in a way of speaking American English that has all dried up into today's yuppy-speak. It's useful just to read the book aloud to experience something genuine. Manchester thus is at war with Hollywood and American ahistorical ignorance as well as with his former self.
This book is an absolute necessity.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
Like most Englishmen born in the 1940s I know more about the European and African theatres of war than the Pacific theatre. I bought this book purely on the author's reputation and also because two months ago I bought his biography of H L Mencken and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The middle aged author revisits the places he fought over as a soldier in 1942 - 1945 and mixes gripping reminiscence with wry [and occasionally cynical] afterthoughts. On the textures of war - spilt blood, torn flesh, terror, anger at waste and stupidity - he is unflinchingly excellent, and for this reason some of the battle sequences are not for the faint hearted. Mr Manchester looks back at his youthful self with a kind of appalled fascination, but manages, without any sentimental heroics, to convey the power and comradeship of being part of a brotherhood under arms. He is also good on the social and cultural losses occasioned by victory.
All of which makes this book sound solemn, even dry - far from it. Mr Manchester writes in a graceful, muscular prose which knits up into a powerful and utterly absorbing narrative, parts of which made me laugh out loud, and other parts of which made me cry. I have no idea how authentic a view of the Pacific war this is from an historical point of view: but as personal history written by a combatant [Mr Manchester was a US Marines Serjeant] it is utterly convincing. War requires intelligent, humane and kind people to perform atrocious acts, and Mr Manchester conveys the tensions this situation set up in him very well indeed. This return journey seems to have been in part an exorcism - and one is left with the impression that while Mr Manchester may have been able to forgive himself for some of the things he had to do, he is never likely to forget them. A memorable and beautifully crafted book which it is a pleasure to recommend.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Well written & moving portrayal of authors experience in the Pacific war. It is a balanced account which includes details of the build up to war & the progress of the war from the both the American & Japanese viewpoint. It is an account of a lost more innocent American age before the disillusioment of Vietnam & Watergate
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