A tough-minded critique that weighs and finds wanting the current training regimen of the US Marine Corps. Novelist da Cruz, who went through Parris Island during WW II, returned there last year to follow the recruits of Platoon 1036 during their 88-day introduction to the Corps. Boot camp, he concludes, is not what it used--or ought--to be. Drill instructor (DIs) still succeed in making potential warriors of young civilians, but whether today's Marines rank with such true military elites as Russia's Naval lnfantry/remains a very open question for da Cruz. While not denying that USMC recruits meet the challenge of rigorous schooling, da Cruz doubts it's tough enough. Civilian standards of stamina simply do not measure up to those required under fire, he points out; owing to pressure from various sources, including Congress, DIs labor under strict orders not to abuse their charges either verbally or physically. As one result, they pull their punches figuratively and literally. In da Cruz's convincing view, these spare-the-rod policies have had a number of undesirable consequences. For one thing, second-raters slip through boot camp without gaining the skills and esprit needed to enhance the Corp's combat capabilities. For another, the tendency of commanding officers throughout the service to play it safe and by the book has led to disasters like the 1983 slaughter of 251 Marines in Lebanon. The author leavens his damned-with-faint-praise audit with week-by-week progress reports on the surviving members of Platoon 1036, briefings on the minutiae of duty in today's USMC, and, of course, glorious tales of victory on battlefields ranging from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. In brief, then, an engrossing narrative that raises legitimate questions as to whether the nation's shock troops are being shortchanged on training.