by Roger Hilsman ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 1, 1990
An exciting, human-scale memoir of WW II derring-do, which comes with a pointed coda on counterinsurgency. Shortly after graduating from West Point in 1943, Hilsman (The Crouching Future, 1974; To Move a Nation, 1967) joined Merrill's Marauders in Burma's inhospitable jungles. Badly wounded on patrol, the author signed on with the OSS after his recuperation. Commanding a battalion of Chinese, Kachin, and Shan irregulars, the 25-year-old lieutenant helped make life a misery for Japan's occupation troops. Among other accomplishments, his fast-moving band (supplied by air drops) ambushed enemy patrols, blew up bridges, and furnished vital target information for bombing strikes. Following V-J Day, Hilsman was assigned to a POW rescue mission sent to Manchuria, where he found his own father, an Army colonel interned since the conquest of the Philippines. The author also witnessed a part of the emerging Cold War as Soviet soldiers purposefully harassed their Allied counterparts and systematically stripped the countryside of all removable assets. Hilsman provides a fast-forward account of his postwar career--the high points of which include earning a Ph.D. from Yale, a stint with NATO, resigning his commission, and a State Department appointment during the JFK administration. At odds with LBJ's Vietnam policies, he left government to teach at Columbia. The author concludes with a cogent two-part commentary applying the insights he gained about the potential of guerrilla warfare during his Burmese sojourn to America's frustrations in Southeast Asia. Without ever overstating the case for strategic hamlets or other means to win the hearts and minds of a populace engaged in civil strife, he nonetheless offers a damning indictment of conventional military force on backwoods battlefields. While the effect is not unlike that achieved by a superstar athlete who caps reminiscences of his glory days with a temperance lecture, the object lessons here are well worth repeating, and the modestly recounted adventures more than repay the price of admission.
Pub Date: April 1, 1990
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1990
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