TOUCHED WITH FIRE by Eric Bergerud


The Land War in the South Pacific
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 Eyewitness accounts by combat survivors of early battles of the Pacific, interspersed with lucid commentary by the author, recounting how green American and veteran Australian troops stopped the seemingly invincible Japanese army in mid-1942 in Guadalcanal and New Guinea. (For an account of one American's war in the South Pacific, see Peter Richmond, My Father's War, p. 672.) Military historian Bergerud (Lincoln Univ.; Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning, 1993) captures the reality of life in the firing pits for untested Allied soldiers opposing an experienced, ruthless enemy with a reputation for cruelty. The South Pacific, Bergerud reminds us, was a terrible place to fight a war, with its dense and dangerous jungles, extreme heat and humidity, and frequent torrential rains. Diseases like malaria, dengue fever, scrub typhus, and dystentery took as high a toll as combat. Battles were fought at very close quarters, often by small units led by captains, lieutenants, and sergeants, not generals. Bergerud rates General MacArthur, despite flaws, as a great strategic leader, and the Australian army as the best infantry in the South Pacific. In addition, the First Marine Division, with many underage youngsters, fought with great endurance and bravery, and increasing skill, at Guadalcanal. Nevertheless, Bergerud notes that the army greatly outnumbered marines in the South Pacific and did far more of the fighting, despite the general impression created by the outstanding marine publicity machine. In the later central Pacific campaigns, on the other hand, the marines were in fact responsible for some sanguinary victories. The author discusses in detail the daily life of the soldiers and the weaponry and tactics central to the dreadful process of combat. According to Bergerud, the growing Japanese emphasis on fighting to the end resulted in a ``take no prisoners'' attitude by the Allies. Victory in the South Pacific in 194243 was, Bergerud persuasively argues, the first crucial step in bringing the war home to the Japanese and thereby ending it. One of the best books about WW II, capturing both the powerful if narrow view of the combat soldier and the panoramic vantage point of the military historian. (8 pages b&w photos, 8 maps)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-86158-8
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996