A competent account of the key World War II battle.
Military historian Warren (American Spartans: The U.S. Marines: A Combat History from Iwo Jima to Iraq, 2005, etc.) intermixes his narrative of the origins and conduct of the fighting with the reminiscences of veteran Haynes, who survived five weeks of brutal fighting on the Japanese island. Haynes was an officer in the Marines’ 3,250-man Combat Team 28, which landed at Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Its assignment was to capture Mount Suribachi, a four-day achievement immortalized in the famous flag-raising photograph but followed by another month of deadly fighting. Activated a year earlier, Combat Team 28 included only 40 percent combat veterans, but eight months of intense training under experienced senior officers (all given admiring mini-biographies) produced a superbly disciplined organization that never lost its élan in the face of massive casualties. Despite the Marines’ superb training and brave leadership, Iwo Jima was an exercise in mutual slaughter, a mind-numbing series of brutal small-unit actions characterized by courage, endurance and carnage on both sides that proceeded relentlessly until the last Japanese died. The authors work hard to include anecdotes, colorful characters and philosophical musings, so military buffs will have no trouble finishing the book. The average reader, however, may decide at some point that enough is enough. One sign that Iwo Jima has entered its final resting place as a glorious national myth is the authors’ admiring portrait of the enemy; they extol commanding General Kuribayashi for his brilliant defense and praise his soldiers, who refused to surrender. Readers wondering why America’s current opponents in the Middle East are labeled suicidal fanatics, while Japanese who fought to the death in 1945 were valiant warriors, can take dubious comfort from the fact that our parents called the Japanese fanatics, and our children may possibly call jihadists valiant warriors.
Do we need another history of Iwo Jima? Not when it’s this reverential tome with little new to add.