Reviewed – Strong Armed Men

Robert Leckie’s tome on the United States Marines’ battles in the Pacific is intense as it is detailed – nearly 600 pages – and covered in a way that I found at times shocking, but also captivating.

This book looks at the battles the Marines fought, often in great detail, from their landings on Guadalcanal all the way through the central Pacific, and finally to Okinawa.

Though Leckie fought in the Marines (his book With the Old Breed I read after having watched the miniseries Pacific), this is not a personal account. Instead, it’s an in-depth and detailed study of the battles that the Marines fought, many of which someone with a good knowledge of World War II history would know of; some, such as the battles in the northern Solomons for example, that perhaps were not as well-known.

Because of the sheer size of the battles and indeed the war itself becomes almost impersonal in that after a while I got the feeling that some of the intense examples of fighting were noted, and then Leckie moved on. Here a bomb into a hospital, there a Marine throwing himself on to a grenade to save him buddies. This is not to denigrate their sacrifice or the brutality of the war at all – and Leckie would know what it was like from firsthand experience – but the book, in an effort to capture some of the human side of the conflict, somehow sounded at times like a list of heroic deeds mixed in with the more strategic discussion that it excels in. My critique is of the literary style used, not the experiences or untold suffering those men went through, and indeed Leckie’s book is a brilliant work, managing to convey the utter horror of the men on the ground with the decisions and personalities of those who decided where to attack.

Unashamedly the book does not seek to focus outside the broad focus of the Marines, of which, I learned, there were six divisions by war’s end. It celebrates them without glorifying them; shares the unimaginable pain so many went through; and brings it all together exceptionally well. Leckie could write.

My issue – and it’s an issue I’ve noted in other reviews – is that the book just ends. The Japanese surrender, the Marines go to Japan – and that’s it. What I was looking for was more analysis, a summation of the extent of the Marines’ contribution and a reflection on what it meant, how they did it, what was learned. Such detail of their efforts deserved a final chapter summarising the growth of, and battles fought by, the United States Marines in World War II.

A long, detailed, intense book, written by a bloke who saw things none of us want ever to see. Robert Leckie’s book is one I recommend if you want a detailed and yet strategic overview of the Marines in the Pacific that leaves you deeply appreciative and incredibly humbled by the sacrifices these men made.

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