Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific

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9780140246964: Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific

A brilliant history of the land battles in the Pacific theater of World War II, with stirring personal accounts of the horrifying struggle between the Japanese and Allied forces.
 
The horrors of WWII in the South Pacific extended far beyond the detonation of atomic bombs. In this revelatory portrayal of the lives of the regular infantrymen who struggled to contain the Japanese advance, Eric Bergerud has given us a compelling and chilling record of the incredible hardships endured by these soldiers, and the heroic efforts that resulted in the reversal of the course of the war. Bergerud spent hundreds of hours interviewing the last surviving veterans of this remarkable campaign, and he has placed their personal experiences at the center of his analysis of military strategy.
 
“Aspires to do for the ground war in the South Pacific what Keegan achieved in Six Armies in Normandy.”—Los Angeles Times

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Review:

The South Pacific campaign of World War II set new standards for savagery in modern warfare. The ground fighting reached a peak of intensity when the U.S. Marines landed at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands while the Australians repulsed the Japanese advance across New Guinea. Battling jungle rot and malaria, the Australian Army teamed with the U.S. against the Japanese, whose battle ethos demanded they fight until victory or extermination. In Touched by Fire, Eric Bergerud, a professor of military and American history at Lincoln University in San Francisco, restores the campaign to its rightful place of importance as a diabolical struggle for survival in World War II's most heartless terrain.

From Kirkus Reviews:

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) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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