Sunday, October 29, 2006

Goodbye Darkness by Willam Manchester

This weekend I kept thinking about the Clint Eastwood directed movie "Flags of Our Fathers" ( see review below) On my trip to Eugene to watch the Ducks this weekend I kept reliving scenes from the movie. William Manchester's book "Goodbye Darkness Memoir of the Pacific War" had the same effect on me. I read it at least twenty years ago and it is still one of my favorite books. Manchester is a famous author who wrote "The Death of a President" about the Kennedy assassination,American Caesar about Douglas MacArthur, and "The Last Lion" about Winston Churchill. In 1941 after Pearl Harbor Manchester dropped out of Amherst College and joined the United States Marine Corps. He said he was guided by a "compass that had been built into" him. His father had been a Marine in World War I and the first chapter of "Goodby Darkness" is titled: "From the Argonne to Pearl Harbor." Manchester fought in many of the battles of the South Pacific and in the 1980's went on a journey across the Pacific to the sites of many of those battles .
During his tour he relives his life as a US Marine. I have read a lot of history's of war but Manchester is able to bring it to life as no one else. Near the end of the book he points out how things have changed since then. He writes:
To fight World War II you had to have been tempered and strengthened in the 1930's Depression by a struggle for survival--in 1940 two out of every five draftees had been rejected, most of them victims of malnutrition. And you had to know that your whole generation unlike the Vietnam generation, was in this together, that no strings were being pulled for anybody; the four Roosevelt brothers were in uniform and the sons of both Harry Hopkins, FDR's closest adviser and Leverett Saltonstall, one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate served in the Marine Corps as enlisted men and were killed in action. But devotion overreached all this. It was a bond woven of many strands. You had to remember your father's stories about the Argonne and saying your prayers and Memorial Day, and Scouting and what Barbara Frietchie said to Stonewall Jackson. And you had to have heard Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge and to have seen Gary Cooper as Sergeant York. And seen how your mother bought day-old bread and cut sheets lengthwise and resewed them to equalize wear while your father sold the family car... so that you could enter college. You also needed nationalism, the absolute conviction that the United Sates was the envy of all other nations, a country which had never done anything infamous.... could solve anything by inventing something. You felt sure that all lands , given our democracy and our know-how, could shine as radiantly as we did....Debt was ignoble. courage was a virtue. Mothers were loved, Fathers obeyed. marriage a a sacrament. Divorce was disgraceful. Pregnancy meant expulsion from school or dismissal from a job...All these an "God Bless America" and Christmas... and the certitude that victory in the war would assure their continuance into perpetuity-- all this led you into battle and sustained you as you fought, and comforted you if you fell and, if it came to that, justified your death to all who loved you as you had love them. Later the rules would change, But, we didn't know then. We didn't know.