Eugene B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed captures his extreme and personal experiences during the war in the Pacific at Peleliu and Okinawa. The conflict between the United States and Japan was triggered following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941[A1] . The United States [A2] joined the Pacific War on December 8, 1941. The battle continued till 1945 when Japan formally surrendered following the atomic bomb attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Stokes). Japan was already engaging in active war in East Asia before their contest against the United States began. Sledge participated in the battles at Peleliu and Okinawa in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine, 1st Marine Division (“Battle of Peleliu”). Sledge’s memoir, in his book titled With the Old Breed, provides a firsthand account of the war experiences. The manuscript illustrates that American and Japanese soldiers fought with a brutality that was exceptional even by the standards of World War II since both armies were dedicated to their homeland and the leadership of their respective countries.
Sledge gives vivid descriptions in the book to illustrate the “savage nature” of their fighting at Peleliu and Okinawa. He says, “The Japanese fought to win – it was a savage, brutal, inhumane, exhausting, and dirty business. Our commanders knew that if we were to win and survive, we must be trained realistically for it whether we liked it or not” (Sledge 47). Sledge’s description is an indication that the battle was a fierce struggle for both victory and survival from both armies. Every side was determined and was ready to take all the risks to ensure that their country won the Pacific War. The Japanese were not willing to give up and were definite that they were at Peleliu and Okinawa to defeat the Marines and stamp the authority of their emperor. As a result, the US army had to stay strong to contain and defeat the seemingly fanatic Japanese soldiers, as Sledge describes in their courage and fierce encounters at the two war fronts.
Moreover, the brutality and inhumane nature of the battles at Peleliu and Okinawa are depicted from the subhuman slaughter that took place at the fighting grounds. Sledge accounts that the horror at the contest required the marine soldiers “to be trained realistically if they are to survive it without breaking, mentally and physically” (Sledge 22). Therefore, the horrific nature of what he saw at the battlefields could shatter someone if he or she did not have the strong physical and mental capabilities. At one point, Sledge was made to dig holes six to eight inches deep where a Japanese soldier had been buried in sticky clay mud. The more he dug, the more he struggled to survive the odor from the rotting flesh. The situation got worse when his shovel scoped maggots, bones, and ribs of a rotting Japanese corpse. Sledge writes, “I gazed down in horror and disbelief as the metal scraped a clean track through the mud along with the dirty whitish bone and cartilage with ribs attached” (Sledge 302). In horror and disbelief, Sledge had to continue digging. The NCOs understood the brutality of their enemies, and could not allow their soldiers to cow to the fear that they faced at the battlefields. The circumstances were tough, and they had to deal with it as it was.
Sledge’s words also illustrate the savage nature of the battles at Peleliu and Okinawa. He refers to the battlegrounds as “the meat grinder” to express the way he, together with other survivors, encountered scenes where they lost their comrades. The filth from the corpses in the open field was another horrific scene that they faced daily. Sledge recounts that the number of “casualties mounted and the fighting dragged on and on” (Sledge 131). The author significantly lost the meaning of time and life due to his frequent encounters with torn bodies of human flesh. The fierceness of the battle made him disregard the veneer of civilization. His unapologetic account depicts that the encounters at Peleliu and Okinawa were netherworlds of horror.
Another aspect illustrated in the book to indicate the savage nature of the battle is how the Japanese soldiers fought bravely to the point of death. The fighters demonstrated their commitment to their country and their emperor by putting their lives on the line. Sledge says, “To defeat an enemy as tough and dedicated as the Japanese, we had to be just tough” (Sledge 171). This claim shows that the American soldiers had to level their dedication to America to the measure by which the Japanese soldiers were committed to their emperor for the Marines to succeed in subduing them. The Japanese showed their fierceness and ruthlessness by conducting inhumane actions to the bodies of the American soldiers that they succeeded in slaying. The Marines also demonstrated loss of humane feelings when a section of them scrambled for the golden teeth from the mouth of a rotting corpse of a Japanese soldier (Sledge 134). They could also “field trip enemy dead with such nonchalance” (Sledge 71). These accounts illustrate that the savage nature of the battle at Peleliu and Okinawa dehumanized the Marines.
In response to the ruthlessness of the Japanese soldiers, the Marines committed themselves to defend each other to defeat their fanatical enemies to survive. Sledge claims that “The only redeeming factors were my comrades’ incredible bravery and their devotion to each other” (Sledge xxvi). Apart from the Marine training, the members within Sledge’s division developed loyalty and love for each other. Their commitment to each other gave them the spirit de corps to survive the horrific scenes in the battle and to defeat their enemies.
Sledge’s firsthand account of the battle at Peleliu and Okinawa demonstrates the gruesome and savage nature of the experiences that the Marines endured. The soldiers showed a high level of courage to match the fierceness and bravery of the Japanese. Sledge asserts that their loyalty and love to one another and their commitment to their motherland, the United States helped them continue fighting. Therefore, several members of the 1st Marine Division gave their lives, health, and some sanity, for the love of their country. The descriptions that Sledge provides in his book, With the Old Breed, are a perfect conversion of the extremes of the war in the Pacific into a version that readers can grasp, although going through it requires some degree of courage.
[A2]Note that America and the United States are different.