Book Review : With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E B Sledge

The Pacific miniseries from HBO was a challenge for me to watch. I found it enlightening, distressing and heartbreaking. Out of the three men The Pacific followed, Eugene Sledge was the one I had the most questions about, particularly after his conversation with Robert Lecke about faith.

I contacted the one person I figured would have an answer to my question: did Sledge’s bitterness and experience of war have an impact on his faith?

I fully intended to buy Sledge’s memoir anyway, but I was quite surprised when I got a thoughtful response telling me that the war reinforced his faith and that there was something important that didn’t make it into the show. Cue me purchasing a copy for my Kindle there and then and devouring the first 20%.

Having spent so many years of my career developing lessons to explain why a religious person is a consciences objector and the reasons why religions disagree with war. So my main motivation for reading was to see Sledge’s religious commentary and thoughts throughout the war. I always considered them being at odds with each other; either being the cause of a conflict or the reason for someone to avoid the fight.

Sledge’s voice is the most prominent feature of this 300 paged memoir. From his enlistment to the island clean ups, Sledge gives a stark and honest retelling of his experiences. It’s written in such a way that I’m surprised it’s not a book already on high school recommended reading lists; it’s written with sincerity and as a reader you will instantly respect the veteran marine who could have had a much easier life.

It’s by no means an entertaining or an escape read, but it is rewarding as much as it is difficult and something I will come back to in the future. There’s so much to be learnt from Sledge; engrained hatred and prejudice, politics and spirituality. Never have I seen such an open commentary that doesn’t expect anything of you as a reader. Well, at least it didn’t feel like that. The only censoring he did was on the parts of other people.

The description of the horror, brutality and casualties will haunt you. No film or video game will prepare you for the sights, smells and sensations.

The commentary of Sledge’s faith is there enough to understand that it’s something of an intimate experience for him. There’s definitely a sense that there’s more than he says, but you certainly can tell he had a deep rooted bond with his religion. It’ll be something that readers won’t need to read too much into, should it not be an important theme to explore. However, there were two lines that said more to me than the rest of the book. Having a religious experience (not that he names it this in the book) and when he describes having it is very telling. It’s something I’d have loved to have sat down and spoken to him about if he was so inclined.

In terms of the print itself, I would advise against an ecopy given the number of references that are all complied at the end of each chapter. There is the benefit of changing the font size, but not having the notes closer to the passage in question does lose the flow and I found in this case, having a physical copy of the book benefitted me greatly.

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