With the Old Breed: Essay on World War II Literature
Unlike any World War II book I have ever read, With the Old Breed is a first person account of the Pacific Campaign in Peleliu and Okinawa. Even though it was written after the war finished for E.B. Sledge, this book is rich in detail. While many history classes, including this one, talk about a general overview of World War II, the depth of detail in this book cannot be matched by a lecture. As a 60mm mortarman, E.B. Sledge was on the frontline of this brutal war, offering a unique perspective to readers. In this review, I will be discussing its application to our class, my likes and dislikes of the account, and the author’s intended message.
Currently in History 1310, all fronts of World War II are being discussed. One predominant aspect of the war was the Pacific Campaign. This campaign involved the United States Marine Corps to a great extent. This book accounts battles in Peleliu and Okinawa from the perspective of a United States marine nicknamed “Sledgehammer.” Sledge offers details of the war that would be unknown to us if not for his narrative. This book adds depth and intensity to the overview of the war provided in class.
An exhaustive account such as this gives the reader a better understanding of the war on every level as well as a great appreciation for those in uniform. Reading about the travesties of war is humbling. This book does not hold back. The gore, stench, and destruction of the war is brought to a personal level with this account. No textbook can deliver the poignant, emotional connection created by With the Old Breed. This emotional attachment authenticates the war for the reader, which is why it was assigned in class.
While this book is not one I would naturally gravitate toward, I did enjoy reading it. However, I also had some specific dislikes. For example, I found the italicized text distracting. While it attempted to add background information to the events, I found that it took away from the turmoil of Sledge. Instead of adding important information, the italics distracted the reader from becoming truly immersed in the narrative. Rather than the historical additives, I valued the honesty of the book.
Sledge did not try to coddle the reader or even play with our emotions. Instead, he told the truth from his point of view. Unfortunately, his truth was gruesome and hard to digest. Sledge created an emotional connection with the reader that very few books can match. It feels like you are watching his struggles and feeling his pain, though of course we cannot fully grasp his conflict. Even knowing he survived, having authored the book, at times we feel as if he will perish. The suspense created by Sledge is one of the book’s best qualities, and it isn’t intentional. The authenticity of his description is what sets this book apart.
With the Old Breed, is a personal story and I believe Sledge had the intent to quietly humble the world. Coming back from the war and seeing the carefree attitude of those around him likely added to his affliction. By sharing his story, Sledge provided an outlet for him to diffuse some of his emotions while encouraging others to not take the world for granted. One example of this is when after his return from the war, he heard a complaint of coffee being too cold. After the hell he and so many others had just left, these trivial complaints were not acceptable. Writing his story helped to educate people to the horrors of his situation.
The message to be grateful can be taken in many contexts, but Sledge used his particular experience to convey it. The story of another person is unknown to us unless they choose to share it. By valuing everything usually taken for granted and respecting others and their hardships, we can continue to relay Sledge’s message.
Never before have I read a book with such captivating detail. With the Old Breed is painfully real. Being made aware of the horrors of the war is accompanied by a deeper appreciation of those in uniform. While we can never repay them for their sacrifices or even fully realize the extent of them, we can live life with gracious hearts and understanding minds. With the Old Breed offers a feeling of motivation to be thankful and appreciative. The emotional depth of this book carries beyond the pages, which is what I believe was Sledge’s goal in it being published and why I think it is well worth the read.