First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps is a book by U.S. Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak, a Marine commander who was conferred with several medals and honors for his pioneering strategies in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam (Goldstein). He was an exemplary Marine with years of service in the USMC, Lt. Gen. Krulak, who passed away in December 2008 at 95 years of age, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy graduate and joined the 4th Marines in China from 1937 to 1939 (Goldstein). It is known fact that the Marine Corps are the most potent fighting force in the U.S., and even among the most powerful forces in the entire world, but by relating his experiences in this book, Lt. Gen. Krulack reveals the political encounters, which were not fought in battlefields, but behind official doors, that made the Marine Corps what they are today. First in Fight is an absorbing book as it based on the Lieutenant General’s personal experiences on the matter and debate regarding the amalgamation of the all the armed forces in the U.S. Furthermore, it provides an insight into the historical incidents and actions that resulted in the formation of the current chain of command within the U.S. Military Force.
The book is presented in six chapters along with a conclusion. Each of the chapters begin with a short and forceful quotes that at the very beginning incite the reader’s interest and center mind on the gist of the chapter regarding the USMC’s “dominant narrative,” that advocates judgment marked by contemplation, originality of thoughts, improvisation, prudence and thriftiness, and comradeship (Marine Corps OCS). This review found it extremely interesting that the rare and concise quotes were so effectually used and attributes their effectiveness to Lt. Gen Krulak’s academic aptitude. First to Fight’s descriptions of numerous USMC amphibious missions and schemes, such as use of amphibian tractors, tanks, and cargo trailers; the implementation of authoritative command while the country was in a period of transition; the manner in which they used naval gunfire abilities; their manner of providing air support to military on land; their strategic use of helicopters; the methods used to evacuate the casualties; their team work in the airfields, and their bombing activities irrespective of the weather conditions are commendable (Krulak 71–82). All these missions and schemes today are an essential part of the amphibious system used by the Marine Corps for fighting wars from aquatic areas.
While analyzing the above-mentioned wars in which he was involved, Lt. Gen. Krulak also evaluates the very groundwork on which the Corps are built. Thus, he discloses the real meaning of being a Marine and the hard work and sweat that goes behind maintain the reputation of the Force. The most shocking revelation in the book is probably the fact that some famous American leaders attempted to reduce the power of the Marine Corps or even completely eliminate them; some of these famous names are as follows: Army Field Commander, Omar Nelson Bradley, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and President Harry. S. Truman (Krulak 48, 56, 58). The fact that most leaders were hesitant to support the Marine Corps’ mission is reinforced with Lt. Gen. Krulak statement in the book that “Only a few, a very few, visionaries were willing to attack the formidable conceptual, tactical, and material problems associated with the modern amphibious assault landing” (73). He also shows that the USMC is a vital part of the U.S. Military today, in terms of dimension and finances allocated to it, once it was regarded as a subordinate service to the U.S. Navy (Krulak 7, 32). Similarly, the U.S. Army regarded the Marine Corps as a force depended on a governing sequence of events or a “dominant narrative” for its existence (Krulak 34, 35) (Marine Corps OCS). Krulak terms the Corps as being “perennially the smallest kid on the block in a hostile neighborhood” (3). In the book’s preface, he has mentioned that “the Corps is in a sense like a primitive tribe where each generation has its medicine men—keepers of the tribal mythology, protectors of the tribal customs, and guardians of the tribal standards” (xvi). Another insight provided by the book is regarding the raising of the American Flag on Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima, Japan (Krulak 15). While it is indeed a historically symbolic event in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Corps’ elite fighting force status cannot be completely attributed to this event, as most people seems to believe. The reason behind the Marine Corps survival and strength today can be correctly attributed to a handful of committed high-ranking Marine officers, a Marine supportive congress, and some supportive leaders and civilians. In First to Fight, Lt. Gen. Krulak has also given an outstanding example of the importance of having the moral audacity to living by ones’ skilled judgment in the armed forces and to ensure that this judgment is being conformed to with appropriate action (123–125). He shows this by recounting an event that checked his moral audacity (123–125). On the 30th of June 1950, when had been recently appointed as the Operations Officer of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, Lt. Gen. Krulak received an obscure message by the Chief of Naval Operations that said the following: “How soon can you sail for combat operations in the Far East [Korea]: (a) A reinforced battalion; (b) A reinforced regiment?” (124). He answered to this query in the following manner: “(a) 48 hours; (b) Five days, including a Marine aircraft group” (124). However, given his experience, Lt. Gen. Krulak was unsure if the the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, or for that matter, the Marine Corps, could realize the deployments that he has guaranteed (124–125). Nevertheless, he was aware that the Marine Corps, which were under continuous surveillance for the significance of their actions by certain prominent members of the government in the U.S., should be able to generate a fighting force when the security of the country was concerned (124–125). Lt. Gen. Krulak realized that if they did not the Marine Corps would cease to remain as they were: “If we can’t, we’re dead” (124). His moral audacity ensured that he stands by his instinct and the rest is historically applauded as one of the best decisions. He made an informed decision based on his professional judgment of the situation, and if had done anything less, the Marine Corps would not be the elite force they are today.
While the book was published almost 40 years ago, every officer in the United States Marine Corps (USMC), noncommissioned or otherwise, is recommended to read this book (Marine Corps OCS). Lt. Gen. Krulak wrote the book after the Vietnam War and during the Cold War, and it was first published in 1984 (Krulak, Preface xvi). Since then, the USMC has undergone several changes, and this brings the question regarding the relevance of reading it today. The reason it still read today is because he provides a original viewpoint regarding the battles and war approaches and strategies used by the Marine Corps, which is useful for the officers who belong to this famed armed forces faction (Marine Corps OCS). First to Fight’s inclusion in the list of books recommended to the Corps for several years is furthermore justified because of the manner in which Victor “Brute” Krulak combines autobiographical writing with information and analysis of the U.S Marine Corps and their amazing will power and morale (Goldstein). Thus, the insights into the Marine Corps’ history make the book a compulsory reading for any officer in the Marine Corps. Thus, today, it is essential that the Marine Corps use the noteworthy events, experiences, and learning of the Marine Corps in past from Lt. Gen. Krulak’s words without imitating the USMC actions in the past, but, as the book shows, by using previous experiences to form new useful ones. Keeping the nation’s well being in mind, such knowledge can help enhance the security of the country. Today, it is essential that the American leaders ensure that not “a few, a very few, visionaries” cause the development of the security measures of the country; rather, all the leaders should join hands for this mission (Krulak 73).
Goldstein, Richard. “Victor H. Krulak, Marine Behind U.S. Landing Craft, Dies at 95.” The New York Times. 4th January 2009.
Krulak, Victor H. First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps. Washington: U.S. Naval Institute; Bluejacket Books, April 1999.
Marine Corps OCS. 19th January 2012 http://usmcocs.wordpress.com/tag/first-to-fight-an-inside-view-of-the-us-marine-corps-by-ltgen-krulak/.