Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 11 Apr 2006
Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War is former United States Marine William Manchester's memoir on the Pacific War, but it is also to a certain degree the collective experience of all who served in the Pacific. To a lesser account, Manchester also provided brief descriptions of what the battlefields of yesterday look like today as he traveled across the Pacific in 1978.
What makes this book truly stand out to me is that while most memoirs are only but a list of events, occasionally diving into emotions, Goodbye, Darkness goes much deeper philosophically. For instance, it touches upon the concept of survivor's guilt. On a patrol on Guadalcanal, the entire group Manchester fought with was struck by Japanese mortar, with Manchester being the only survivor. "It isn't fair, it isn't fair, they're dead, why can't I be dead," Manchester told himself as he shook in fear and in shock on the battlefield that day, "it isn't fair." What is survivor's guilt? Does it originate from the brotherhood shared between Marines on the front lines? Or is it simply a hallucination experienced by the lone soldier trapped in a foreign environment? Another topic the book touches upon is the concept of self-sacrifice and how it relates to heroism. The Americans considered Captain Jim Crowe's now famous quote "[y]ou'll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole!" as a token of Marine heroism on Guadalcanal; this book, instead, searches for the reason why similar exhibition of bravery by the enemy is considered fanatic instead of heroic. Is it justified that a Japanese soldier's banzai charge is perceived differently than what Crowe told his fellow Marine? Should we not look at the Japanese soldiers who defended the islands against American landings as heroes, too? Are the kamikaze special attack pilots truly different than the Allied pilots who raided the Ploieşti oil fields deep in Axis territory?
Of course, as any book written by Manchester, stunning narratives fill the pages of this book, placing me at the front row of a performance of his memories. Below is a sample passage from the book, describing a night he spent in a foxhole on Guadalcanal, and his mind, meddled by constant excitement, exhaustion, and fear of death, hallucinated wildly.
"And then it starts to happen. Quietly, stealthily, imperceptibly, terror begins to creep across my mind so that, poring over my notebook by flashlight, I am taken quite unawares. New sounds, just now penetrating by consciousness, are impossible to identify. Down below, where the Japs formed for their assaults up the slopes, something is going huk-huk-huk. Something else is whickering, like the braying of a gigantic donkey. Most disconcerting is a kind of cosmic grasping. Its breath goes hhhhhhh hhhhhhh hhhhhhh and then hhhhh hhhhh hhhhh, and it is coming up after me."
"A nearby twig snaps.... I want to flee, but my muscles won't respond. The thing is down there in the kunai grass, temporarily muffled by a rock...."
"In that instant the thing catches my scent and I catch its scent. The malevolent panting has begun again, hhh hhh hhh hhh hhh, and it reeks of sweat, cordite, urine, and old leather. Then it arrives, clawing at the edge of my foxhole. I cannot look up. I can feel it hanging over me. My eyes are squeezed shut when a flash of light, bright enough to reach my pupils through my eyelids, pinks them. My lids flip open. There is nothing there. And there is no sound. Then the birds resume their crying, the dog barks, the children shout. Nothing has happened. Doubtless I am the victim of a nightmare. Yet my khakis are soaked with perspiration."
Perhaps I am biased to state that this is a must-read memoir of the Pacific war because Manchester has since became one of my favorite authors, but I am not the only one who makes this recommendation. "It belongs with the best war memoirs ever written", so claimed the Los Angeles Times. Manchester's personal account of the Pacific War, if a bit dramatized, is a truthful memoir that takes on issues that few peers dare mention, whether fear during battle or homosexuality in the Marine Corps. Goodbye, Darkness paints a realistic picture of the Pacific War, while in comparison some others can make me feel like something was missing for one reason or another. If you are looking for a real perspective of the war presented by a Marine who lived through it, this is your book.
Also, check out WW2DB contributor Jimmy Lebel's review of Goodbye, Darkness!
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