Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War

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ISBN: 0-316-50111-5
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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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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Daniel L says:
12 Mar 2010 09:19:59 PM

This is one book that haunts you long after you have put it down. It is one of several books that I have yet to stop rereading, taking more from it every time I pick it up. I discovered at an early age barely understanding the depth of his writing. As a young marine I carried it to every duty station, every deployment and my hardships were brought into focus sharply against his. His scope is incredible, of America and The Corps, you will find no better insight into the incredible generation that captivates us still today. Twice I saw passages quoted this book in ALLMARS. ALLMARS are messages to be read by all marines of every rank, from the Commandant of Marines. They were powerful quotes from the Former Sergeant, to be read and absorbed by those who wore his uniform. Yet this book has never been on The Commandant's Required Reading List for any rank. His lesson's were hard and ring true, how The Corps is, was and always will be. Nobody has told the entire story of The Corps in World War II better than William Manchester and I don't think anybody ever will. Read his story and ask yourself, how have we forgotten these places? Why isn't there a national holiday for Colonel Edson, or Tarawa Rememberance Day or anything like that fro the places and men that meant so much and then faded away into the obscurity of our sacred history?
2. Lyektho says:
5 Apr 2010 09:20:20 AM

It's a brilliant book ... I came across it as an undergraduate. about 20 years ago, and read it. I came across it again, recently. Manchester and the Raggedy-Ass Marines stand out in a way that only George Macdonald Fraser's Borders section in Burma do. I wonder why he wasnt used as source material for the Pacific miniseries.
3. Jim L says:
13 Jul 2010 01:37:34 PM

Just finished reading this book myself. Can sum it up any better than Daniel L above. Being a former Marine myself, this book struck chords close to my heart. How could we forget?
4. Jared says:
1 Nov 2010 11:10:48 PM

I recently read the book and although I really enjoyed it as a personal memior, I was expecting more of a combat oriented focus. Manchester is a fine writer, however but I would place this book more along the lines of Buck Compton's book "Call of Duity: My Life Before During and After the Band Of Brothers". Parts of Manchester's book did confuse me mainly those revolving around his wartime service. Was he really on Tarawa and if why did he only include one scene? Things like that left me begging for more information. The brief periods in his book that Manchester does discuss combat are very very well written and read and feel similar to Sledge's "With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa". Lastly Manchester gives the reader some insite into what a combat veteran experiences after his time in service is over. In mentioning his nightmares and his method of overcomming them is truly enlightening and was my favorite part of the book because of how it adds a human feel to the book, it allows the reader to place a vested interest in Manchester. I would like to close this review by thanking all current and former members of the U.S. and all Allied armed forces around the world, especially those of the "Greatest Generation".

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