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Marines Faced Cruelty, Rot at Battle for Okinawa: Lewis Lapham

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham of "Lapham's Quarterly." Lapham interviews authors for Bloomberg News. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

May 1 (Bloomberg) -- The losses were staggering: launched in the last months of World War II to take Okinawa, Operation Iceberg cost 50,000 American casualties, including 12,500 men killed. Japan lost over 100,000 troops, while a quarter of the civilian population died in the invasion.

Endless Pacific rain, exotic diseases, unbearable stench and flesh-destroying jungle rot created nightmarish conditions for the U. S. Marines sent to fight. For Eugene Sledge, toughest to take was the soul-searing mutual contempt.

“In disbelief I stared at the face as I realized that the Japanese had cut off the dead Marine’s penis and stuffed it into his mouth. My emotions solidified into rage and a hatred for the Japanese beyond anything I had ever experienced. From that moment on I never felt the least pity or compassion for them no matter what the circumstances,” Sledge wrote in his memoir, “With the Old Breed,” published long after the war.

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson, author of “The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern” (Bloomsbury), says that pacifists are naive about the cruel, dark side of human nature: War will never end, merely evolve. I spoke with him on the following topics:

1. Technology and Deterrence

2. Legalized Killing on a Grand Scale

3. Pulse of the Battlefield

4. Nuclear and Germ Warfare

5. The Gory March of History

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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