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Kirkus ReviewsWall Street Journal Pentagon correspondent Ricks effectively combines a vivid account of the rigorous basic training received by US Marine recruits with commentary on what separates the demanding, disciplined culture of America's military elite from the more permissive culture of its civilian society.
The author tracks the 60-odd volunteers who comprised Platoon 3086 at Parris Island i 1995 through the challenging 11-week course known as boot camp. Unlike their counterparts in other branches of the US military, aspiring marines do not train alongside women; nor do they have access to alcohol, automobiles, candy, cigarettes, drugs, or various other diversions dear to the hearts of young American males. Ricks offers anecdotal evidence on what USMC recruits must endure in the way of indoctrination from fearsome (but no longer gratuitously brutal) drill instructors in the deep piney woods where apprentice warriors get their first taste of what combat is like, and in other invariably sweaty venues. He goes on to review the washout rate of 14 percent or so (which thins 3086's ranks to 55 by graduation day), the ongoing debate on ever-tougher entrance requirements (which probably cost the corps some superior fighting men), and the army's purposefully "user-friendly" training regimen (which reportedly neither instills esprit nor prepares soldiers to do battle). Covered as well is the risk that alienation could induce cream-of-the-crop troops like marines to take a more forceful role in the governance of the nation they are pledged to protect, if not engage in an outright coup. The author argues that it behooves America's largely oblivious middle and upper classes to take a more direct interest in their military.
A revelatory briefing on what sets the USMC apart and the consequences of its superiority during a postCold War era when, for all the talk of peace dividends, the wider world remains an armed and dangerous place.