So E. B. Sledge ends his memoir of the horrors of the Marines' fighting in late 1944 and spring 1945 against the imperial Japanese on Peleliu and Okinawa. We should recall these concluding thoughts about patriotic duty because With the Old Breed has now achieved the status of a military classic — in part on the perception of Sledge's blanket condemnation of the brutality and senselessness of war itself.
Although there are horrors aplenty in the graphic accounts of the 1st Marine Division's ordeal in these two invasions, his message is still not so darkly condemnatory. The real power of Sledge's memoir is not just found in his melancholy. Even in his frequent despair over the depravity seen everywhere around him, there is an overriding sense of tragedy: until the nature of man himself changes, reluctant men such as E. B. Sledge will be asked to do things that civilization should not otherwise ask of its own — but must if it is to survive barbarity.