clinical pinpoint accuracy

Matthew Stevenson acknowledges several authors and battles, which serve to parallel his own points and strengthen his arguments. He references the author of The Thin Red Line, James Jones, who wrote a war account that “got it right” (367). His army experience before and during the war strongly influenced his writing, while his wartime injury significantly impacted his “pessimistic” (368) style.

Stevenson alludes to his work because of its “clinical, pinpoint accuracy” (367), recounting the fear, brutality, courage, and cowardice characteristic of the war. Essentially, he is included because, “…the voice I hear in Jones is one that, at times, I can recognize in my father’s accounts of the war” (368). Stevenson’s father is the primary basis for his interest in Guadalcanal, so naturally, a writer that reflects his father’s perspective on the war would be of interest to him.

Also mentioned is Richard Holmes, a member of the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and the author of Acts of War, which “describes the sociology of battle” (368). It provides a historically accurate portrayal of experiences during war, such as what happens during artillery fire, the results of alcohol and combat, and the effects of being wounded.

He introduces an element of honor by writing that “men fight, not out of hatred of the enemy, but to maintain the respect of their peers” (368), and that “the death of a friend is often what ignites an atrocity” (368), both serving to add a humanistic element to the war and somewhat uphold an admirable image of the war. In an alternately negative light, Stevenson writes about Richard Tregaskis, the American journalist and author whose best-known work, Guadalcanal Diary, is labeled as one of the “bad books” written about the period.

Stevenson claims that his “shortcoming was that, as a reporter, he was free to leave the island at any time” but others “had to stick around until they were killed, wounded, taken prisoner, or relieved” (368). This displays the great divide between the observers and participants of the war, a distinction that Stevenson attempts to cast into sharp relief. Stevenson incorporates the mention of battles to better identify the nature of Guadalcanal.

He specifically refers to the Battle of the Tenaru, or Battle of the Ilu River, which was the first major Japanese land offensive during the Guadalcanal campaign. During the battle, the U. S. successfully repulsed a Japanese assault, and spawned Stevenson’s interest “because that is where Americans first defeated Japanese infantry and where my father led a bayonet charge into enemy lines” (364). It offers an example of a predominantly face-to-face battle, with both sides in the “swirling gun smoke, lunging, stabbing, and smashing with bayonets and rifle butts” (364).

Stevenson’s father was faced with a hand grenade, in this battle, resulting in the brutally personal killing of the Japanese soldier. The death count of this battle was about nine hundred men, and he likens an image showing the “rows of dead Japanese soldiers pressed into the sand” (364) to one from the battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg was the battle with the largest amount of casualties in the American civil war, often seen as the war’s turning point, much like Guadalcanal and its pivotal successes over the Japanese.

Stevenson also recalls the “stories…told about the Normandy beaches” (357), referencing D-Day, the allied invasion of Normandy, involving a complicated plan of both land troops and an airborne divisions, resulting in horrendous casualties. Stevenson’s describes it and others as “war stories [that] were vivid scenes in the tableau that explained not just something about my father, but what it was to fight in a war” (357). It presents a personal and sociological interest that reinforces Stevenson’s motivation.