Monday, May 16, 2011

Brute by Robert Coram

Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. MarineBrute is the biography of Victor Krulak, a man who probably had just about as much influence on the forming of the modern Marine Corps as anyone I've ever heard of. Although it's his personal story, the meat of the book is really more about inter-service rivalries between the Army, Navy and the Corps, and how Krulak played an integral part in shaping that fight.

Coram spends what I felt was an inordinate amount of time talking about the conflict between Krulak's personal and professional integrity when it came to the Corps, and the fact that he spent his entire life also denying or trying to escape his Jewish heritage, which was not really all that surprising, given the amount of animosity that Jews attracted while he was growing up, attending the Naval Academy, and building his career. Krulak certainly had his fair share of other faults which are mentioned more sparingly.

Though he was not physically imposing, barely making the height and weight requirements to join the military, Victor Krulak eventually lived up to his ironically assigned nickname, Brute, in ways befitting an honorable, loyal, and determined military officer. He was quite fortunate in that he achieved some early close associations with powerful senior officers, who gave him glowing fitness reports and put him on the fast track for promotions. But unlike some others, his promotions were based on hard work and the willingness to take on any task and complete it, no matter what the cost.

While serving as a junior officer in China, he witnessed the Japanese invasion and occupation, and took made copious drawings and notes about the landing craft that they used which allowed men and equipment to get ashore rapidly. At the time, US forces had boats with high bows and deep keels for landing craft, and it was in the first place awkward for men to get out of the boat, and in the second place they had to remain so far offshore that men would be swimming to the beach, subject to enemy gunfire, rather than already being ashore and able to fight.

He sent dispatches to the Department of the Navy containing his reports, but they were consigned to a filing cabinet without anyone reviewing them at the time. Later on, when it became apparent that there was a strong possibility that we could end up at war in the Pacific, Krulak was working for a general officer tasked with revising amphibious assault doctrine, and Krulak dug out his old files and tried again to get the Navy to look at them. They were too hung up in their bureaucracy to change what they already had on the drawing board, so Krulak and his Marine superiors contacted a man named Higgins, who turned those drawings into the Higgins boats later used in WWII to great effect.

Also, during the Vietnam War, Krulak spent most of his time out in the countryside, visiting his troops and those of our allies, paying attention to what really was going on, rather than making his judgements from an armchair somewhere in the rear. He ended up writing a counterinsurgency manual that was mostly ignored, and the politicians ended up paying more attention to the media reports of a lost cause than what men like Krulak were reporting, so we pulled out. Interestingly enough, Krulak's manual was strikingly similar to the counterinsurgency policy put in place by General Petraeus thirty years later in Iraq.

A great book for military history buffs and Marine Corps fans alike, this was a good read about a very interesting fellow.

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