This years winner of the 2020 Gilder Lehrman Prize for Military History is John C. McManus, for Fire and Fortitude: The US Army in the Pacific War, 1941–1943.
“Out here, mention is seldom seen of the achievements of the Army ground troops,” wrote one officer in the fall of 1943, “whereas the Marines are blown up to the skies.” Even today, the Marines are celebrated as the victors of the Pacific, a reflection of a well-deserved reputation for valor. Yet the majority of fighting and dying in the war against Japan was done not by Marines but by unsung Army soldiers.
John C. McManus, one of our most highly acclaimed historians of World War II, takes readers from Pearl Harbor—a rude awakening for a military woefully unprepared for war—to Makin, a sliver of coral reef where the Army was tested against the increasingly desperate Japanese. In between were nearly two years of punishing combat as the Army transformed, at times unsteadily, from an undertrained garrison force into an unstoppable juggernaut, and America evolved from an inward-looking nation into a global superpower.
At the pinnacle of this richly told story are the generals: Douglas MacArthur, a military autocrat driven by his dysfunctional lust for fame and power; Robert Eichelberger, perhaps the greatest commander in the theater yet consigned to obscurity by MacArthur’s jealousy; “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, a prickly soldier miscast in a diplomat’s role; and Walter Krueger, a German-born officer who came to lead the largest American ground force in the Pacific. Enriching the narrative are the voices of men otherwise lost to history: the uncelebrated Army grunts who endured stifling temperatures, apocalyptic tropical storms, rampant malaria and other diseases, as well as a fanatical enemy bent on total destruction.
This is an essential, ambitious book, the first of two volumes, a compellingly written and boldly revisionist account of a war that reshaped the American military and the globe and continues to resonate today.
The award, which includes a $50,000 prize is given annually by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the New York Historical Society. It was established to recognize, “the best book on military history in the English-speaking world distinguished by its scholarship, its contribution to the literature, and its appeal to both a general and an academic audience.”
Due to the pandemic this year’s award ceremony was presented online. The entire program can be viewed by clicking this link: https://vimeo.com/474870035