Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific, by Eric Bergerud, Viking, New York, 1996, $34.95.
Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific is at once a complete strategic overview of the arduous land struggle in the jungles of the South Pacific and an exploration of what author Eric Bergerud calls the “mosaic of life,” or the dynamics of combat. Overall, Bergerud’s book is a masterful blend of the strategic importance of the campaign with the so-called smaller picture, which is the core of the book–“the men who fought the war, the weapons they used, how they viewed the events, and the nature of the battlefield where they tended to their forbidding task.”
This work appeals to readers approaching it from several different perspectives–from an academician probing to determine the scholarly significance of the work to a lay reader looking for an enjoyable yet informa-tive book. What may be the real strength of Bergerud’s book is that it is not just another traditional narrative history describing the campaign in the South Pacific in tired chronological order. That approach has been used repeatedly by many authors. Instead, Touched With Fire successfully examines and explains the war’s texture and tempo, while illustrating the “point where the coherence of war meets the brutal experience that confronts those who fought it.”
By looking directly at the dynamics that shaped the long and fierce battle in the South Pacific, Bergerud has offered a significant revisionist view of the turning of the tide in the war there. Balancing his research with the words of the last surviving veterans of the campaign–obtained from hundreds of hours of interviews–he has been able to place their experiences masterfully at the center of his analysis.
The South Pacific campaign has, for years, been a poorly understood subject. Touched With Fire is perhaps the first all-encompassing account of that campaign, examining the hideous carnage of the battlefields at Luzon, New Britain and New Guinea. This book has earned Eric Bergerud distinction as a historian and author of the first order. The scope of its coverage and the quality of its exposition should appeal to almost all readers. Overall, Touched With Fire is quite possibly one of the most important books on the Pacific War ever written.
Dominic J. Caraccilo