Is First to Fight Really that Good of a Book… Air War College 2 September 2009 By Michael E. Cordero LtCol USMC
First to Fight!
General Al Gray, the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) placed the book First to Fight (FtF) written by Lieutenant General (LtGen) Victor Krulak, on the first Service reading list established in 1988.2 General James Conway, the 34th and current CMC mandated in an All Marine (ALMAR) message
during May 2007 that all Devil Dogs would read the book FtF and discuss its importance and what it means to them.3 During September 2009, General Conway published another ALMAR that supported his Commanders who recommended retaining FtF as the CMC’s choice.4 Is this book really that good?! LtGen Krulak retired from the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in 1968 surrounded by much controversy; he was promised by both the Secretary of the Navy and Defense that he was going to be the next CMC and President Johnson surprised everyone by selecting somebody else.5 He finished/published FtF in 1984; the title comes from recruiting slogans of World War I (WWI) and has been preached at USMC boot camps and Officer Candidates School since at least 1984.6 Although history would prove that the USMC is usually the first into a conflict, the book is not a complete history of the USMC. In a book that is 270 pages long, well over half of the book is written about events that took place primarily between 1934-1968, the years that he was on active duty. Surprisingly, he mentions nothing about the USMC’s role in America leaving Vietnam in 1975 and dedicates less than a sentence to the tragedy of the Beirut bombing attack of 23 October 1983. So why did LtGen Krulak write this entertaining, easy to read book? LtGen Krulak wrote FtF as a means to show both the American public and future Marines why the USMC is such a special and unique institution. When General Conway first made FtF mandatory reading, he stated, “This book depicts an elite, economical force that relies on adaptability, innovation, and esprit to succeed. It describes our Corps, and I want every Marine to understand who we are and what we are about.”7 LtGen Krulak was both a highly decorated warriors and a very intelligent man; he earned the Navy Cross and also wrote some of the Corps first field manuals and doctrine concerning amphibious operations and the use of helicopters.8 He wrote FtF in such a manner that it would grab the reader vice having one fall asleep after a few minutes of opening the pages; it is not boring and it is not scientific in its approach. The book begins with a foreword from Clare Booth Luce that is interesting since the USMC still has the least amount of women in its ranks, about 6%, than any other military service. However, Ms Luce’s only brother served in the USMC during WWI and thus she gained a tremendous appreciation for this elite fighting
First to Fight!
force. Her major lesson learned from FtF is that the USMC is concerned with not only its’ future but that of the United States of America (USA) as well.9
The next section of FtF is a Preface that is quite interesting for it begins with a two sentence long note dated 30 October 1957 from General Pate to then Brigadier General’s Krulak.10 BGen Krulak’s 3+ page long response--America does not need a USMC but wants an institution that will make the country proud via its actions and conduct--could be viewed as a precursor to the next 14 chapters of FtF that are broken down into six subsections: The Thinkers, The Innovators, The Improvisers, The Penny Pinchers, The Brothers, and The Fighters. These chapters illustrate just how adaptable, flexible, persistent, and tenacious Marines have been for almost 234 years. Although the USMC strives to always be most ready when the Nation is least prepared and has proved itself repeatedly since 1775, history would suggest that it is Congress and the American people themselves that want a USMC....