Preparing the mind for battle


December 18, 2003

On the theory that preparing the mind for battle is as important as preparing the body, the top officer in each service provides a reading list of recommended books for enlisted personnel to commissioned officers. The Marine Corps, which for many Americans has the image of being the toughest of the tough, offers the most extensive reading list, with about 175 books divided among each rank.

They include classics on warfare, such as The Art of War, by Sun Tzu (for staff sergeants and lieutenants); and The Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides (for colonels). The U.S. Constitution is recommended for low-ranking enlisted personnel and junior officers.

There are memoirs by enemies, including World War II German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and by Civil War generals, such as William Tecumseh Sherman. There are books on courage, firepower and military innovation. And there are best sellers, such as Fields of Fire, by former Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr., and Diplomacy, by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. There are heroic tales and examinations of stunning defeats.

For senior officers, the largest category centers on the Vietnam War. "Marines are expected to read at least two books a year from this list," according to the list's introduction. "The lessons learned from the books can be used to be better leaders both in and out of the Corps."

Following is a sampling of books from the list of recommendations by Marine Corps rank, compiled by Tom Bowman, The Sun's military affairs reporter.

Private, private first class, lance corporal

Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein. A recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the universe - and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind's most frightening enemy.

The Bridge at Dong Ha, by John Grider Miller. On Easter morning 1972, Marine Capt. John Ripley, the sole U.S. adviser to the tough 3rd Battalion of the South Vietnamese marines, braved intense enemy fire to blow up a bridge and stop a major invasion from the north.

Corporal and sergeant

The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. One of the greatest war novels, it is the story of the Civil War through the eyes of Henry Fleming, an ordinary farm boy turned soldier.

The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West, by William H. Leckie. Chronicles the importance of African-American units in the conquest of the West.

Second lieutenant and first lieutenant

Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, by J.F.C. Fuller. An analysis of the Civil War battles commanded by Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee; argues that Grant was among the best generals ever.

How We Won the War, by Vo Nguyen Giap. North Vietnam's military commander discusses "just wars of national liberation" from tactics for insurgency operations to the political guidelines for enlisting the populace on the insurgent's side.


Once a Legend: "Red" Mike Edson of the Marine Raiders, by Jon T. Hoffman. Edson earned the Medal of Honor and lasting fame during a desperate, two-day defense of Guadalcanal's vital airfield.

On Guerrilla Warfare, by Mao Tse-tung. Written by the future Chinese leader in 1937, it served as an instruction manual for guerrilla fighting.


Guerrilla Warfare, by Che Guevara. A leader of the 1959 overthrow in Cuba discusses the need for revolution to topple governments in Latin America. He details his style of hit-and-run tactics that proved successful.

It Doesn't Take a Hero : The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. The general who commanded U.S. and allied forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf war talks about his life, from his teen-age years spent in the Middle East to his time as a young officer in Vietnam and then to the gulf war.

Lieutenant colonel

Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. Considered among the best military memoirs, the two-volume work was published by Mark Twain and completed in the last month of the Civil War general's life. He offers firsthand accounts of the waging of war.

Take That Hill! Royal Marines in the Falklands War, by Nick Vaux. The book chronicles the actions of Britain's 42 Commando Royal Marines and their actions in the Falklands during the 1982 war with Argentina.


The Marine Corps Search for a Mission 1880-1898, by Jack Shulimson. Although the Marines distinguished themselves fighting on the Barbary Coast, their essential mission and identity remained unclear throughout most of the 19th century. The book tells how the Marine Corps got out from under the thumb of the Navy and became a distinct and separate branch of the military.

Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1891-1939, by Robert A. Doughty. Discusses the failure of the French Army to turn back the Nazi attacks in the spring of 1940. Although France possessed the technology to fight, it lacked the right tactics and leadership.

Brigadier general through general

The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam. The story of how the U.S. got involved in Vietnam through the "best and brightest" policymakers appointed by John F. Kennedy.

Maverick Marine: General Smedley Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History, by Hans Schmidt. A two-time Medal of Honor recipient, Butler, beginning in 1898, served on American foreign military expeditions from Cuba to the Philippines, China, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, France and China. After a rescinded court-martial and premature retirement in 1931, he renounced war and devoted his energies to causes ranging from labor unions to the anti-war movement of the 1930s.

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