Military Book Reviews

First To Fight

By Kyle Chiang

Victor Krulak’s First to Fight is a chronology of the Marine Corps’ importance within American society written to address the question of “why specifically does America need a Marine Corps?” The book discusses the Marine Corps’ role and purpose in American society concerning the institution’s continual struggle to prove its worth. Victor Krulak[1] takes a different perspective in answering the need for a Marine Corps by instead arguing that American society does not need a Marine Corps but instead wants one.  America wants a Marine Corps because of the institution’s culture of excellence as a resourceful, dependable expeditionary force in readiness and its role in creating quality citizens.

Krulak shows that the Marine Corps is beneficial to American society through its dependability in unfavorable conditions. Krulak states that a Marine “will be ready and when committed to a fight, that he may be depended on to win.”[2] To substantiate this claim, Krulak uses the conduct of Marines, during the Vietnam War, at the Battle of Khe Sanh in resisting political embarrassment in terms of a strategic Dien Bien Phu by North Vietnamese Army forces.[3] Despite the strategic abandonment of Khe Sanh shortly after its defense, Krulak emphasizes the tactical dependability of the Marines on the ground in accomplishing the objectives they received. Dependability in each Marine is a byproduct of the Marines Corps’ indoctrination of its values.

The discipline that characterizes the institution’s dependability also contributes to its brotherhood and comradery. The discipline that feeds into the Marine Corp’s fighting efficiency comes from its indoctrination that produces quality American citizens. Krulak states, “men have fought, and winners have won because of a commitment- to a leader and to a small brotherhood where the ties that bind are mutual respect and confidence, shared privation, shared hazard, shared triumph, a willingness to obey, and a determination to follow.”[4] This shared privation and hazard that begins in Boot Camp, once coupled with leadership that both firm and fair that cares about the men in question creates a strong bond. As a result of this brotherhood, a Marine, out of fear of disappointing their fellow Marines, conducts himself honorably.  The Marine Corps’ comradery drives a sense of pride that leads to honorable behavior both in the military and in the civilian world. In essence, the product that comes out of boot camp at either Parris Island or San Diego is a polished, disciplined young person of character that is a part of a band of brothers that will go on to be a contributing member in both the military and civilian society.

First to Fight not only does very well in describing the challenges that the Marine Corps improvised, adapted to, and overcame, but also talks about the institution’s continued relevance to the nation’s defense and society’s wellbeing. The Marine Corps’ importance in American defense lies in the intangibles and not in metrics, emphasized in Krulak’s words that “the United States wants a Marine Corps.” [5] However, First to Fight falls short in its selective language that is meant to emphasize the Marine Corps’ uniqueness but fails to keep in mind the future composition of both Congress and the Armed Forces. The statement by Krulak that “the Marines are an assemblage of warriors, nothing more,” is contrary to the Corps’ multi-faceted resourcefulness to American society. [6] The statement highlights not only alienation of the Marine Corps from the rest of American society but also highlights the Marine Corps negatively as a single purpose organization. The result is an institution that is potentially out of touch with the changing composition of American society and its needs. The Marine Corps is better served if Krulak had instead cited the history of the Marine Corps resourcefulness in serving the American people as a result of its differences with American society.

Ultimately, First to Fight tells the reader that the U.S Marine Corps is a resourceful, innovative organization that has won its place as a branch of service in the American Armed Forces. First to Fight demonstrates that the Marine Corps’ place in American society is due to its widespread support earned by sustained stellar performance. This book teaches students that organizations such as the Marine Corps must prove their resourcefulness to maintain its relevance for continued survival. The institution must serve both society and the government writ large in both its performance and conduct.   

ENS Kyle Chiang is a graduate of the U.S Naval Academy Class of 2020. He is entering the submarine warfare community. In the past, he worked at and has published articles as an Intern for the U.S Naval Institute.

[1] Victor Krulak was a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General and father of Charles Krulak who later became Commandant of the Marine Corps. Krulak served in World War II, the Korean War, and in the Vietnam War.

[2] Victor H. Krulak, First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps (Naval Institute Press, 2013), 177.

[3] Dien Bien Phu was a battle in the First Indochina War between French forces and the Viet Minh. The battle was a strategic loss and military disaster for French forces and resulted in their withdrawal from Vietnam.

[4] Victor H. Krulak, First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps (Naval Institute Press, 2013), 161.

[5] Krulak, xv.

[6] Krulak, 225.

Krulak, Victor H. First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps. Naval Institute Press, 2013.

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