Seven weeks after Pearl Harbor, volunteers form the new 2nd Marine Raider Battalion whose purpose is to raid Japanese-held islands. The men selected come from different walks of life but have toughness in common. Under command of Colonel 'Thorwald', they're trained in all imaginable forms of combat. Then, after a perilous submarine journey, they face a daunting first mission: to annihilate the much larger Japanese garrison on Makin Island, in a lengthy battle sequence. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Of the two Marine Raider Battalions made famous by their exploits at Guadalcanal and elsewhere, Edson's First and Carlson's Second, the Second was by far the ideologically weirdest. Both were thought of -- and thought of themselves -- as elite units, but in many ways they couldn't have been more different. Edson was a by-the-book military man who took marinehood several powers beyond the norm. They were looked at askance by other members of the military. Edson's emphasis was on combat performance locked into a rigidly authoritarian cast structure.
But Carlson's (here Thorwald's)background, temperament, and training methods were revolutionary, in a literal sense. Between the wars, Carlson had taken a kind of vacation from the Marine Corps and spent it studying the Chinese Communists and learning from them, especially the development of what they called "Gung Ho," which translates as something like "good public spirit" but has been degraded in meaning over the years until, when I was in the military, it had all the pejorative value of "chickenshit." Carlson was a committed leader, openly concerned about his men's welfare, what William James would have called "tender minded." His outfit, men and officers alike, lived together in both training and combat, suffered the same hardship, ate the same food, held bellyaching sessions in which anyone could say anything, good or bad, about anyone else, as close as you get to group therapy. The movie soft pedals much of this, and God forbid the word "communism" should be spoken aloud.
The Raider Battalion's most famous engagement was the raid of Makin Island in the Gilberts (pronounced more like "Moggin" than what it looks like). It wasn't the unqualified success the picture gives us. After the rubber boats reached shore and the attack was initiated, resistance increased and it looked like the raid would fail, so Carlson called for a retreat back to the boats. Unfortunately, as Carlson had foreseen, the heavy surf flooded outboard engines and overturned many of the craft, drowning numbers of men. As it turned out, however, the Japanese had more or less disappeared and the mission was accomplished, except that nine of the men who had not been killed in combat or drowned had gotten lost in the dark or wound up on another atoll. They were later rounded up, taken to Kwajalein and beheaded.
The raid did no long-term damage except to convince the enemy that the Gilberts would soon be invaded (which was true) and that fortifications should be reinforced (which they were). I love this movie. It has every cliché in the book. Brawling rivals, a Jewish sidekick called "Transpawt" by Randolph Scott, treacherous Japs, stupid Japs, Marines throwing knives with deadly accuracy, one of our boys can beat a dozen of theirs, explosions galore filling the air with flying balsa wood, bayonets, judo, interesting rifle-shot sounds, Japanese pilots giggling maniacally while they unknowingly slaughter their own soldiers -- ding hau!
The crowning moment: Colonel Thorwald begins one of those patriotic speeches about how we have to win the war, and the peace that will follow too, and turns mid-way through the speech and looks directly through the camera lens at the wartime audience, and the image on screen becomes a sinking ship flying a Japanese flag. Could there be anything better if you're seeking patriotic laughs from a movie? Shortly after Guadalcanal, the Raider Batallions were both disbanded, the Corps believing that since every Marine was elite anyway the Corps had no need for whole outfits of them.
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