With the Old Breed

by

E.B. Sledge

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With the Old Breed: Part 2, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On May 8, the Marines learn that Nazi Germany has surrendered. However, the men are so focused on their own survival that they meet the news with indifference, convinced that, in this area of the world, the Japanese will defend their land until they are all dead. In the meantime, the mud makes carrying ammunition draining. This activity of wading through knee-deep mud, often while exposed to Japanese fire, is capable of driving exhausted Marines to a state of utter collapse, as it proves exhausting and seemingly unending.
The Americans’ indifference toward Nazi Germany’s surrender seems absurd, since they are fighting to defeat the Axis powers in this global war. It suggests that at this point they are not fighting for any particular political goal, but for other reasons—the defense of their nation, regardless of the world’s political alignment. Their indifference highlights their feeling of isolation from the outside, civilian world, as they are too immersed in their present dangers to see beyond the immediate threats to their lives.
Themes
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Related Quotes
One day, while the men are carrying ammunition, a Japanese machine-gun begins to fire at them and Sledge is able to hide behind some supplies. Redifer then intervenes, throwing a grenade to shield his companions. Although Sledge is terrified of being hit, Redifer’s courage forces him to step out of his hiding spot, as he would never forgive himself for letting Redifer get hurt while he is safely hiding away. Concerned with getting the other men across, Redifer then decides to run alone toward the sound of American tanks. He succeeds in convincing them to serve as a buffer between the machine-gun and the Marines, and everyone is able to make it out safely.
Redifer’s actions highlight his leadership abilities. Not only does he expose himself to enemy fire, but he takes it upon himself to devise a solution that will shield all of his comrades, thus revealing both bravery and intelligence. His behavior—and Sledge’s decision to move himself—reveals that Marines’ actions are often influenced by those of their comrades, who give them the strength and motivation necessary to fight in the name of their own survival and for the well-being of their friends.
Themes
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Although the Marines all realize that Redifer has behaved bravely and saved their lives, a first lieutenant, nicknamed “Shadow,” whom everyone hates for being unkempt and irascible, suddenly intervenes. He yells at Redifer for behaving recklessly, arguing that he should not have exposed himself to such direct fire. The men know that receiving a decoration for bravery always depends on the person who witnesses the act, rather than the nature of the act, but they still cannot believe that this officer would reach such an absurd conclusion when all the men directly involved recognize Redifer’s action as courageous.
Shadow displays lack of judgment in two respects: his misunderstanding of Redifer’s actions as reckless instead of brave and his inability to understand that berating Redifer will only make him (Shadow) less popular with the infantrymen. This situation demonstrates that the difference between bravery and recklessness might be slight, determined—as Sledge implicitly argues in this case—by its successful outcome: here, the protection of the lives of an entire company.
Themes
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Friendship and Camaraderie Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Sledge describes the debilitating and demoralizing next days and weeks, as the Marines are overwhelmed with fatigue. The Japanese strategy of mutually supportive defensive positions makes the battle seem endless. In addition, although mail usually cheers Sledge up, he receives news that his beloved dog Deacon has died. This brings Sledge to tears as he recalls his memories with this special pet. During this period, although the Marines always try to cheer each other up through jokes, their mood soon fades when they approach the front lines or when they become frustrated to the point of uncontrollable rage by the mud in which they are forced to advance.
Once again, the everyday material and physical circumstances the Marines live in prove just as capable of driving them to insanity as violence. Sledge rarely speaks about his family, and his mention of his dog suggests that he might harbor more longing and sadness for his family than he readily discusses. The Marines’ inability to joke at all times reveals how harrowing their current life is—more difficult to bear because of the mud and rain, it seems, than other circumstances on Peleliu.
Themes
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In the meantime, Mac makes some mistakes in judgment, which Burgin, who has the combat experience of three campaigns, is forced to correct. Sledge also recalls being given some days of respite, in which the men can rest and clean up. Although this helps with their morale, Sledge finds it increasingly difficult to return to the suffering of combat. He notes that the nightmares he had after the war were all related to the idea of going to the front line on Okinawa in May, filling him with terror and dread.
More than any particular experience, it is the accumulation of discomfort and suffering that ultimately upsets Sledge beyond control. His psychological suffering serves as a prelude to his fear that he might go insane and lose touch with reality—in particular, with a world not defined by the endless violence and horror of war.
Themes
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Leadership and Courage Theme Icon