The Ghosts of Iwo Jima
Military History - World War II
6 x 9, 280 pp.
25 b&w photos. 4 drawings. 3 maps. 6 tables. 3 diagrams. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 11/07/2011
Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series
Price:        $23.95

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2007 General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award, presented by the Marine Corp Heritage Foundation

The Ghosts of Iwo Jima

By Robert S. Burrell

In February 1945, some 80,000 U.S. Marines attacked the heavily defended fortress that the Japanese had constructed on the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima. Leaders of the Army Air Forces said they needed the airfields there to provide fighter escort for their B-29 bombers. At the cost of 28,000 American casualties, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions dutifully conquered this desolate piece of hell with a determination and sacrifice that have become legendary in the annals of war, immortalized in the photograph of six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi.

But the Army Air Forces’ fighter operations on Iwo Jima subsequently proved both unproductive and unnecessary. After the fact, a number of other justifications were generated to rationalize this tragically expensive battle. Ultimately, misleading statistics were presented to contend that the number of lives saved by B-29 emergency landings on Iwo Jima outweighed the cost of its capture.

In The Ghosts of Iwo Jima, Captain Robert S. Burrell masterfully reconsiders the costs of taking Iwo Jima and its role in the war effort. His thought-provoking analysis also highlights the greater contribution of Iwo Jima’s valiant dead: They inspired a reverence for the Marine Corps that proved critical to its institutional survival and its embodiment of American national spirit. From the 7th War Loan Campaign of 1945 through the flag-raising at Ground Zero in 2001, the immortal image of Iwo Jima has become a symbol of American patriotism itself.

Burrell’s searching account of this fabled island conflict will advance our understanding of World War II and its continuing legacy for the twenty-first century. At last, the battle’s ghosts may unveil its ultimate, and most crucial, lessons.

Maj. ROBERT S. BURRELL of Wesley Chapel, Florida is a former instructor of naval history at the U.S. Naval Academy. His work on Iwo Jima has received awards from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, the Society of Military History, and the Naval Historical Center. He is a combat vetern of two tours in Iraq with more than twenty years of service.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Marine Capt. Robert S. Burrell...has performed a valuable service. . .Burrell examines the planning of Operation Detachment, as the invasion was known, and shows that it was badly bungled. . .[He] demolishes...spurious statistics. . .[and] concludes that Iwo Jima was “helpful” to the U.S. . . .effort but hardly worth the price in blood.” --Los Angeles Times

". . . a gem of a book. It is sure to provoke lively debate. . . "--Military History of the West

“Fascinating . . . exceptionally well-researched . . . The Ghosts of Iwo Jima is first and foremost a superb book providing fresh insight into a frequently studied battle. Yet it is much more. Burrell’s description of the strategic intrigue, compromises, and deal-making associated with this operation is neither pretty nor appealing. However, at the end of the day, these decisions and their outcomes are reflective of the tough challenges faced by strategic leaders then as well as today. The book illuminates the human dimension of strategic leadership and exposes the challenges associated with performing in a strategic environment characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. While Burrell’s research and presentation reveal unflattering aspects associated with the battle for Iwo Jima, it does not denigrate or diminish the personal courage, sacrifice, and valor demonstrated by so many who participated, and rightfully so.” --Parameters

“Thoughtfully and carefully researched . . . The true value of Burrell’s work . . . is that he challenges us to discard the dogma and hero worship that has made us blind to the real military meaning of this battle and to undertake a serious study of our mistakes as is proper in the profession of arms. Many Marines, when faced with the notion that our most hallowed battle may actually have been a costly mistake, will undoubtedly denounce Burrell’s work as heresy and refuse to consider it further. This would be an error, for Ghosts of Iwo Jima is not an act of irresponsible revisionism. After revealing the true tragedy of Iwo Jima, Burrell spends the last third of the book showing how the battle developed a magnified importance, both to our nation and to our Corps. Burrell demonstrates that Joe Rosenthal’s famous image of the second flag raising on Suribachi has become an icon to our nation that has helped keep the Marine Corps at the forefront of the American ideals of patriotism, sacrifice, and military virtue.” --Marine Corps Gazette

“Burrell succeeds admirably at separating myth from reality and demonstrating the facts about how Iwo Jima fit into U.S. strategy and exactly what its value was—and wasn’t.” --Stone and Stone


“[Burrell’s] analysis and conclusions will revolutionize current scholarship in this area and have a significant impact on a wide range of issues, including topics beyond Iwo Jima . . . This book should have a dramatic impact on scholarly and public views of the campaign and larger issues such as strategic planning and decision-making during the war.”--Col. Jon T. Hoffman, USMCR, former deputy director of the Marine Corps History and Museum Division and author of Chesty: The Story of Lt. Gen Lewis B. Puller

"The Ghosts of Iwo Jima is a well-researched and well-writen book that contributes greatly to our understanding of the 'Good War.' The book is highly recommended."--Roger D. Cunningham, The Journal of America's Military Past

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