Boot camp is a staple of old movies and, until the early 1970s, the real life of many, if not most, young American males. In a shrewd and well-crafted study, the defense reporter of The Wall Street Journal reacquaints us with a phenomenon too often treated in cliches. Ricks followed Platoon 3086 through boot camp and beyond, tracing the evolution of 63 young men (not all of whom made it through) from a motley crew of unruly youngsters into disciplined marines. As a study in anthropology alone this would be worth reading -- the rites of passage, the curious military dialect, the tribal values imprinted on the impressionable young. But there is a deeper and darker message here. Ricks believes that the Marine Corps has estranged itself from American society. For uttering similar sentiments last year in an uncouth and offensive manner -- specifically, describing the marines as "extremists" -- Assistant Secretary of the Army Sara Lister was hounded from office. This book is far wiser and more perceptive, but it has an equally disturbing conclusion. A must-read for those concerned with civil-military relations in the United States.
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