The principal focus of this war diary is on the people and events that shape the battle for Guadalcanal. Although Tregaskis is present throughout the narrative as observer, his attention is almost always on what others do and say, on what happens, what he encounters, and what others report to him. By minimizing commentary and eschewing any discussion of the battle from the point of view of the historian or military theorist, the author imbues his narrative with the intimacy of personal experience and the immediacy of the eyewitness.
Although criticized by some reviewers for its unadorned style and lack of polish, which may have been mistaken for artlessness, Guadalcanal Diary is appealing because its narrative is plain, because the sequence of events is uncomplicated, and because the narrative is uncluttered by anything that was not part of what the correspondent saw and heard. Tregaskis does not dwell on the thoughts and emotions of the officers and enlisted men whose ordeal he records. Certainly, conversations are reported, and from them readers learn what the men feel and think, but Tregaskis himself does not probe the minds of the soldiers or attempt to plumb the depths of their feelings. He does not try to speak their fear, suffering, or anger at the enemy. He reports virtually without comment what they say, letting the reader surmise the rest.
This objectivity is seen in the way in which Tregaskis subordinates description to the reporter’s duty to tell what happened. Only enough of the setting is described to let the reader understand how bullets...
(The entire section is 650 words.)
Guadalcanal Diary was described as a classic from the moment of its publication. In 1955, it was printed in a special edition for the young adult reader. The qualities that recommend it to young readers, as well as older ones, are easy to see. Its style is simple, its story is clearly presented, and its subject is of universal interest and importance: war and the experiences of those who wage it.
Tregaskis was fortunate in the choice of his subject and in his timing. The book was published while the Pacific war was still on the front pages of American newspapers. Although he later reported on wars in Europe, Korea, and Vietnam—nine, all told—none of his efforts is as memorable as this book. It serves well as an introduction to all modern wars, for it describes the combatants, conditions, and events of war with a realism that is sufficient to his purpose, to explain events in sequence, highlighting what is significant without pausing too often or too long on the gore. The record that emerges stands alongside Stephen Crane’s classic novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) as a view of battle from the soldier’s perspective. Tregaskis’ narrative, however, describes what its author actually sees and hears. It has the enduring quality of good, realistic narrative, and the enduring value of objective truth.