Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimons
Hachette, 2016 . ISBN 9780734417435
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Peter Fitzsimons has done an excellent job of creating a teen edition of his book Kokoda. The text reads like a novel yet there are no fictional elements and the work does justice to the amazing exploits of those 'ragged bloody heroes' without the inclusion of content inappropriate for teens. The stunning performance of a poorly trained, inadequately supplied militia, who fought to the death to stop a ferocious enemy, whilst grossly outnumbered, sickened by tropical diseases and suffering malnutrition, is the main focus of this book.
As an Australian who is proud of those who gave military service to our country, I am simultaneously conscious of the need to avoid any hint of glorification of war in literature. Fitzsimons shows unashamed reverence for those who endured almost impossible conditions in the New Guinea jungle as he recounts the courage shown by military units and the almost unbelievable bravery of individuals. Whilst doing so, he emphasises terrible suffering, almost unimaginable fear and the trauma, both physical and mental, which affected those soldiers for the rest of their lives.
The exploits of these soldiers have become legendary in the Australian mindset and it is important that we are reminded of the historical facts, to help us remain grounded, avoiding myth and imaginative dramatisation. In explaining the significance of the 'chocolate soldier' militia and the enormous respect that the 39th Battalion earned, Fitzsimons does not shy away from acknowledging the fact that the 53rd Battalion largely failed its military objectives and did not serve with distinction. Importantly, the author notes that these servicemen had completely inadequate training and suffered from terrible organisation and planning in the early stages of the operation. Similarly, Fitzsimons is to be commended for having the courage to openly criticise the Australian General Blamey for his arrogance, ignorance and incompetence during the campaign. Further, the author is also bold enough to voice that General Douglas MacArthur was similarly incompetent and that many Australian and American lives were wasted due his idiotic orders influenced by an inflated ego and an unawareness of reality due to being nowhere near the action. This is important, given that MacArthur was accorded heroic status by a tame press and film industry.
I recommend this book to teenagers of 12+ years and to adults who will enjoy it whilst learning a great deal.