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The Thin Red Line is author James Jones' fictional account of the World War II Galloping Horse portion of the Battle of Mount Austenmarker, specifically Hill 53, during the Guadalcanal campaignmarker, which he experienced firsthand in the United States Army's 25th Infantry Division. The novel has been adapted for motion pictures twice, first in 1964 and then in Terrence Malick's 1998 adaptation.

The inscription page catches one element of the book and of Jones' approach:
This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of all human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE; may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents and the leaders, the monuments and museums which we erect to them in the name of PEACE.

Like Jones's two other World War II novels, the story focuses on a number of characters and their differing reactions to combat; the central characters are actually the same in all three books but their names have necessarily been changed, since Pvt. Witt's counterpart in From Here to Eternity (Prewitt) died at its conclusion. While none of the characters are particularly attractive or warm, Jones effectively conveys the alienation and horror that characterized the Pacific theatre of war for the American rifleman.

Instead of a conventional military adventure story, the author presents a more realistic depiction of battle where ordinary people experience a mix of murder, fear, homosexuality, dread, helplessness, frustration, meanness, terror, and emptiness. The novel depicts, but is careful not to judge, acts most readers would consider repellent, such as disinterring a Japanese corpse for fun, summarily executing Japanese prisoners or extracting gold teeth from corpses. These acts are shown as natural reactions to the soldiers' environment.

The novel explores the idea that, despite the mass use of humanity, modern war is a very personal and ultimately lonely experience in which each soldier suffers the emotional horrors of war by himself.

Literary significance and criticism

The Thin Red Line was well received by literary critics, one of whom favorably compared it to Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage.

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