FIRST TO FIGHT by Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak, USMC, Ret., (National Institute: $18.95). As its hymn has long resisted rewriting (actually, only seven Marines on a pirate hunt hit the shores of Tripoli . . . and that was four decades before raising the flag over Mexico City's National Palace, an insignificance that Souza somehow romanticized into those "halls of Montezuma") and updating (Iwo Jima, Chosin and Khe Sahn deserve some mention), so has the essence of the Marine Corps avoided dissection. But in "First to Fight," mystique is moved aside, the alchemy opened up and elitism rationalized until the core of this 200-year-old American institution is ready for inspection. Much of the adulation of the Marine Corps, reports Krulak, is in the eye of the beholden, the American public. It sees the Leathernecks (despite "an extraordinary propensity for shooting itself in the foot") as an organization of brotherhood, valor, institutional pride, loyalty, intellect, obedience, originality and parsimony. "We exist today, we flourish today," wrote Krulak in a 1957 letter to then-commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Randolph Pate, "not because of what we know we are, or what we know we can do, but because of what the grassroots of our country believes we are and believes we can do." Fortunately for the nation (and the future of a Marine Corps constantly competing against other branches of the service and politicians seeking to unify the military), these amphibious, airborne, ground-pounding warriors consistently live up to their public reputation. And the image becomes their gage, states Krulak, that establishes a hunger for excellence and a dedication against complacency with "no bank account of indulgence or good will owed the Corps for past performance, most particularly from their sister services and sometimes from the executive branch of government." Although Krulak barks and bites throughout the book (including a condemnation of inconsistent strategy and "the absurdity" of Khe Sahn), it is from experience and wisdom and--in the absolute spirit of the fraternity--never at the expense of the Marines he so obviously loves and respects.