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American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 - 1964 Paperback – May 12, 2008
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About the Author
William Manchester was a hugely successful popular historian and biographer whose books include The Last Lion, Volumes 1 and 2, Goodbye Darkness, A World Lit Only by Fire, The Glory and the Dream, The Arms of Krupp, American Caesar, The Death of the President, and assorted works of journalism.
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Wonderfullly written book.
There are some that call this retrospective too one-sided, and claim that there’s too much “pro” Douglas MacArthur here. That might be true, but I find that what I read within these pages was pretty much accurate in terms of what most knew about the man. He’s painted as a very confident man, yet pretty cocky as well. There always seems to be a radiant halo around this man, yet much of the glowing seems to be originated from the man himself. Not that he doesn’t deserve much of this praise, he simply seems to be drawing attention to his accomplishments since he knows that this attention only is helping the cause of the fighting – whatever the particular cause might be. He’s also portrayed as quite fearless. There are many times in combat, for example, where the man marches into unfriendly territory in the heat of a battle, inspecting front lines, causing his advisors to panic as they try to get their commander to act more cautiously. This man seems to somehow know that no harm will come to him. His reply to his nervous aides is that, if he cowers from the enemy on the front lines, how can he expect his soldiers to act any different?
Part of what makes this book so appealing is that the major events of this man’s life seem to get more and more interesting as the book, and the man’s life, progress. On that note, it should be pointed out that the book starts out rather dull. We begin with a synopsis of some of his ancestors (his father and grandfather as I recall) and their lives as soldiers during the Civil War and other key events of the nineteenth century. I guess this was to educate the reader of the man’s military “history”, but I found it unnecessary.
We then move rather quickly through the first half century of the man’s life. We learn about his family background that is entrenched in the military already, including a meddlesome mother who seems to use her connections help her boy get promoted throughout his career. We briefly learn about some of his escapades in the first World War (where he is promoted to Brigadier General), and his tenure as Superintendent of West Point for a few years following the conclusion of World War I.
This book really becomes interesting around the late 1930s, as MacArthur is assigned as a military advisor in the Philippines. Although things are quite unstable already, nothing is as bad as when the second World War breaks out, and the Japanese attack the Philippines a mere few days after Pearl Harbor. Mac is determined to fight to the end, but his country desperately needs his military skills as a leader. So rather than fight to the death in the Philippines, he and his family are evacuated off of Corregidor Island under dangerous conditions to the continent of Australia. This is what prompted the famous “I Shall Return” speech. This entire episode would make a great book in and of itself.
So MacArthur is now Commander of the Armed Forces in the Far East, and we see methodically how he turns the tide in favor of the U.S., culminating in the end of the war with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then we witness events which, for me, became the most fascinating part of the life of Douglas MacArthur. Unlike most conquering armies in the recorded history of civilization, MacArthur is an extremely magnanimous vanquisher. The misguided Japanese have visions of being raped, pillaged and enslaved at the end of the war. After all, that’s what the victor is supposed to do to their subjects. Right? Well, time and time again, the U.S. shows that this isn’t how you treat a defeated nation. Instead, MacArthur, as ruler of Japan, brings reform to the people, slowly building them up to a proud nation while eliminating aspects of their recent barbaric history. Of course the Japanese now revere the man as a god, yet it really isn’t all that surprising considering just how far he has turned things around in this nation.
Then, we come to Korea. The final “chapter” in MacArthur’s life is probably the most ugly. Without going into too much detail, MacArthur and President Harry Truman have very different ideas as to how to handle this war…..excuse me…..Police Action, and tempers are, indeed, hot on both sides. Long story short, most love MacArthur, yet really don’t know what to think about Harry Truman. MacArthur’s ego, rather than Truman’s orders, guide many of the general’s decisions, eventually leading to his firing. After his dismissal, most on the home front are enraged and MacArthur is treated as a hero when he returns stateside, much to President Truman’s consternation. There are endless ticker tape parades, speeches, and fainting women, yet when MacArthur is brought before a subcommittee in congress, it’s proven that Truman did the right thing. What was quite fascinating, yet rather depressing, was to see so many lines drawn in the sand during this conflict between the two political parties (MacArthur was a diehard Republican). Things were quite nasty. Anyone who thinks that partisan politics has only become awful in later years need only study this particular timeframe to note that idiotic partisan bickering, sadly, is nothing new.
After the whole Korea thing, it does seem that the general does indeed seem to quietly fade away. Yes, he’s still around, and he still gets in the spotlight from time to time, but nothing seems to be quite as prevalent as the time frame between 1937-1952.
This was a great book, and William Manchester seems to know, for the most part, where to spend the majority of his focus when writing about his subject. I’m also glad that this was only one volume instead of three.
There is no one that spent his span of years, at his rank, in our history. He could have retired godlike if he hd retired before the Korean conflict.