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The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War Hardcover – October 11, 2016
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"The General vs. The President is that rare military chronicle that becomes an instant page-turning classic."
—San Antonio Express-News
"Fast-paced, dramatic, and amply illustrates why Truman’s stock has been on the rise in recent decades."
"A vivid accounting of an event that was, on the surface, a personality conflict between two strong-minded figures and, at the bottom, a courageous act that solidified civilian authority over the military in wartime."
—Dallas Morning News
"Brands spikes the shadowboxing between [Truman and MacArthur] with vivid dispatches from the battlefield that give his tale a get-along kick."
"A highly readable take on the clash of two titanic figures in a period of hair-trigger nuclear tensions . . . History offers few antagonists with such dramatic contrasts, and Brands brings these two to life."
—Los Angeles Times
“Two American heroes tested and tried at their most inspired hours . . . An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
About the Author
H. W. BRANDS holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin. A New York Times bestselling author, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography for The First American and Traitor to His Class.
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General Douglas MacArthur (like Lincoln's general George B. McClellan) was glamorous, willful, egotistical, a darling of the press and feverishly ambitious with political aspirations that were vast. Once described by an angry Roosevelt as "the most dangerous man in America", there was little that MacArthur needed to do in order to find and monopolize the spotlight. During their tense personal meetings, MacArthur's disrespect for Truman was galling. Yet somehow the notoriously feisty president managed to hold his temper when dealing with the general.
With the new war in Korea becoming more dangerous by the hour and his leadership questioned from all corners, President Truman committed a serious slip-of-the-tongue when asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's shocking entry into the war, Truman replied somewhat angrily that "the military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General MacArthur, commander of the American and U.N. forces in the Korean theater, had his finger on the nuclear button and the will and temperment to push it.This was certainly NOT what the president wished to convey.
Truman's quick correction did little to minimize the damage and the political fall-out was fierce. It created the illusion of two distinct and mutually exclusive paths to "victory" in this war, with the vision of an unpopular president pitted against that of the man who had single-handedly (or so he seemed to claim) won the war against Japan in the Pacific theater of operations. Truman appeared clueless to a war-weary public while General MacArthur appeared fearless and bold, unafraid of unleashing the nuclear genie despite Russia's recent entry into the "nuclear club." The two men soon clashed, spurred on by an American news media whose political agendas were as entrenched as today and just as noxious.
The rise of Senator Joe McCarthy and his relentless anti-communist crusade. the ubiquitous House Un-American Activities Committee, staffed by a rising star in the Republican firmament Richard Nixon, who had recently broken the Alger Hiss spy case and relished the increasing acclaim, Soviet actions in blockading Berlin and threatening the freedom and safety of a nervous Europe, the testing of increasingly powerful and horrifying nuclear weapons and the heavy losses in Korea, all of these events served as a poisonous backdrop to the clash of wills between an obstinate and feisty President Truman and a supremely self-confident and narcissistic General MacArthur.
The General vs.The President is exhaustive in detailing these events with a clear but unavoidable bias towards the president. History has been much kinder to Truman, who is generally considered to have been a great president (as discussed in David McCullough's masterful biography Truman). The flaws in General MacArthur's personality have been revealed and magnified over time but author H. W. Brands maintains as much fairness as is possible under the circumstances.
The story of the struggle between these two men is riveting and fascinating with its obvious ramifications for today. The modern political world was born during this era and The General vs. The President does an exemplary job in telling the story. It often reads more like a political thriller as it delves into what can only be described as "high stakes poker" with its frequent raising of the stakes, bluffing and savage endgame with its winners and losers. The General vs. The President is compelling history that I often found difficult to put down. If you're interested in the Cold War era, the Korean War and the various political forces and actors engaged in a life-and-death-struggle for military and political supremacy, this is an indispensable book. An excellent history book and strongly recommended.
This is a wonderful work of history. I've read biographies of both MacArthur and Truman, but this book brought both of them to life in a fresh way, especially with respect to their relationships with others. The complex narrative is laid our with great clarity, including both military and political maneuvers. I particularly appreciated the account of MacArthur's Congressional hearings, and the striking contrast between the public posturing and the devastating closed sessions.
In a way, both men are diminished by this history. Truman's reputation has been on the rise in recent years, because of his no-nonsense pragmatism, but as Brands shows clearly, Truman was in over his head, and he made careless mistakes. MacArthur did wonders in Japan, particularly in the way he transformed its politics, but his naivety about global geopolitics seems breathtaking from our perspective.
The one MacArthur tale I have always enjoyed as a native Texan was when MacArthur awarded Congressman Lyndon Johnson a Silver Star for the mission he flew as an observer in WWII. LBJ always wore that medal on his lapel even when president. Why do I enjoy this? It clearly shows the politician in MacArthur. LBJ was only a passenger on that plane. He was also the only one on the plane to get any medal at all. MacArthur knew he had an up and coming congressman and wanted to curry his favor. MacArthur lived to see LBJ get to the Oval Office still wearing his Silver Star.
My Mom took me to SFO to see MacArthur when he returned after being fired. If you are interested in this history I strongly recommend this book.
want to learn the clear picture of the management of the fighting in the Pacific during World War II.