Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on April 24, 2017
Brands is a very good writer of history. He has David McCullough's ability to make non-fiction read like a ripping good story.

The "General Vs. the President..." is an excellent case study of political maneuver, international affairs and constitutional checks and balances in one book. The author's treatment of the dance Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Harry Truman performed in trying to grapple with the Korean War and each other is a very good cautionary tale. What to do when a weak leader has a star underling who is a proven winner and both the leader, underling and other stakeholders know it? This is the situation that faced Truman when the North Koreans attacked the South and caught the US unawares and unprepared. MacArthur was a hero - the master of the Pacific in WWII. Although he was difficult to control and not willingly subordinate and provided Truman with ample reason to relieve the General, MacArthur's early success in flanking the NK at Inchon and crushing the enemy divisions as he chased them toward the Chinese border excused a lot of behavior that should have gotten him cashiered.

Chinese intervention drasticly changed the nature of the war, proved MacArthur fallible, and made his maverick and insubordinate behavior intolerable. Particularly since the stakes were so high - MacArthur's statements, actions and disobedience risked a regional war igniting a larger, perhaps global, conflict - one the United States was ill prepared to see to victory and which would kill many even if we were. Truman had to fire MacArthur and right the relationship between President and military commander. (For those knowledgeable of the Civil War, this story will echo what Lincoln faced with Fremont, Butler, McClellan and Hooker among others).

Truman and his Administration certainly made their share of mistakes in the run up to the North Korean invasion, and the author is honest in portraying the positive and negative of his actions as well as the good decisions MacArthur made and his laudable success in remaking Japan. But, for the sake of our Constitutional system, Truman took the only course of action he could (and arguably - even he argued to himself - should have taken earlier).

Brands gives the right amount of background as he focuses on the machinations of MacArthur and Truman's response over many months as he tried to bring the hero-General to heel. It is a terrific and dramatic story with larger than life players and important issues. In Brand's hands a treasure of a book.
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