A freshly critical life of the great American general, whose “spectacular successes were always haunted by his equally spectacular failures.”
Like Napoleon, Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) still inspires countless biographies, so it’s hard to say why we need another after excellent works by William Manchester, Geoffrey Perret, and Mark Perry—except perhaps to set the record straight. Accomplished historian and Hudson Institute senior fellow Herman (The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, 2013, etc.) sets out to do just that, arguing that MacArthur, like Napoleon, was an original, and though he was deemed arrogant, vain, and imperious, he had “an epic breadth” to his military career like no other. Moreover, though President Harry Truman dismissed him for insubordination over his criticism of policy in the Korean War, the general was carrying out that policy while publicly (and rightly) questioning the efficacy of America’s strategy there. Herman asserts that in order to get past MacArthur the legend, readers must delve into three important aspects of his life: his relationship with his father, Arthur MacArthur, the Mexican War hero and military governor of the Philippines, whose standards of duty and excellence the son emulated his whole life; his tie to his strong-willed, adoring mother, who helped shape his early goals starting at West Point and informed his other relationships with women; and his skill as a military strategist, displayed first under Gen. John Pershing’s command in France during World War I, then in the Philippines and Pacific theater in World War II, and finally at Inchon, South Korea. Herman underscores the general’s key role in bolstering the interwar American military and later advocating relentlessly to build up the Philippines army, despite apathy from Washington. Fatal blunders at Bataan and the Yalu River, among others, should not overshadow the general’s far-sightedness in envisioning the early rise of the Pacific Rim.
Featuring the use of new archives, a highly regarded historian offers a significant reappraisal.