Two American heroes tested and tried at their most inspired hours.
Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; Reagan: The Life, 2015, etc.) finds in President Harry Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur two perfect counterweights to the unfurling crisis over the aggressive incursions of communism in East Asia. The author works his way backward from the tipping point in December 1950, when the Chinese had joined the Korean War against the United States and its Allies despite the assurances by MacArthur that the Chinese would never dare. The president, “livid” at the general for his recklessness and lack of foresight, assured the press that the U.S. “will take whatever steps are necessary” to repel the Chinese, including the use of “every weapon we have.” This was no reassurance for the rest of the world, terrified of the opening salvos of an atomic war, which the president, immersed in domestic woes involving a Republican-controlled Congress, wanted to avoid at all costs, while the general, rejecting appeasement as the method of cowards (had the world learned nothing from Hitler?), seemed to invite World War III with his brazen attitude. In an elegant narrative, eminent historian Brands fleshes out the two characters and their paths to this moment’s “knife-edge…above an abyss.” Truman, somewhat appalled to be handed the job of president, warmed to the tasks of rebuilding Europe and containing communism from a sense of humanitarian duty and decency. He emerged from the bruising election, fights with Republicans, Joseph McCarthy allegations, the Berlin airlift, and alarming declarations by his rogue general with a “refusal to be discouraged.” MacArthur, on the other hand, inculcated by his ingrained sense of entitlement and public accolades over the Philippines, Japan, and elsewhere, needed at this golden point in his waning career a crowning achievement: an amphibious invasion at Inchon that was so crazily brilliant that it just might work.
An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis.