An expert, opinionated World War II history with some unsettling conclusions.
McManus (U.S. Military History/Missouri Univ. of Science and Technology; Hell Before Their Very Eyes: American Soldiers Liberate Concentration Camps in Germany, April 1945, 2015, etc.) points out that Marines received almost all the glory during the war, a fact still resented by the Army, which did “the vast majority of the planning, the supplying, the transporting, the engineering, the fighting, and the dying to win [the] war.” Unlike most histories that move quickly from Pearl Harbor to the gratifying mid-1942 victories in the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal, half of this book covers the painful earlier months. Japan invaded the Philippines two weeks after Pearl Harbor. The commander in the Philippines, Douglas MacArthur, considered himself a warrior. Warriors attack, so he discarded the long-planned retreat to the Bataan peninsula and announced that he would defeat the Japanese at the beaches, an impossible task. By the time MacArthur, seeing his forces in full retreat, reinstated the Bataan plan, it was too late. The troops made it, but most supplies remained behind. Despite outnumbering the enemy, starvation, disease, and shortages doomed them. Evacuated to Australia, MacArthur directed the reconquest of New Guinea, where, despite a better outcome, troops suffered the same miseries as they had on Bataan. McManus moves on with gripping accounts of campaigns in China, Burma, the Solomons, and the Gilberts. Readers may learn more than they want to know about Japan’s vicious treatment of POWs and flinch at the author’s low opinion of Gen. MacArthur. Military historians rarely share the worshipful view of civilian colleagues, who give him a pass on the Philippine debacle, brush off the fact that his troops disliked him, and happily pronounce him a military genius with an inflated ego. McManus’ MacArthur comes off as an arrogant self-promoter with modest military skills and no rapport with fighting men, routinely sacrificing their lives (and the careers of subordinate commanders) to burnish his image.
A moderately revisionist, entirely engrossing WWII history.