In-depth analysis of the enduring paradox of America’s most revered five-star insubordinate—an installment of the Great Generals biographical series for which retired General Wesley K. Clark is nominal editor and provides a foreword.
Frank (Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, 1999, etc.), who has written commendably on World War II in the Pacific, here offers an intensive dissection of Douglas MacArthur’s decisions, good and bad, both as a field general and administrator of the U.S. occupation of Japan. A review of MacArthur’s role as the latter is particularly timely given the current failures in Iraq of pacification, democratization and reconstruction—not to force a direct parallel—over which he then successfully presided (although Frank stresses that the overall plan was wholly the Truman administration’s). That this is specifically a military biography is illustrated by the relatively sparse treatment—a mere page—given to one of the biggest risks MacArthur ever took: Summoned in 1930 as the Army’s new Chief of Staff, he brought from the Philippines a 16-year-old girl named Isabel (he was then 50) and stashed her in Washington for some months until she grew restless and, discovered by a MacArthur media nemesis, columnist Drew Pearson, was paid off to disappear. Frank is, however, candid at length in recounting some of the general’s consistent failings, such as blatant self-promotion in communiqués (most Americans believed he was outnumbered by Japanese forces in major actions, which was not the case), plus deflecting blame on subordinates while taking credit for their achievements. His operational brilliance, including the “leapfrogging” strategy in the Western Pacific, which undoubtedly shortened the war, is also well covered. Frank also enumerates cases where MacArthur’s insubordinations were, in retrospect, essentially the right move.
Admirably punctures the mythology and goes to the wall with an irresolvably complex personality.