All-purpose historian Weintraub (11 Days in December, 2006, etc.) charts the interlocking careers of three five-star generals who were giants in war and peace.
Effectively delineating the arm’s-length relationships among these towering figures, the author reserves his highest praise for George C. Marshall, who surely belongs with Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton on the short list of great American public servants never to have been president. Marshall was denied the sole job he ever coveted, command of the Normandy invasion, precisely because FDR found him indispensable, the only man in the army capable of simultaneously shielding Dwight D. Eisenhower in Europe and taming Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific. As the “organizer of victory,” as Secretary of State and then Defense, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Marshall convincingly emerges from Weintraub’s text as a man of uncommon modesty and integrity, the superior among his contemporaries. Marshall rapidly promoted the able Eisenhower, who labored for years unacknowledged under MacArthur, but Ike shabbily repaid his sponsorship by keeping silent during McCarthy-era attacks on Marshall’s patriotism. Though he finds Eisenhower’s easy postwar susceptibility to the blandishments of millionaire friends and hack politicians barely forgivable, Weintraub forthrightly credits Ike’s mostly competent management of the European theater and his deft diplomacy among the Allies. It is the vain, self-pitying, self-promoting MacArthur who receives short shrift here. Justifiably finding MacArthur the man insufferable, Weintraub churlishly withholds credit where it’s undoubtedly due. Although a deeply flawed character, MacArthur was hardly the constant military blunderer depicted. His brilliant Inchon landing during the Korean War receives barely a page in this very long book, and his postwar resurrection of Japan seems more remarkable with each passing year, especially in light of America’s similar project in today’s Iraq. Personal bias notwithstanding, Weintraub ably uses his subjects’ lives and work to reveal a great deal about their country’s history in the second half of the 20th century.
A complex narrative that properly elevates Marshall to his rightful place in the American pantheon.