An examination of the reputation of Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), at one point the most admired of all the generals on the Allied side of World War II.
Borneman (American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, 2014, etc.) draws on a wealth of sources to give a clear, full-length portrait of MacArthur, who carefully massaged his image with frequent press releases. In the early chapters, the author recapitulates MacArthur’s career before 1941 when, as commander in the Philippines, he was caught unprepared when the Japanese attacked the day after Pearl Harbor. A desperate defense on the Bataan peninsula failed to hold the Japanese. After direct orders from the president, MacArthur evacuated to Australia to organize Allied efforts to stem the tide. Despite his loss of the Philippines, he was widely seen as a hero, something Americans desperately needed in the dark days of 1942. Borneman chronicles the buildup of American forces and the step-by-step progress of the general’s return to the Philippines and the ultimate defeat of Japan. Stories of his infighting with other U.S. commanders make up much of the narrative. The author portrays MacArthur as a prima donna who regularly inflated his own exploits and bad-mouthed anyone who got between him and his perceived destiny. But Franklin Roosevelt and Gen. George Marshall recognized MacArthur’s value both as a general and as a symbol, and they tried to keep him happy, as Borneman amply shows with quotes from memos and messages. The author shows a grudging respect for his subject despite an understandable impatience with some of his less admirable qualities. These included declaring battles won when there was still serious resistance—which he left to subordinates to clean up while he moved on in an aura of victory. On the other hand, he showed real personal courage, frequently touring beachheads only hours after troops had landed. The book concludes with him presiding over the Japanese surrender in the fall of 1945, one of his finest moments.
A no-holds-barred portrait of a controversial figure and a feast for World War II aficionados.