AMERICAN CAESAR by William Manchester
Kirkus Star


Douglas Macarthur 1880 - 1964
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American Caesar, no less: from the title onward, Manchester has produced a biography of MacArthur so grandiose and so singleminded as to satisfy even the giant ego of its subject. But this "great thundering paradox," "the best of men and the worst of men," is not without his manifold, if more life-size, fascinations. He was, ineluctably, his father's son: at 18, Arthur MacArthur dashed up Missionary Ridge to plant the Union flag and win the battle--and later, his insubordination as military governor of the Philippines cost him his pest and his career. Young MacArthur learned everything from his father, it appears ("It's the orders you disobey that make you famous," he said in World War I), except what his paranoia perhaps did not permit him to learn; how to escape his father's fate. But then Manchester, constantly tolling the knell of doom, would not have his tragic Greek hero to range alongside his Napoleon (the favorite comparison) or, more aptly, his Winfield Scott. He has, however, assembled massive evidence of how the MacArthur legend grew, cannily nurtured by its subject and persistently mocked to his detriment. Splashing ashore at Leyte, he was caught by a photographer scowling--not in "steely determination," as the public thought, but in outrage at the naval officer who hadn't directed his landing craft to a dock. Thereafter he deliberately waded ashore for cameramen, and incurred the scorn of troops who had already pegged him--with only a little justification--as "Dugout Doug." Also manifest throughout is the political streak that led him to mix inappropriately in civilian affairs--as contrasted with the more politically astute Eisenhower and so well understood by FDR, who alone emerges as more than MacArthur's match. What Manchester does not pursue are the personal threads (an infatuated first marriage to a "flapper," the escape to anonymity of over-cherished son Arthur); what he does not amplify is the history (the Japanese occupation is particularly oversimplified and blurred). And all his elaboration of the circumstances leading up to MacArthur's dismissal, however extenuating in some particulars, does not alter the standard textbook interpretation of that event. He has documented the legend, filled in the image; what is still wanted is a considered portrayal of the good/bad soldier as only the author sees him.
Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1978
ISBN: 0316544981
Page count: 815pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1978


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