MacArthur: A Man Out of Time

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More than a half century after his death General Douglas MacArthur continues to fascinate, as Francis P. Sempa demonstrates in a post at Real Clear Defense:

In 2015, the prolific and popular military historian Winston Groom (better known as the author of Forrest Gump) lauded MacArthur (along with Marshall and Patton) in The Generals as an exceptionally good soldier and great captain, who was as brave as a lion, bold as a bull, and audacious and inventive in “marshaling huge victorious armies.” MacArthur, Groom writes, served his country with distinction, and his memory “enriche[s] the national trust.”

James Duffy’s War at the End of the World, which appeared earlier this year, provides a detailed history of MacArthur’s New Guinea campaign, which has long been unfairly overshadowed by the Navy-Marine island battles in the Central Pacific.

Walter Borneman’s MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific has just been published. Borneman, like other MacArthur biographers, notes the general’s character flaws, but emphasizes MacArthur’s sense of mission, strategic brilliance, and “guiding principles of duty, honor, and country.”

Most anticipated, however, is Arthur Herman’s new biography, just released this month, entitled Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior. At 960 pages, it rivals the most comprehensive one-volume treatments of MacArthur to date: William Manchester’s American Caesar and Geoffrey Perret’s Old Soldier’s Never Die.

Later this fall, H.W. Brands’ The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War is scheduled to be released and, hopefully, will provide a fairer treatment of the Truman-MacArthur controversy than the conventional history that treats Truman as saint and MacArthur as sinner.  The truth, as usual, is more complex.

Go here to read the rest.  I have long thought that the key to understanding MacArthur is that in many ways he was a strange combination of the 19th and 21rst centuries, cast adrift by fate in the twentieth century.

19th century in his rotund oratory, his hatred of telephones, his desire for face to face meetings and his lack of understanding of contemporary politics and mores, and 21rst century in his understanding that Asia is more important to the future of America than Europe, his successful example of rehabilitating a rogue nation and in his grasp that carefully planned and executed combined operations were a necessary force multiplier for a US adverse to heavy casualties.  It is no wonder that both his admirers and his detractors at the time viewed MacArthur as almost a freak of nature, and usually failed badly to understand this most complicated of all American military leaders.

A true military genius, this facet of the man has been obscured by his great failures, a lackluster, to be charitable, performance in the initial stages of his defense of the Philippines and his disastrous failure to plan for Chinese intervention in the Korean War, but perhaps more by his great successes, operating on a logistical shoe string, thousands of miles from the United States, he made it all seem simple by his preternatural ability at using the resources at hand with consummate skill, routinely outthinking and outfighting able Japanese opponents, and making huge advances at a relatively small cost in the lives of his men.

MacArthur’s vanity and flair for dramatics also help obscure that he was at bottom a decent man who, in a bloodstained century, sought to minimize where he could human suffering, whether it was American POWs or the population of Japan after the War.  Love him and hate him, MacArthur is in many ways a contemporary figure, and a close study of his life is not merely of historical value.

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Published in: on June 17, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on MacArthur: A Man Out of Time  
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