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Fighting for MacArthur: The Navy and Marine Corps' Desperate Defense of the Philippines.

Fighting for MacArthur: The Navy and Marine Corps' Desperate Defense of the Philippines. By John Gordon. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011. Pp. 370. $32.95.)

John Gordon compellingly presents the relatively neglected story of the role played by navy and marine corps personnel in the defense of the Philippines. As might be gathered from its title, a central objective of the work is to depict the frustrations of navy and marine leaders who found themselves subject to General Douglas MacArthur's misjudgments and army-first mentality. Gordon does not withhold blame from the navy when warranted, finding much human error in the poor performance of US Navy submarines during the initial Japanese invasions, for example, but he seems never to miss an opportunity to return to the failings of MacArthur. Though some of these criticisms thus are a bit extraneous to his narrative--e.g., MacArthur's exaggerations (or, as Gordon calls them, lies) about Japanese troop numbers--the author on the whole succeeds in adding to rather than repeating at length charges that other authors have brought. He offers such specific cases as that of Admirai Hart, who far-sightedly moved much earlier than the army to concentrate resources and put his men on reduced rations, only to find himself ceaselessly undermined and criticized by his rival commander.

Although Gordon has scarcely a grudging good word to say about MacArthur, he is careful to illustrate the limited reach of MacArthur's antipathetic attitude toward rival services by depicting the many instances in which members of the army, navy, and marines came to one another's aid during the mounting crises. Indeed, Gordon's major achievement is to add a human dimension to the accounts of lesser-known events, such as the destruction of the naval base at Cavite, as well as such well-known ones as the fall of Bataan and Corregidor: navy gunboats rescue soldiers from the beaches of Bataan; sailors return to their ships at night to use onboard equipment to produce fresh water for Fort Hughes; marines on Corregidor work to incorporate enfeebled Bataan refugees along with many Filipinos and sailors untrained for ground combat into a defending force.

Such accounts mean that although Gordon's book is somewhat detailed for a general audience (though useful as a reference work for the specialist), it nonetheless is a "good read." It succeeds in conveying the great suspense and drama of events as they unfold. In his narrowly focused account, each vessel--however small--is a dramatic actor for whom readers cheer, and many service members appear by name in a way that makes us care about their individual fates. Indeed, because the book succeeds so well in highlighting the determined and often heroic actions of marine and navy personnel, this reviewer ultimately has to question the author's choice of title. Although, as noted, it does introduce a theme to which he regularly returns, and he plainly feels that there are grievances still to be settled, "Fighting for MacArthur" grants "the General" center stage even as it seeks to criticize him. Perhaps better would have been "Defense of the Philippines: The Navy and Marine Corps Confront the Japanese and Endure MacArthur."

Kathryn Ragsdale

University of California, Irvine

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Author:Ragsdale, Kathryn
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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