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MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific.

MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific

by Walter R. Borneman, Little, Brown and Company, 608 pages, $30

Walter R. Borneman is the author of a number of books covering a wide variety of history subjects, books on the American Revolution, the railroad in the American West, the French and Indian War, and the upper command of the US Navy during World War II. The last of these profiled relationships among Ernest King, William Halsey, William Leahy, and Chester Nimitz. MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific is perhaps the other side of that coin. Here, Borneman chronicles the struggles not of the navy but of the US Army and in particular one of its most controversial generals, Douglas MacArthur, to gain victory against the forces of Imperial Japan.

MacArthur at War is a study of command style as exercised by MacArthur. Borneman's narrative details the general's controversial career in the army from his days at West Point through the end of the war in September 1945. In the prologue, Borneman writes that MacArthur "was the consummate defender of his country and its honor. But around that core conviction was a complex personality. There was never any middle ground with Douglas MacArthur." The story begins with an army brat born to Arthur and Mary MacArthur in Little Rock, Arkansas, on January 26, 1880. Arthur served throughout the United States, the experience of which predisposed his youngest son to pursue a life in the military.

Through memoirs, personal diaries, official histories, and a large number of secondary sources, Borneman weaves together the pieces of his book with special emphasis placed on MacArthur's mercurial manner of commanding and on his relationship with his staff and with other military commanders, domestic and foreign. The heart of the book is his command of Allied forces in the Philippines, which ended in a disaster from which MacArthur escaped almost unscathed to reemerge later as supreme commander of the Southwest Pacific Area. He even received the Medal of Honor for his bumpy PT boat ride and B-17 flight in retreat from the islands. With him came members of his prewar staff, including chief of staff Richard Sutherland and chief of intelligence Charles Willoughby, both of whom served loyally to a fault. A later addition to this clique was chief of air assets George Kenney.

MacArthur faced the daunting task of defending his area of operations while building up forces for later offensives against the Japanese. Borneman writes that the task was made even more difficult by MacArthur's (and his staff's) complaining about the lack of aid given to them during the Philippines campaign and suspecting a cabal against his efforts in the Southwest Pacific Area. One target for his ire was the US Navy. MacArthur felt that the navy had failed to follow through on Plan Orange, the prewar plan that had directed ships to be sent to help the Philippines if war broke out with Japan. Not initially acknowledging the extreme difficulty the navy faced, MacArthur decided the rival military branch was as much a foe as the Japanese.

Besides the sting of defeat and the feeling of being relegated to what he considered a backwater, MacArthur also wrestled with the fact that the Combined Chiefs of Staff, the supreme Allied council of war, regarded Nazi Germany as more dangerous than Imperial Japan. This meant that resources first went to fight the Germans while the Allies held a defensive posture in the Pacific. Further adding to MacArthur's concerns was that Nimitz was appointed commander in chief of the Pacific Ocean Areas, making him a rival for resources and headlines. MacArthur had also to contend with a less-than-ideal Allied command structure with his command based in Australia. Nimitz was free of this.

As the war progressed, MacArthur pushed harder and harder for more men and materiel, including aircraft carriers, believing that the liberation of the Philippines was the key to defeating Japan. Borneman showcases MacArthur's brilliance yet does not shy away from pointing out the inconsistencies of his actions through the course of the war. One prominent example is MacArthur's ordering Robert Eichelberger to take Buna or die trying. Eichelberger survived and his American and Australian troops took Buna. Unfortunately for him, his name appeared in the headlines. So despite the unqualified success of the operation, MacArthur was, in the end, perturbed.

MacArthur at War does a very capable job of exploring the complicated life of Douglas MacArthur.


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Author:Edwards, Michael
Publication:America in WWII
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2016
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