The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur.
The dozens of biographies written about General Douglas MacArthur range in style from boys' adventure stories to hagiographies to the magisterial three-volume work of D. Clayton James, The Years of MacArthur. This unsourced and self-styled revisionist account by amateur historian Mark Perry contains elements of all three genres. It contains things that are good as well as things that are new. Unfortunately, most of what's good isn't new, and most of what's new isn't good. Although subtitled "The Making of Douglas Mac Arthur," the author focuses largely on the general's life between the mid-1930s and 1945, with most of the detailed coverage centering on the war in the Pacific between 1941 and 1945.
Perry takes the reader along on a series of land, sea, air, and amphibious campaigns that begin and largely end in the loss of and retaking of the Philippines from the Japanese. Perry's MacArthur is described as indisputably one of the most accomplished generals of the Second World War: bold, incisive, and brave. The reader learns a great deal about the logistics and details of combat on Bataan, Corregidor, New Guinea, Leyte, etc. Unfortunately, almost none of these campaigns are examined in the context of the larger war in the Pacific, much less the global struggle against the Axis. In fact, among the several theaters of war, the southwest Pacific was of relatively little strategic importance. The Japanese focused their effort on holding China and Southeast Asia, committing relatively few resources to the small islands in the southwest Pacific. The most important Pacific battles involved naval warfare and Marine landings designed to take islands that could eventually be used to conduct an air campaign against the Japanese homeland. Even the liberation of MacArthur's beloved Philippines during 1944-1945 had a little impact on Japan's defeat. In fact, "mopping up" operations continued there until Japan surrendered in August 1945.
The more serious problems with Perry's account involve his attempt to reconceive MacArthur's relationships with key military and civilian figures in wartime Washington. He argues that despite some personality clashes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a high regard for MacArthur, and the general for FDR. In fact, any researcher who has used the primary sources available recognizes that beyond some superficial pleasantries, FDR, his top aides, and MacArthur had mutual contempt for each other. The general, in private, voiced savage judgments about Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower--and they of him. Relying, as Perry does, largely on public pronouncements hardly sheds light on these deep rifts. Nor does the author explain why, in 1944 and 1948, MacArthur encouraged an effort to draft him as a Republican presidential candidate.
Although this study is billed as an examination of what made MacArthur so special as a commander, Perry says virtually nothing about the general's nearly six years as occupation commander in Japan, arguably MacArthur's most important and successful assignment. The Korean War debacles and their military and political consequences are barely alluded to.
The book is obviously a labor of love by the author, but it does not demonstrate much familiarity with the many scholarly works on military history and Pacific affairs that present these same events and MacArthur's role in a very different, more complex, and less flattering light.
The University of Arizona
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2016|
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