By STEVEN TRAVERS
American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 sat unread on the bookshelf of my considerable personal library for decades. Why? I suppose I figured I already knew most of what I needed to know about the old general, certainly having seen him portrayed by the renowned Gregory Peck on screen, or voiced over in an amazing documentary by John Huston.
Certainly I had accumulated a large body of knowledge about World War II. I was a “war buff” for lack of a better term, and had studied not just WWII but the Peloponnesian Wars, the War of the Seven-Year Succession, the Napoleonic Wars, and of course the American wars: the Revolution, the Battle of New Orleans, the Mexican conflicts, the Civil War, the battles for Cuba and the Philippines, then WWI and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Iraq.
For a period of years between 2006 and 2017 I published many books with Rowman & Littlefield, a highly respected old house. My publisher told me at some point Rowman was re-publishing William Manchester’s classic on MacArthur. Anybody who knew anything knew this was considered one of the great works of all time, a magnum opus on par with Edward Gibbons’ timeless The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Finally I heeded the clarion call and read it.
In reading Manchester’s biography of MacArthur I noticed the occasional spelling or grammatical error. Perhaps this was why Rowman felt the need for a re-publishing, to make it as pristine as a book of this magnitude deserves to be.
Manchester’s fluidity of style and attention to detail, the accuracy of his research, and willingness to weigh history without partiality or prejudice, are as good as any writer ever, from Ernest Hemingway to Tom Wolfe. Manchester’s name generally does not come up when discussing the New Journalism of his era; the willingness to include ones’ self in a story, to “novelize” the truth like Wolfe, or like Hunter Thompson, Gay Talese, and William Safire, among many others.
Yet American Caesar comes across as personal and honest as Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead or Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed at Peleliu. The reason is simple. Manchester lived the story he wrote about. He did not write it from an ivory tower, although he did ascend to academia eventually. He was a Marine, a grunt, and his opinion of General MacArthur mirrored the opinion of the ordinary soldiers who like him served under MacArthur in the South Pacific, and those later in Korea. Herein do we have one of the great conundrums of all history.
On the one hand we have a military man who stands astride history as a colossus, a living god, a man of such stature and greatness that the list of those “greater” than him consist of one or two or maybe three human beings, one of whom was the divine, perfect son of God Himself.
On the other hand, he was an American, and so like other American war heroes ranging from George Washington to William Sherman to George Patton, he is reduced by the sheer weight and human fairness of Democracy. Many Greek and Roman generals were feted as actual gods. Anything less often meant forced consumption of hemlock or sliced wrists in a warm bathtub, with little in between. The British regarded their war heroes as national treasures beyond reproach or even much analysis. Napoleon Bonaparte was similarly viewed as a deity until Waterloo, a strange European quality similarly applied to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, but also shared in Asian culture, where Mao Tse-tung was thought a replacement for Jesus Christ or Buddha, or Emperor Hirohito was viewed by intelligent human beings as perfectly divine.
Yet America has produced a plethora of military men who who are far greater in character and genius than any of the aforementioned frauds of a fallen world, many of whom defeated the armies of said frauds in battle until victory was ours, and these false men bowed down before us in defeat, or died by suicide.
Our generals virtually to a man worshipped Jesus Christ and knew they served Him above all others, whether they be Presidents or Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They also served the U.S. Constitution. In this regard many of our greatest found conflict and acrimony. The American system equalized many of them as much as God’s Judgment. They were subject to William Shakespeare’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” none more so than Douglas MacArthur. Perhaps his cautionary tale is that it is better to be humbled in this life than in the next one.
Therefore the title is so very apropos, for the general did in fact lead armies in worldwide conquest; greater, more far-reaching and effecting the lives of more human beings than Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan or even Dwight Eisenhower. Like Caesar he was brought down by sweaty politicians far below his stature, but again this is very American. We are the country that worships and loves its heroes in war, in sports, on the silver screen, but always curtails that worship before creating cults of personality elevating a human to a deity.
George Patton was devout, as was Washington, Stonewall Jackson, and many others, but nobody so forcefully and eloquently stated the American goal as being the pursuit and glorification of Jesus Christ until it ascended to as close to Heaven on Earth as humanly possible, as did Doug MacArthur. In the end this devotion demoted his historical status more than any cabal of officers in the Philippines, or Washington “desk jockeys” or even Democrats half in the pocket of international Communism. His worship of the one true God thus elevates him above all others.
When asked his war aims he stated, “To save the world for Christendom.” That was his war aim, not necessarily the War Department’s. He once stated, prior to full disclosure of the death camps, that victory over Japan was even more important than victory over Nazi Germany, because the Germans were “civilized,” i.e., European Christians, while the Japanese were barbaric savages, i.e., untethered by Western values and thus by any previous conventions.
Indeed, the Japanese of this era may have been the worst collection of human beings ever assembled on the face of the planet. They were the most racist of people, their hatred of all other Asians on an equal level with the Germanic obsession with Jews. They were equally hostile to Americans, who the Germans admired as white and brave. The Japanese religion-driven antipathy toward the West matched that of the most vicious Islamic Jihadist.
And yet it was these very people, these scum of civilization, the most brutal, vicious and hateful of all creatures, who were first destroyed and brought to their knees by Douglas MacArthur, but later turned by his indomitable will and brilliance into freedom loving democrats, many of whom chose to adopt Jesus Christ as their God when Hirohito, following the orders of MacArthur, renounced his divinity. Thus did MacArthur become their god, or at least the Apostle Doug, Japan a modern road to Damascus.
Attempts by American generals to turn Islamic terrorists into similarly freedom-loving members of the modern world are emblematic of just how great MacArthur was, how huge his achievement, and how impossible duplication of this achievement has proven to be. MacArthur remains the “ideal,” as the Greeks taught; a standard that cannot be met, but must always be strived for.
All of which makes Manchester’s book so magnificent, because while all of this pagan idolatry is described in detail, it is equally matched by the strange ambivalence felt for him by a small yet influential political elite. The Japanese, as mentioned, worshipped him as their new god. Winston Churchill and many European anti-Communists viewed him without equal. His staff viewed him as a mystical figure capable of judgment and foresight unmatched by other mortals. The American public, spurred by photos in Time and Life from the ground up, medals glistening, chin in full strut, loved him in a way envious politicians can only dream of.
But he had his detractors, among them the Democrat Party, the political elite, the Communist sympathizers, the mainstream press, the political “chairborne rangers” of the military and yes . . . the G.I.s under his command.
Somehow, the folksy, grandfatherly style of Ike, which endeared him to the privates and corporals who voted him into the White House, could not be matched by the older MacArthur, who never came close despite his yearning for the Presidency. This ambivalence is evidenced in Manchester’s writing, for he had toiled in the muck and malarial mud of the South Pacific’s “island hopping” campaign, listening while his fellow Marines and soldiers belittled the chief, making up disparaging songs about “Dugout Doug,” and believed wild rumors about his personal life, lies about his imperial style and living quarters, much of which came from Tokyo Rose herself. Ask many who served in Korea and they will say they made fun of Doug MacArthur.
Again, in a strange and wonderful way, this is what makes America great. We are a Democracy. Our leaders are humans and we know this all too well. We could never worship one as the Japanese did, which is what makes us superior to the Japanese . . . which is why we defeated them as well as the Nazis despite all the odds stacked against us. Plus, there is this tiny resounding hope, if a nation could be so great as to produce Doug MacArthur, then by golly there must be another one out there somewhere, waiting, a gift from above to rescue us when all hope seems lost.
This last sentiment is also shared, sometimes grudgingly, sometimes admiringly, by Manchester, as it was by his fellow grunts. The American conundrum.
MacArthur’s childhood was fascinating enough to capture a biographer’s attention regardless of his adult accomplishments. His father, the teenage Arthur MacArthur of Wisconsin, earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty at Missionary Ridge. Right off the bat we have a bar seemingly impossible to attain.
The elder MacArthur stays in the Army, making a career of it. He serves gallantly in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. He is adept at putting down guerrilla insurrections and ascends to become military governor.
His wife is from the South, and as it was for Abraham Lincoln, this causes some enmity. She gives birth to Douglas and dotes on him, dressing him in girl’s clothes and with a girlish hair cut emphasizing his curly locks. Douglas idolizes his father and wants to be like him, a military officer. He is is brilliant and a star, in the classroom, on the baseball field, and as a military historian/strategist.
He ascends to West Point, just before a change in policy brought about by Theodore Roosevelt, who felt too many scions of the Civil War, like MacArthur and George Patton, made it while average-yet-outstanding young men like Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley were overlooked. MacArthur will rise in a mixed, egalitarian, meritocratic world of differing classes, with its cliques and intrigues.
Scion or no scion, at the Point he excels in a way few if any cadets ever have. His grades are near-perfect. He is bfilliant in math and engineering, as well as the classics and military history. He stars in extra-curricular activities like baseball. He is ridiculously handsome and knows it, acquiring a rakish bearing, and must fend off female admirers in the manner of later rock stars. All of this is handled by his mother, who occupies a hotel room that observes his own dormitory. She can see if his light is on and knows when he goes to sleep.
He is the star of his class and unquestionably considered the cadet who will achieve greatness. America is a young, exuberant country perfectly happy to project itself as a world power, and our military leaders will lead us in this endeavor. However, the fact of his relationship as son of Arthur MacArthur will prove to be as much a burden as an advantage, and will mark his attitude; an attitude differing from the egalitarian Eisenhower and Bradley, unburdened by expectations.
MacArthur is assigned duty under his father in the Philippines, still fighting insurrections. He will learn its peculiar politics, culture, religious rites, and the indomitable spirit and courage of its people. This experience will later help save the world, but he also learns of military politics.
His father has enemies. There is jealousy. The elder MacArthur is a man of incredible self-confidence. One officer notes, “I have never met a more arrogant man . . . until I met the son.” This causes further friction. The two MacArthurs see conspiracies behind the scenes aimed at chopping them down to earth. A cabal is formed. This cabal will prove to have a life of its own and will last beyond Arthur’s death in 1912. It will be seen by Douglas as a strange threat all through his years. Eventually George Marshall will join this cabal, and of course we know the influence he will come to bear on MacArthur’s career.
MacArthur’s rakish good looks are a benefit and a detriment. Being the son of a Medal of Honor winner he is singled out for publicity. Women adore him. He is an American hero, but there are always his detractors, or at least those he imagines to be his detractors.
He makes his bones along with Patton serving under General “Black Jack” Pershing putting down the ambitions of Pancho Villa along the Mexican frontier. When the United States enters World War I, MacArthur is made a general. Standing on “no man’s land” above the trenches of France, he engages in discussion with his junior, Patton, both men acutely aware that they are rivals for the highest place in the military. While bombs explode around them, the threat of deadly gas constant, the two men chat amiably as if on Fifth Avenue in New York City, neither willing to concede any exterior fright in the presence of the others. The legend of both men is embellished by the doughboys who observe this, and exaggerate what went down.
But both Patton and MacArthur will seek out danger in the Great War. Time after time both men, despite high enough rank that they could have ordered lower ranked men into the breach, court the danger themselves. A legend grows around MacArthur. He has that “weird light,” seemingly protected from the bombs, the bullets and the gas. He has a knack for field tactics and leads his men to victories. His prognostications become reality and he is viewed as a war prophet.
Victory is achieved but MacArthur is disappointed upon landing in New York Harbor to find no parades awaiting his men. He wants the glory, believes he and his men deserve it. He could have retired then and there, taken a high-pay cush job on Wall Street, even lent his matinee idol good looks to the silent screen, but he is a career military man.
He also does not take orders. His arrogance knows no bounds. He simply knows better, and his legend is such that in the peace time Army of the 1920s he can get away with it. He also takes chances in his personal life. There is a Eurasian beauty who he takes as his mistress. He sets her up in an apartment. She is not to leave, not to shop or seek the pleasure of speakeasies, her only task being to wear the erotic lingerie the general gives her and ravish him with sex when he seeks her out. This could be very dangerous to his career, and does in fact become so when she gets restless and is seen shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue and other high-end stores, or courting men in night clubs. MacArthur quietly removes himself from her life. She is paid off and moves to Hollywood, but never attains stardom. She will commit suicide eventually. The press remain mostly mum about all of this, just as they never reported the womanizing of Babe Ruth. But MacArthur’s greatest worry is not that his philandering will make the papers, but that his mother might find out! He is over 40 by now.
He eventually takes a wife, but again is unlucky in love, or more precisely lacking in his judgment of human morals, contrasted with his impeccable judgment of military threats. The wife is a well known woman-about-town, known for dating military officers and Wall Street financiers. She is a doyen of the Manhattan social scene, and of course MacArthur’s military career is not in New York, but the far-flung regions of potential conflict. She eventually is photographed in flapper’s clothes at speakeasies, her dalliances too obvious to hide. They divorce.
MacArthur takes duty in Washington. He has always known how to play the political game, taught him by his father, and he makes use of his time in the capitol to hone his sharp-edged skills. He knows how to couch advice, to “cover his ass” with after-action reports, and to use language to benefit himself. He is also as educated as any man in the military, an expert on the classics, Greek philosophy, world history, and literature. When he speaks at cocktail parties or staff meetings or anywhere, crowds gather to hear “the one.”
He is also made superintendent of West Point, a prestige job in the Army coveted by many because it often foretells high promotions. But the world situation of the 1920s and 1930s, at least to those with strong antennae, is in the Asia-Pacific. Many are Euro-centric, concerned with a power struggle with the British Empire, the promotion of Democracy, and the rise of Italian and German Fascism. But Asian culture promotes a long view of history, and those who see this as a threat also think in the long term. Thus did MacArthur.
He cherishes a return to the Philippines in his father’s old command. He knows many of the political and military figures of the Philippines, some of whom once fought against his father, but now admire the vision he once had. Now they admire the son.
It is a Roman Catholic country, and MacArthur’s evangelical Christian rhetoric is in tune with their romantic sense of destiny. He understands the people. He along with General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell are the two leading Orientalists in the American intelligentsia. When the Japanese begin to wage war in 1931, engaging in China, Manchuria, and the “rape of Nanking,” it is obvious that they are every bit the threat that Adolf Hitler poses. MacArthur warns of this threat but it is not acted upon by President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. MacArthur is a seer on par with the Oracle of Delphi and can envision the importance of the Asia-Pacific in terms in trade, military alliances, Communist threats, and just as importantly, human rights.
MacArthur is rare among his class of white military men in that he views the Asians as equals, not just in terms of their value as children of the same God, but in terms of work ethic and industrious intelligence. They are not to be underestimated. They can fight and do battle with the U.S., who most view as naturally superior. MacArthur also sees their faults. There is a cruel streak within them. Given a fair chance to be members of the human race, however, they can be tamed. He urges more resources be spent in the region, and understands some day this vast ocean will be as important if not more important than Europe.
MacArthur’s aide de camp is a young Dwight D. Eisenhower. MacArthur tells everybody he is a man with a bright future. Later asked about MacArthur Eisenhower will say, “I studied dramatics under him in the Philippines.”
MacArthur meets a lovely young Southern woman on a cruise. They fall immediately in love, are married, and she gives him a son, Arthur. She will be his indomitable spirit and partner in all the succeeding adventures.
The Roosevelt Administration undercuts the military in the 1930s. Many top officers leave. There is little doubt that the expansion of the European war into World War II, and with that the attack at Pearl Harbor, can be laid at the feet of soft Democrats. That said, MacArthur must suffer his share of the blame.
As the Japanese threat mounts, he turns in sunny reports, outlining his own infallibility, the impregnable defenses of Corregidor, his confidence that America might cannot be overcome. At the top of these reports, his own supreme belief that MacArthur cannot be beaten!
When the Germans invade Poland and start war with France and England, however, MacArthur urges more resources be spent on defense of the Philippines and the South Pacific. His requests fall on deaf ears. Lend-lease to England is the priority.
But MacArthur is as caught with his pants down as everyone else when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Still his requests are not met by Washington, focused on Europe. The Japanese attack and MacArthur’s troops are under siege. MacArthur, living more or less in bomb shelters with his wife Jean and young son, leads a brave but hopeless defense of the islands. Eventually, it becomes impossible. The Japanese are determined to capture the general, to imprison him and try him on war crimes, a major propaganda coup. Tokyo Rose says he is already in custody.
This is when the first of many untrue rumors about MacArthur begin to emerge. No single soldier showed more courage under fire in World War I than MacArthur, and he shows absolutely no fear of bullets or bombs now. He also seems willing to subject his family to the same danger. Jean is also fearless.
But many soldiers believe Tokyo Rose. MacArthur, they are told, is a coward; he and his family live in luxury while the ragged men defend Corregidor; he hides in bomb shelters. He is imperious and arrogant. His officers believe in him with all their hearts, but the enlisted men make fun of him, tell jokes about him, sing songs mocking him.
This is where Manchester’s writing hits home. He was one of those soldiers, heard those taunts, sang those songs. He is a combination of Ernie Pyle and Plato’s Republic. He has a number of literary tricks, such as suddenly writing as if a fly on the wall, bringing particularly dramatic events into sharp relief instead of writing about them from the historical viewpoint. He can novelize this tale as Tom Wolfe did in The Right Stuff. He is happy to describe MacArthur’s wonderful, sometimes miraculous gifts, but equally willing to offer opinion that does not support his subject matter, often in ironic or sardonic tones. One cannot guess Manchester’s politics. MacArthur is a rock-ribbed conservative Republican. Maybe Manchester is, but he is a man of the people despite the high academic standing he achieved after military service. His master is the truth, not his subject.
Finally FDR realizes he cannot allow his greatest general to be captured by the Japanese, who are chopping heads off of Americans, Australians and Pacific Islanders like coconuts from a tree. He orders him to return home. This after months of incredibly hard fighting, in which MacArthur, despite what the rank ‘n file think, has warded off the yellow menace with a series of brilliant tactics. In the end they cannot be re-supplied or relieved, Japan surrounds and captures his men, leading them on the horrendous Bataan Death March after MacArthur barely escapes with his life through mined waters teeming with Japanese gunboats.
He arrives in Australia to great cheers and the Congressional Medal of Honor, bucking up the locals with brave words about how he will defend the country from the enemy, but in truth he does not have the men or materials to accomplish this. The troops hear of his posh quarters and demean him. In the mean time, the first victories of the war in either the Pacific or in Europe are Naval victories in the spring of 1942, namely at Midway Island.
MacArthur is brilliant, however, and takes on the Japanese not on the shores of Australia but in surrounding islands, forcing them to pay a high price for territory they do not covet as much. Eventually he begins to win battles. He is supplied and re-enforced and makes the Japanese pay, but each victory is equaled by losses. MacArthur lies to the press, a fact Manchester is not coy about. Victories are attributed to him, not his subordinates. Defeats are papered over. The slightest sign of victory leads MacArthur to call it a “mop up” operation, but his men know different; they pay dearly with their lives in these “mop ups.” But personal vanity is not MacArthur’s only reason for this. He understands the American psyche, the need for heroes. He offers himself up as a hero in desperate times. The press plays along.
But MacArthur is an adept strategist. Manchester makes comparisons of the oceanic mass of territory MacArthur must fight in and win, larger than the size of the United States, or a particular campaign is like fighting from Montreal to Miami. But the Marines and Navy are brilliant, and never let him down. First he “leap frogs” the Japanese, who fortify captured islands, only to have MacArthur go past them and take a lesser defended island, each closer and closer to Japan. This becomes the “island hopping” campaign, and now the Army Air Corps enters the picture after performing so brilliantly at Midway. Manchester points out that the way they are used by MacArthur, each victory piled on top of the next, is the way Billy Mitchell said they needed to be used before he was drummed out of the corps via court martial.
The Japanese left behind are starved by blockades, unable to be re-supplied. MacArthur calls attrition his “ally,” starvation his friend. Each island is turned into an airstrip, and each airstrip gets American air power closer to Japan.
MacArthur does all of this with fewer supplies, fewer men, less support than his contemporaries in Europe, but makes do brilliantly. Manchester begins to compare his victories to marvels of the past; Thermopylae, Cannnae, Hannibal crossing the Alps, Napoleon at Austerlitz, Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. So does MacArthur, regaling the press with tales of military valor of yesteryear, not the least of which was his own father at Missionary Ridge. He is glib, charming, dynamic, with the voice of God. As he wins more and more, he becomes impregnable, bullet proof, a prophet of war. His officers believe in him as if his word comes from the Burning Bush.
On top of all this, MacArthur wins with fewer losses of his own men than any other general, certainly far less than in the European Theatre. He will later say Eisenhower and Omar Bradley resented the fact he won with far fewer casualties than occurred in the Battle of the Bulge. Finally the enlisted personnel begin to understand and appreciate this. MacArthur is humane and will do all he can to assure his men suffer the fewest casualties possible. MacArthur will tell President Truman “good commanders” no longer turn in heavy losses, like the Germans and Russians to cite examples.
The tide of the war turns. We are winning, in Europe and in the Pacific. MacArthur is godlike, the press (particularly Henry Luce’s Time and Life) building him up higher and higher. Now his bragging and arrogance are signs of American Exceptionalism, a term Luce and others begin to use.
Finally we can think about how we plan to win and what victory will look like. FDR flies out to meet MacArthur and tells him he wants to by-pass the Philippines, but MacArthur has made a sacred vow to the Filipino people, “I shall return!” He argues that if the U.S. allows the Filipinos to suffer further atrocities at the hands of the Japanese instead of rescuing them, we will be accused of racism. This persuades FDR.
Full scale Naval battles at Luzon, Leyte Gulf, the Philippine Sea precede an invasion of the islands. MacArthur takes to the radio waves and urges the Filipinos to ”Rise.” It is one of the most stirring speeches of all time, filled with heavy Christian symbolism, the Japanese viewed as evil incarnate, which they certainly were. Indeed the local population, waiting for this day for several years, does rise to fight their oppressors, at enormous cost, for their sacred land. The Japanese kill, often be-head, many of those who dare take arms against them, but after heavy fighting MacArthur does indeed return, the photo of him practically walking on water inspiring to all, and the Philippines are free. U.S. forces take Okinawa, and after Germany surrenders, the invasion of Tokyo Bay is planned.
When Manchester writes this book, there is still little question that the dropping of Atomic bombs saved 1 million lives, many of whom were Japanese. Manchester leaves no bones bone about it; far more Japanese civilians would have died in fierce urban fighting than were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. There is also no question: American lives mean more than Japanese lives. Good, bad or indifferent, this was the feeling. After Pearl and four years of atrocities, can this be argued?
Worldwide victory is now secure, Europe having been won in May, and on September 2, 1945 MacArthur orchestrates the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. On more times than be counted, MacArthur has ventured to the front, exposing himself to bullets, shells and bombs, but he has always shown supreme confidence in his own infallibility. There is no doubt in his mind, and by this point in the minds of most Americans, that he is a man of destiny, doing God’s holy work.
He demonstrates this bravado after the Japanese agree to the surrender, flying in to Tokyo, unboarding amid thousands of former enemies, and driving unprotected through the streets of Tokyo to his new headquarters. Japanese soldiers line the roads and turn their backs to him. Many think this is an insult to the general. It is not. It is meant to show the soldiers believe MacArthur is their new deity, and deities, as with Hirohito, cannot be viewed by human eyes.
MacArthur meets with Japanese officials and dictates all terms of the occupation. He is their supreme commander, more powerful now than when he commanded merely U.S. troops. He makes no effort to meet Hirohito, waiting for the disgraced emperor to come to him, and it eventually happens. MacArthur is photographed wearing his khakis with Hirohito, in tails. This is unheard of, but the emperor is telling his people this man is there new emperor. Hirohito renounces his own divinity, declaring himself a mortal man like all men.
MacArthur easily could have promoted himself as a god, but instead he exports Christianity to the Japanese, who convert by the thousands and eventually by the millions. On the “Mighty Mo” he gives General Jonathan Wainwright the greatest respect; he was the man forced to surrender the Philippines and marched with the other ragged men to Bataan. The Japanese all dress regally for the event, but MacArthur again is in his customary khakis and “smashed down” cap.
MacArthur picks out the two leading militarists in Japan and has them executed. Manchester is appalled at the lack of fairness in their “show trials,” but their guilt is beyond dispute. However, thousands of beastly criminals are exonerated by MacArthur, whose word is the law. He is incredibly benevolent to the Japanese. It is a moment probably never seen before, perhaps never to be repeated.
During the post-war period, Douglas MacArthur is venerated as few if any human beings ever have been in history. He is a dictator, yes, but a totally benevolent one. The Japanese, taught that Americans were below them, animals who would rape their women and scourge the country, are stunned to discover MacArthur is a noble gentlemen, as are his occupying forces.
Quickly the Japanese are listening to American music, watching American movies, and adapting nicely to Democratic government. Ex-big leaguer Lefty O’Doul returns to Japan to get them back into baseball, an act MacArthur says did as much to restore diplomatic relations as anything. No nation has ever done what America is doing, except for the North when they reconciled the South after the Civil War.
Throughout history all conquering nations have taken control of the countries they defeat, raping, pillaging, plundering; at the least colonizing. The U.S. restores the souls of West Germany and Japan, gives them their countries back, and turns them into functioning anti-Communist Democracies. It is perhaps as great and courageous a national act as has occurred in human history, and MacArthur is a leader of higher honor and stature than any before or after him.
The love the Japanese held for him then and mostly likely still today is unlike anything in world annals. Incredibly, the conservative Republican MacArthur institutes a number of land reforms that look liberal; he wants to penalize the old landowners and war lords who started the war and spread their wealth. He explains it is not America and different values need to be applied.
In 1948, MacArthur allows his name to be placed in nomination for the Presidency. He does not campaign, let alone leave the country, but Manchester makes it plain he did want to win. He just wanted to win on a draft by the American people, but without a campaign he falls far short.
But from 1945-50, MacArthur is arguably more powerful than Harry Truman. His word is sacrosanct, and there is absolutely no attempt by any quarter to question him. He makes it clear that Christian principles are the only solution in turning the Japanese from beastly war criminals to good human beings. It is remarkable.
In 1950 the North Koreans cross the 38th Parallel into South Korea. MacArthur is called to lead American-led U.N. forces in defense of South Korea. In 1949, China had gone Communist. MacArthur is the leading voice warning of the dangers and evil of Communism. Here Manchester’s book reads as an indictment of the Democrat Party. First, Truman’s team failed to protect Korea, even advocating policy that seems to invite Communist infiltration. This is all written long before the Venona Papers, which revealed after the fall of the Berlin Wall the extent of Communist espionage in the Roosevelt-Truman Administrations. MacArthur is stunned to discover that every order he gives, the North Korean forces seem to know about in advance. Manchester outlines the espionage apparatuses known of at the time of his writing, and makes it clear a cabal of American and British traitors were behind this. It all becomes political as this is the age of the Blacklist and McCarthyism,with millions of Americans demanding that Democrat traitors be hauled to justice for the murder of their brave sons.
All his career, MacArthur spoke of a “cabal” of “others,” of “them,” who were “out to get me.” Who they are is never fully explained. Desk-bound officers. Democrats. Communist sympathizers. George Marshall. One-worlders, the U.N., Satanists?
With the Democrats working against him at every turn, given less than the support he requests, MacArthur in June 1950 pulls off as brilliant and audacious a military maneuver as has ever been accomplished. Perhaps only Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants to encircle Rome is comparable.
Yet like Hannibal, MacArthur’s victory will not win the war. Hannibal will roam the countryside for a decade before returning to Carthage, Roman legions in pursuit. MacArthur will have the fruits of victory squandered by Harry Truman and his party, which is somewhere between jealous and anti-American.
The battle occurs at Inchon. The Communists have captured Seoul and are on the verge of total victory. If MacArthur can land an amphibious invasion force at Inchon he can not only liberate Seoul but capture the Communist capital of Pyongyang. Inchon is lightly guarded. Why? Because it is impossible to land there. The tides are perpetually out, leaving only mud flats. Any landing carriers would get stuck in the mud, their men sitting ducks.
But MacArthur confers with a meteorologist and determines a few hours on a late June day in which the tides will be high enough to support a landing. Everything must go right, and Truman never actually endorses the plan, sending orders that allow him to take some credit if it succeeds, but blame MacArthur if it fails. It does not fail. Had it been a disaster Truman and his people would have unloaded on him. Pyongyang is captured, Seoul is liberated, and the war is won . . .
Except MacArthur is fallible in his assessment of Red Chinese involvement. He meets Truman at Wake Island and assures him the Chinese are not capable of crossing the Yalu River in force. Truman criticizes the “five-star son of a bitch” for wearing khakis and making him wait at the landing strip. But the Chinese are capable and they do cross the Yalu. After the general promises America their “boys will be home by Christmas,” Mao Tse-tung sends hordes of Chinese bandits into North Korea. This is the greatest failure of MacArthur’s long military career. His own audaciousness and utter confidence, in himself, his men and his country, proven infallible countless times going back to his earliest career, fails him.
Facing disaster, MacArthur advocates an aggressive counter-attack. Truman refuses. History tells us that we found out later Mao advocated use of Atomic weapons, which the Soviets had recently acquired, but Joseph Stalin refused. MacArthur also asked to use “tactical Atomic weapons” to push back the Reds. Truman refused.
This is the key moment in history, and to this day many argue for and against MacArthur. At the time, the American public was with MacArthur by close to 90 percent. The Democrat Party and press, liberal even then, were his only detractors. MacArthur argued this was the moment in which Communism could be defeated once and for all. Truman claimed he wanted to prevent World War III.
MacArthur is fired and sent home to the greatest cheers and adulation ever given a soldier. Manchester continues to assess him as fairly as he can, and Victor Davis Hanson, a conservative and no doubt a MacArthur admirer, makes it clear in The Savior Generals (2013) that Matthew Ridgeway saved MacArthur’s bacon by rallying U.S. troops to victories forcing the 1953 Armistice. Hanson and to a lesser extend Manchester make clear MacArthur made major mistakes in this operation.
Looking back from the perch of history, it is not totally clear, but this much is true. Communism, started in 1917, had by 1953 murdered something like 30-35 million human beings. Mao would murder around 70 million more, and adding up the death toll in the U.S.S.R., Red China, North Korea, Cuba, the East Bloc, and elsewhere, it is fair to say 125 million people have died at the hands of Communism. To put this into perspective, 11 million died in the Holocaust, 6 million of them Jews. The U.S. suffered 36,000 dead in Korea, 58,000 dead in Vietnam.
North Korea is still Communist, its large population utterly enslaved to this day. The population of Red China lives under totalitarian dictatorship. Hong Kong is now engulfed in Communism. Furthermore, a large proportion of the left, in America and elsewhere, are basically Communists without realizing it. Of their own free will, a large segment of the Democrat Party chooses anti-American politics that are no different than those advocated by KGB handlers, if they were still directing operations here as the Venona Papers show they once did.
While it would have been risky, allowing General MacArthur to win and liberate North Korea at the very least would mean the people of the north would be free. Whether it would have pierced the heart of Red China and the Soviet Union is not known. Vietnam likely would have been averted. One cannot say that it would have prevented the incredible divide in America today, but who knows?
MacArthur’s return to the U.S. meant ticket tape parades, a speech before Congress, and a free lunch from California to New York. He hit Truman hard, and all Truman could do was lie about the old general, although as Manchester points out MacArthur was liberal with the truth when he needed to be. The public blasted Truman, the “failed haberdasher,” an utter pygmy of history standing next to the magnificent MacArthur. The general had long before learned political speak, and covered his own behind with great flair.
MacArthur agains expected to be handed the Presidency in 1952, but discovered again without campaigning it was not winnable. He was extremely political, helping Republicans during some of the most divisive times in history. The Red Scare was enormous and he pushed it hard. Ike, who MacArthur called “the finest clerk I ever had,” was elected and met with MacArthur, who told him he had a chance to be the greatest peacemaker “since Jesus Christ.” But Ike had little use for MacArthur after that, and did not consult with him.
MacArthur made his famous speech in which he declared he was just “an old soldier” who “fades away.” It was marvelous and made him as popular a man as have ever trod American soil, but as his speeches attacked the Democrats more and more, he lost much of his support.
When John Kennedy was elected he was happy to meet with MacArthur, who he idolized as being some kind swash-buckling 19th Century hero, which in many ways he was. MacArthur advised in no uncertain terms against Lyndon Johnson going into Vietnam. He was ignored, and he made his final speech at West Point, speaking of the “long grey line,’ the “distant clatter” of bugles and musketry, as much envisioning his own father at Missionary Ridge as his own storied military career.
In the end, his own Americanism both elevates and humanizes Douglas MacArthur. In the Prussian military tradition, their heroes are viewed as Valhallic knights. MacArthur faced politics, the free press, Democracy, and his own Christian faith, which in the end forced him to view his life as a service to God and country, more than the false grandeur of the despots.
Manchester has accomplished with this book a grand achievement. It is necessary and instructive. As a wise man once said, those who fail to remember the past are condemned to re-live it. The last words I reserve as MacArthur’s, who warned that despite his hatred of war, his desire that it be abolished forever, in truth “only the dead have seen the last of war,” and that once a nation commits to it, “There is no substitute for victory.”
Steven Travers is a former screenwriter who has authored over 30 books including the brand new Best Sports Writing Ever and Coppola’s Monster Film: The Making of Apocalypse Now (2016). One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation (2007) is currently under development. He is a USC graduate and attorney with a Ph.D who taught at USC and attended the UCLA Writers’ Program. He played professional baseball, served in the Army JAG corps in D.C., was in investment banking on Wall Street, worked in politics, lived in Europe, and was a sports agent before finding his calling as a writer. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, L.A. Times, StreetZebra, Gentry magazine, Newsmax and MichaelSavage.com. He lives in California and has one daughter, Elizabeth. He can be reached at USCSTEVE1@aol.com or on Twitter @STWRITES.