The MacArthur Revival
America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region has had many consequences, including a revival of interest in, and appreciation for, the career and worldview of General Douglas MacArthur, whose military exploits spanned fifty years and three continents, and whose reputation for good or ill rests mostly on his campaigns in the Southwest Pacific and the Philippines, his military administration of postwar Japan, and his decision-making during the Korean War.
In 2014, military historian Mark Perry revisited MacArthur’s important, productive, and sometimes difficult relationship with Franklin Roosevelt in The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur. That same year, Seymour Morris, Jr. wrote Supreme Commander: MacArthur’s Triumph in Japan, a thoughtful and admiring re-telling of MacArthur’s successful postwar administration of Japan.
Perry views MacArthur as the greatest commander of World War II, and writes that in the Southwest Pacific he “coordinated the most successful air, land, and sea campaign in the history of warfare.” Morris calls MacArthur’s occupation of Japan “the greatest feat by America’s greatest general.”
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.
Those searching for the most complete biography of MacArthur and his times must still turn to D. Clayton James’ magisterial three-volume The Years of MacArthur.
Richard Nixon in his interesting post-presidential book Leaders, noted that in his conversations with MacArthur in the 1950s and early 1960s, “[n]early always MacArthur’s comments got back to Asia.” Nixon wrote that criticism of MacArthur by America’s foreign policy establishment stemmed from the clash between an Atlanticist worldview and MacArthur’s vision of an Asian-centered geopolitics. Americans, Nixon wrote, are beginning to appreciate the wisdom of MacArthur’s prediction that “the history of the world for the next several generations may well be dictated by the men and women of the Orient.”
Indeed, during the battle of the Philippines in World War II, MacArthur told a news correspondent that “the lands touching the Pacific will determine the course of history for the next ten thousand years.” Those lands are certainly front and center in today’s geopolitics. The MacArthur revival could not come at a better moment.