MACARTHUR AT WAR – Book Review
Walter R. Borneman, Little, Brown and Company. 2016 595 pages Hard Back $30.00 ISBN 9780316405324
Walter Borneman’s range of history books cover from the Revolutionary War to the Westward expansion of the railroads to World War II. His new book, “MacArthur at War” is a warts and all biography of General Douglas MacArthur.
“Douglas MacArthur always lived in his father’s shadow. It grew long before he was born…” are the first two sentences in chapter 1 of Borneman’s engrossing biography. Douglas’ father, Captain Arthur MacArthur, Jr., fought under Sheridan during the Civil War and won the Medal of Honor for a rather unorthodox and somewhat controversial frontal assault which may or may not have been ordered by his commander. It is this personal initiative which was shared by his son, Douglas, as well as other legendary commanders of World War Two such as Patton and Rommel, but which put these men in to conflict with their superiors.
Douglas not only had to contend with a father whose experiences in both the Civil War and the Philippines tended to, in his own mind, overshadow anything he could hope to accomplish, but with his own mother who was determined to do whatever she could do to see that Douglas was a success even if it meant throwing her weight around the White House. From these formative years in which his overwhelming desire to carve a path of greatness for himself to his later years leading the campaigns against the Japanese during World War Two, Borneman’s book provides uncompromising details about MacArthur’s driving passions.
Douglas’ World War I service with the Rainbow Division in 1918 is well detailed and it is during these actions on the Western Front that Douglas developed his decisive, lead from the front command style and his flair for fashion.
His time spent at West Point, his actions to break up the “Bonus Army” and his work during the trial of Billy Mitchell brought him to the attention of the politicos in Washington D.C. even when his mother wasn’t constantly pushing his career path forward. It is his work on the prosecution for Mitchell that seems to put him at odds with his own personal philosophy of speaking out when the situation demands it but, as with his operation to break up the “Bonus Army”, these contradictions in Douglas’ personality make him that much more interesting not just as a military leader, but as a human being.
Borneman makes an interesting point in comparing Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur, to wit, “…they were uncannily alike in other areas: both had protective and domineering mothers, were masters of the theatrical moment and carried an unwavering sense of destiny for themselves and the country.” Borneman also points out that this complex relationship was stressed owing to Roosevelt’s proposed military budget cuts. As Douglas stated to Roosevelt that “when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt”. This outspokenness caused Roosevelt to state that Douglas MacArthur was “one of the two most dangerous men in the country.”
As World War 2 commences, Borneman’s book provides uncompromising detail as to both the Japanese operations to take the Philippines and MacArthur’s maneuverings to thwart them. But Borneman’s book isn’t just founded upon “hero worship”. When MacArthur’s ego got in the way of sound strategic thinking, Borneman is quick to point that out.
MacArthur at War concludes with the signing of the Japanese surrender on September 2nd, 1945.
As a book reviewer, I tend to put “Post It Notes®” in the book to mark quotes I would like to use in my review. With this book, I ran out of “Post Its®”. There are just so many great quotes.
In addition, a wealth of footnotes, maps and photographs make this book an important resource for any reader interested in this fascinating man.
Surely, the sign of a good biography is that it leaves the reader craving for more. Borneman’s book does just this. One is left to hope that a follow up with will be forthcoming which will cover the occupation of Japan and MacArthur’s controversial actions during the Korean War.
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!