MacArthur at War

Title:                      MacArthur at War

Author:                 Walter R. Borneman

Borneman, Walter R. (2016). MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific. New York: Little, Brown and Company

LCCN:    2016931808

E745.M3 B67 2016


  • “The author of the national best-seller The Admirals chronicles General Douglas MacArthur’s amazing rise during World War II,”–


  • Prologue: Monday, December 8, 1941 — Part one: Escape, 1941-1942 — 1. First charge, first war — 2. West Point to the Philippines — 3. Manila before the storm — 4. Lost hours — 5. Blame and Bataan — 6. Dugout Doug — 7. Ordered out — Part two: Exile, 1942 — 8. Waltzing Matilda — 9. CINCSWPA — 10. Saving Australia — 11. Kokoda Trail — 12. “Take Buna, Bob…” — Part three: Redemption, 1943 — 13. Finishing Buna, looking ahead — 14. “Skipping” the Bismarck Sea — 15. Meeting Halsey — 16. Bypassing Rabaul — 17. One general to another — Part four: Return, 1944 — 18. Gambling in the Admiralties — 19. Hollandia– greatest triumph? — 20. Presidential ambitions, presidential summons — 21. Toward the Philippines — 22. Sixty minutes from defeat — Part five: Resolution, 1945 — 23. Return to Manila — 24. Hail the conquering hero — 25. “These proceedings are closed” — Epilogue: A study in superlatives.


Date Posted:      February 22, 2017

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden[1]

Asked in March 1945 to name the greatest US Army general of the war, 45 percent of the respondents named Douglas MacArthur—far surpassing Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. The reason, one commentator opined, was because “MacArthur provided his countrymen with a badly needed idol at a time when the military altar was almost bare of icons.”

True, to a point. But as noted historian Walter Borneman documents in a work that is an irresistible read, along with his charisma, MacArthur was “also manipulative, deceitful and as egocentric as any military leader in American history,” on a par with “the three Georges”—Patton, McClellan and Custer.

Chiefly because he stage-managed his own public persona, to an extent beyond any other general, the public never saw “the man behind the curtain.” Had they done so, Borneman suggests, sentiment well might have shifted to General George C. Marshall, who endured much from-a-distance abuse but was man enough to “deftly manage MacArthur’s fiery comet and unselfishly used its brilliance to accomplish the objectives of a global war.”

MacArthur’s war began on a disastrous note. After serving as Army chief of staff, he went to the Philippines in 1935 with a mandate to build a “first-rate army.” When war threatened in Asia in 1941, he was put in command of US troops in the Philippines as well.

Immediately after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, MacArthur’s air chief, General Lewis Brereton, tried to warn MacArthur to order dispersal of B-17 bombers and fighter planes parked in neat rows on an airfield. Incredibly, MacArthur’s Chief of Staff said the general “was in conference and could not be disturbed.” After “several hours of apparent stupor” by MacArthur, Japanese bombers reduced his air wing to piles of burning rubble.

The Philippine army that MacArthur had been hired to train, along with a small contingent of American soldiers, could not cope with Japanese invaders—”a rather dismal performance.” MacArthur sat out the battle of Bataan in a remote bunker, earning from his troops the derisive term “Dugout Doug,” then fled to safety in Australia after his “army” was captured.

But first, MacArthur settled accounts with the Philippines. His contract called for $33,000 annually, in salary and expenses, plus a “bonus” of 0.46 percent of the Philippine defense budget for a decade. President Manuel Quezon sent $500,000 ($7,270,000 in 2016 dollars) to MacArthur’s account at the Chase National Bank. Favored aides received “settlements” ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.

The bulk of Borneman’s book deals with MacArthur’s conflicts—often petty—with Washington and the Pacific navy commander, Admiral Chester Nimitz. The “Germany first” policy decreed by President Roosevelt infuriated MacArthur, who demanded more resources and control over navy air craft carriers.

A patient Gen. Marshall, the military Chief of Staff, placated MacArthur as best he could, chiefly because his forces were the only Americans actually fighting the enemy. In the interest of public morale, he also awarded MacArthur the Medal of Honor after his flight to Australia.

By Borneman’s convincing account, much of the credit for American success in the Pacific can be attributed to naval and air fire power, which cleared the way for an island-by-island advance. Such attacks proved vital to army and marine amphibious landings.

MacArthur’s obsession was to fulfill his promise to “return to the Philippines,” a notable morale-booster for persons who had fallen under Japanese control, but also a publicity ploy. Would by-passing those islands hasten the advance toward Japan? In the end, MacArthur’s approach prevailed.

One handicap MacArthur suffered was the questionable acumen of his intelligence chief, General Charles A. Willoughby, whose estimates of enemy strength frequently were awry. MacArthur asserted that there had been “only two outstanding intelligence officers in all of military history, and mine is not one of them.” Nonetheless, he retained Willoughby through the Korean War, and intelligence blunder upon blunder.

One field which MacArthur mastered was publicity. His was the only name mentioned in press accounts (which went through his censors). When the photograph of a junior commander appeared in Life, MacArthur pointedly told the man that he had authority to bust him down to colonel and send him home. Even Eisenhower was moved to observe that MacArthur was “the only commander I recall who used the heading bearing his own name for official messages and communiqués.”

As Borneman concludes, “there was never much middle ground” concerning MacArthur. The “wildest superlatives” at both ends of the spectrum were false. A necessary read for anyone who attempts to understand the man.

[1] Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 2, Fall 2016, pp. 104-105). Joseph C. Goulden’s 1982 book, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, was published in a Chinese-language edition in 2014 by Beijing Xiron Books. He is author of 18 nonfiction books. Goulden is a long-time reviewer of espionage and spy books for The Washington Times, for AFIO’s Intelligencer, for law journals, and other publications. Some of the reviews appeared in prior editons of The Washington Times or The Washington Lawyer (DC Bar Association) and are reprinted by permission of the author. Goulden’s most recent book [as of 2016] is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

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