06 April 2015

"American Caesar"

It took me a while but I finished William Manchester's "American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964." I grew up in a household where Douglas MacArthur was remembered fondly, probably more for political than military reasons. After reading Manchester's 1978 biography of the man, I much better understand why those who served under him either loved him or loathed him. His military genius--until nearly the end--exceeded that of all other Allied generals during WW II, as did his hauteur.

MacArthur was a man born out of time. He was a patrician, a Victorian liberal to a greater extent than even his older contemporaries like Pershing. Only Franklin Roosevelt matched MacArthur's sense of a superior's noblesse oblige, and Roosevelt knew how to disguise his.

MacArthur's tumultuous personal life was entirely new to me. No one I knew talked about his first short-lived marriage or the woman he "kept" in a Washington, DC hotel while he was the Army Chief of Staff. I had known, on the one hand, that during the Korean War MacArthur had urged "salting" the North Korea-China border with radioactive waste, and on the other, that he had urged both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to stay out of Vietnam.

In any event, I won't try to summarize Manchester's 709 pages of well-documented prose. I will instead end with one quote that especially hit home for a Vietnam-era American male (the year of whose 18th birthday coincided with the abolition of the draft):
The President [Franklin Roosevelt] wanted some reassurance on that point [that MacArthur's proposed invasion of the Philippines would be less costly in American lives than the Navy's proposal to invade Formosa]. Casualty lists were lengthening that summer [of 1944]; among those recently killed in action were Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., a flier, and the sons of Harry Hopkins [one of Roosevelt's closest advisers] and Leverett Saltonstall [a prominent Republican politician], both enlisted men in the Marine Corps. The war was being driven home to public men as the Vietnam War would never be.
 So remains the case today.

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