Douglas MacArthur

Douglas MacArthur

American Warrior

Arthur Herman

Random House, New York, 2016, 960 pages

Book Review published on: April 28, 2017

If asked to name a twentieth-century American general, many people would focus on Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, or Douglas MacArthur. Eisenhower because he became president, Patton because of George C. Scott’s rendition of the general, and MacArthur because he cut one of the widest paths through American history of any other general before or since.

America celebrated MacArthur as a hero figure in no less than four wars: the Mexican-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. He managed to be one of the most contentious figures in the history of the American military, challenging authority along the way, ignoring orders, and often coming out ahead of his critics. This may be why author Arthur Herman subtitles chapter 6, “Sometimes it is the order one disobeys that makes one famous.” MacArthur became notorious for doing things his way and was ultimately relieved of command because of it.

A curious reader who scans through Arthur Herman’s historical biography, Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior, might stumble across chapter 8’s quote from Gen. John Pershing toward then Brig. Gen. MacArthur in 1922: “Should serve some years in the present grade before promotion to next higher. Has exalted opinion of himself.” In common truths of military evaluations, this can easily be recognized as a smear or stain toward future service or promotions, yet MacArthur would serve for more than fifty years in the U.S. Army until President Harry Truman ultimately removed him from command during the Korean conflict. Pershing’s quote served as inspiration to read this book.

As a preface, Herman discusses previous biographies of MacArthur, which there are dozens, some flattering in their admiration, others dismissing him as everything from vain to incompetent. He leaves it to the reader to decipher which description is the best characterization of MacArthur. For more than three years, Herman searched for accurate source material. This search included resources from China, Japan, and Russia as well as access to newly opened archives within the United States, including previously unused Jean MacArthur oral interviews. While this book does not add any new details to the MacArthur story, it does present his life in an engaging and informative way. Herman avoids the numerous scandals other authors propose concerning MacArthur, instead he writes more sympathetically toward the general’s perspective of situations and the decisions he made.

Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior is well written and serves as a historical perspective of U.S. and its worldviews through the eyes of MacArthur and his subordinates. Herman covers more than a hundred years of American history in this 850-page insightful book. Library and bookstore shelves are not short on MacArthur references, but Herman’s book will serve well as a solid initial entry to those whose goal is to discover the life and insights of MacArthur. The book includes exhaustive notes, numerous photographs and large, clear maps, but lacks a bibliography. The book is highly recommended.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Robert Salvatorelli, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas