- Historic Sites
American Caesar: Douglas Macarthur, 1880–1964
October/November 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 6
by William Manchester
Little, Brown & Company 816 pages, 100 photographs and an 8-page map insert, $15.00
Douglas MacArthur was a man of staggering contradictions, and in this scrupulously researched and apparently fair biography, William Manchester doesn’t pretend that he can make all the conflicting pieces fit together. MacArthur’s bravery was legendary, sometimes carried to the point of foolhardiness: he would never wear a helmet in combat, he refused to have a bodyguard in postwar Japan, he wouldn’t even buckle his seat belt on a plane. Yet during the long, desperate fighting on Bataan, he only once made the fiveminute trip from his headquarters to the battlefront to bolster the morale of his discouraged, starving troops. Bitterly, they called him “Dugout Doug.”
He was, flamboyantly, a man of action, but as commander of the Army forces in the Far East he was so stunned at the news of Pearl Harbor that when the Japanese planes appeared over Clark airfield in the Philippines nine hours later, his entire force of bombers was still just sitting there, unprotected, wing tip to wing tip. “He was a gifted leader,” Manchester writes, “and his failure in this emergency is bewildering.”
Nor was he any more consistent politically. After Truman removed him from command in Korea, MacArthur appealed his case in stridently reactionary speeches all over the United States, until all but his most devoted supporters began to shy away from him. And this was the same man who had virtually transformed Japan—with tact, forbearance, and his standard quotient of theatrics—from a militaristic, emperor-worshiping despotism into a liberal democracy. An astonishing man and an absorbing book.