Military Review English Edition September-October 2014 - Page 117

BOOK REVIEWS MACARTHUR’S WAR: The Flawed Genius Who Challenged the American Political System Bevin Alexander, Berkley Caliber, New York, 2014, 248 pages, $25.95 A n accomplished military historian, Bevin Alexander provides civil and military leaders another stark historical reminder of the imperative of effective civil-military relations in war. He provides a fair, balanced, and often critical narrative of decisions and actions of two major antagonists, President Harry Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, before and during the Korean War. Alexander provides three major themes that contributed to his designation of MacArthur as a “flawed genius”: MacArthur’s larger than life ego; high-stakes political infighting; and a near complete lack of situational understanding concerning Far Eastern affairs, especially Chinese motives and intentions related to Korea. Alexander’s narrative expertly weaves critical connections between the themes, providing readers with a keen insight of the rationale and necessity for Truman’s relief of MacArthur as the U.S. senior commander of the Far Eastern Command. The book’s opening paragraphs effectively establish the decision-making dilemmas faced by U.S. civilian and military leaders during past and present wars, and the tenuous balance between civilian supremacy in decision making and professional military expertise. Although controversial civil-military relations are not new topics in American military history, the relationship was severely tested on the Korean Peninsula in 1950 where problems were compounded by an international, political, and military environment where leader decisions and actions were frequently wrong. While MacArthur’s hubris is well documented, the author reiterated his larger than life reputation as an intellectual five-star general who exited World War II as a hero of the Pacific theater. As a highly successful military proconsul credited with the reconstruction of post-war Japan, he was an imposing figure ostensibly well-suited for supreme military leadership in the Far East at the outbreak of the Korean War. However, along with his substantial credentials spanning five decades came an unbearable ego, unbending support MILITARY REVIEW  September-October 2014 for the overthrown Nationalist Chinese government, and an entrenched belief that World War III was not a matter of if, but when, and anything short of total victory, regardless of costs, in any war was anathema to U.S. interests. With this understanding of MacArthur, Alexander effectively addressed the politics surrounding the relations between Truman and the “flawed genius.” He paints the Truman administration as one highly criticized by political opponents, that struggled mightily to maintain international credibility, and was considered by most as neophytes of the geopolitical climate in the Far East due to an unwavering focus on Europe and the Soviet Union. These, combined with having to deal with an ego-driven MacArthur with presidential aspirations, made dealing with Korean affairs especially contentious, and underscored the multi-faceted complexities faced by U.S. presidents during war. Although often critical of Truman, Alexander rightfully credits the president with a keen understanding of the realities and horrors of a potential nuclear World War III, an understanding of the importance of relationships within the United Nations and traditional allies, and the courage to recognize and act upon MacArthur’s insubordinate activities and actions even in the face of intense political fallout. Treating all participants objectively, Alexander is equally critical of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ( JCS) and their approach to Far Eastern affairs, their total unpreparedness and surprise by the invasion of North Korea, and their initial unwillingness to confront MacArthur’s supreme persona, especially after Inchon’s success. However, Alexander credits the JCS for finally standing up to the realities of the “flawed genius” in congressional hearings, eventually swaying public opinion and thwarting political intent to use MacArthur as a means of denigrating the president. Given the contentious relationship between MacArthur and Truman, manifest in MacArthur’s public statements causing consternation among allies and blatant disregard for presidential orders, Alexander provides overwhelming evidence as to why MacArthur’s relief was essential. This book provides readers with a valuable narrative of the variables that placed an American president and an insubordinate general on a colliding trajectory the outcome of which affected the geopolitical landscape of the Far East and 115