Quotes Suitable for Framing: William Manchester


He was a thundering paradox of a man, noble and ignoble, inspiring and outrageous, arrogant and shy, the best of men and the worst of men, the most protean, most ridiculous, and most sublime. No more baffling, exasperating soldier ever wore a uniform. Flamboyant, imperious, and apocalyptic, he carried the plumage of a flamingo, could not acknowledge errors, and tried to cover up his mistakes with sly, childish tricks. Yet he was also endowed with great personal charm, a will of iron, and a soaring intellect. Unquestionably he was the most gifted man-at arms- this nation has produced.

William Manchester in a great one paragraph description of Douglas MacArthur, American Caesar

One sure way to get a fight started among American students of military history is to mention Douglas MacArthur.  About 40% will regard him as a vastly overrated egotistical incompetent, and another 40% will regard him as perhaps America’s greatest general.  Twenty percent will try to say that both sides have their points, just before a heated debate begins.  My own perspective is that we are still too close to MacArthur’s stormy time to render a judicious verdict on his career.  MacArthur is both the hero and villain of his biography and it will take generations to sort him out.

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  1. It’s a stretch to call him the greatest American man at arms, in my view. Washington, Lee, Jackson, Patton? All these have better claims. MacArthur has Inchon, and even that was a hell of a gamble that could have ended disastrously if the NOKs had garrisoned and defended the harbor.

  2. MacArthur’s island-hopping campaign in the Pacific was brilliant. He was a great commander, but maybe would have made a greater president. He was a statesman of the first degree. He was the “president” of Japan during the occupation and he never let the Emperor or the Japanese people lose their self-respect or their honor. The Japanese Constitution that he was responsible for was of course modeled on the the US Constitution. He is also a beloved figure in the Philippines, where on his deathbed be begged JFK not to get involved in a land war in Vietnam. Other than Vinegar Joe Stillwell no American knew the Asian people, their history and culture as well as MacArthur.

  3. Sorry, do not trust Manchester, will not read his books. Kennedy hagiographers


    get no patience and neither do people who peddle what smells like autobiographical fiction


    (See a brief commentary on Manchester here: http://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/19/magazine/l-the-bloodiest-battle-887587.html)

  4. I read the book many years ago. Need to agree with the quote.

    He had brains and physical courage. As I remember, before Pershing went in after Pancho Villa, MacArthur and one or two made a “raid” into Mexico through Vera Cruz to recon the RR, etc. Supposedly, he had to smoke a Mexican with his side arm. MacArthur was an outstanding division (I think 42nd Rainbow) commander in WWI. His island hopping in the Pacific was world class. His Inchon end-run and offensive to the Yalu were remarkable.

    Negatives: horrid (he came out of retirement and his troops were unprepared and under-supplied – not his fault) defense of the Philippines in 1941/2 and insubordination (he had been near total ruler in Japan during the occupation) with the CinC: unpardonable (despite the fact that politics essentially are deceit and coercion) in a representative republic. His suppression of the WWI bonus vets in DC was a black mark; he was following orders, still . . . Big negative for me – he pushed real hard to have Gen’l. Yamashita (? who beat him in the Philippines) hanged.

    Maybe his deficiency was in moral courage. Don’t remember that in the book.

    Finally (at last), I don’t think any of his troops (probably nobody in the WWII or after) would say, “I would charge hell itself for that old man.” So, maybe the quote is as much about as as MacArthur.

  5. “Sorry, do not trust Manchester, will not read his books.”

    I never read the Kennedy book Art, although I have read his other books. His volume on MacArthur is the best one volume bio of Mac that I have read, and I have read almost all of them. His two volumes on Churchill pale only when compared to Martin Gilbert’s work.

  6. “It’s a stretch to call him the greatest American man at arms, in my view.”

    Probably, although I would definitely put him in the top twenty.

    “MacArthur has Inchon, and even that was a hell of a gamble that could have ended disastrously if the NOKs had garrisoned and defended the harbor.”

    Gamble is often part of War like Jackson and Lee at Chancellorsville. What gains my admiration is MacArthur the manager. He operated on a logistical shoestring in most of his campaigns and made it look easy, always making effective use of American naval and air superiority. The disaster that ended his career, the Chinese incursion into Korea, would look differently if MacArthur had been left in command to destroy the Chinese as I think he would have accomplished. He had a facility for getting results with minimal forces that is often not appreciated. Yet he had his flaws as a general. He always reacted poorly to surprises and had a talent for alienating talented subordinates while sheltering sycophantic blunderers. When it comes to MacArthur I have long engaged in a debate with myself as to his merits and demerits as a commander.

  7. He was the “president” of Japan during the occupation and he never let the Emperor or the Japanese people lose their self-respect or their honor.

    American Shogun is how he tends to be remembered in Japan. Although it was never built, there was a fair amount of support for a statue to MacArthur in Tokyo with the inscription: General Douglas MacArthur-The Liberator of Japan.

  8. There are serious questions about his defense of the Philippines–foolishly trying to protect every inch of Luzon against invasion, and rapidly failing, then being forced to fall back into the very (Rainbow) plan he rejected–Bataan was the place to fight.
    There are also issues as to why he didn’t go after the Japanese air force stuck in Formosa due to fog, when he knew that only hours earlier, Pearl Harbor had been attacked. It cost us our far-reaching B-17s at Clark Field and ultimately much of the Pacific war.
    His troops in the ill-famed Bataan Death March felt when he left the battle, he deserted them (perhaps unfairly) but the Philippine people loved him.
    Who knows what the end result of his desire to go into Manchuria might have brought?
    His great day was returning to Leyte (the largest invasion in US history–even larger than D-day) but, it was his greatest moment to be on the deck of the US Missouri participating in the signing of the unconditional surrender of Japan.

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