The Most Dangerous Man in America by Mark Perry, review by Carl Caton
As President-elect in 1932, Franklin Roosevelt, in a comment to an aide, called Douglas MacArthur the most dangerous man in America. What seemed to be an odd statement was borne out, in Roosevelt’s mind, by MacArthur’s complicated characteristics of ambition, ability, ego, and aggressiveness. In his new book The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur, Mark Perry focuses on the MacArthur’s role as America’s architect of victory in the Pacific in World War II and on what he calls the “ delicate political minuet” between MacArthur and Roosevelt as the war progressed.
MacArthur gained fame as a winner of the seven Silver Star medals during the First World War, leading soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force against Germany in France. Later, he served as Superintendent of West Point, the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and then commander of the Philippine Department. Roosevelt’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, named MacArthur as the army chief of staff, a position he retained under Roosevelt. As Chief of Staff under Hoover, MacArthur sullied his reputation by his overly aggressive efforts to remove the so-called Bonus Army from its camp in Washington D.C., where thousands of World War I veterans were protesting for early collection of their promised wartime bonus pensions. Roosevelt kept him as chief of staff so that he could exercise some degree of control over MacArthur, as Roosevelt perceived MacArthur potential challenger for president and a threat to the new Deal policies.
As the world inched toward war in the later 1930s, Roosevelt assigned MacArthur to the position of high commissioner for the US protectorate of the Philippines. Then, shortly before Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt promoted him to Commanding General, US Army Far East. Hours after the attack at Pearl Harbor, failing to ensure dispersal of his warplanes at Manila, MacArthur lost the bulk of his air force, still on the ground, to a Japanese attack. This failure resulted in the retreat of the Philippine and US armed forces to the Bataan Peninsula and the island of Corregidor. MacArthur, ordered by Roosevelt to leave the island by PT boat, left his forces to surrender to the Japanese, vowing “I shall return”.
Perry’s account details the subsequent efforts by MacArthur, in conjunction with the US Navy, first to halt the Japanese onslaught and then to retake control of the Pacific war zone, a deadly and painstaking process of island-hopping toward Japan. Under by the Allied “Europe first” policy, the Pacific forces were hampered by shortages of resources and infighting among the top commanders, a situation encouraged by Roosevelt and Chief of Staff George Marshall, who saw competition among the generals as a way to encourage initiative and success. MacArthur’s strengths as a commander outweighed his faults, and he was eventually to preside over the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
Perry’s book, by concentrating on MacArthur’s role as commander of Pacific forces, provides a detailed and engaging account of both the Pacific war and MacArthur’s leadership, both good and bad. The book ends at Japan’s surrender, leaving the story of MacArthur’s later career to another book. I hope Mark Perry will write it.