American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 – 1964

I read this when it first came out in 1978:

* Neither recognized that patriotism, vitiated by the growing global diaspora, has become parochial, a tarnished, disappearing virtue. Toynbee held that the concept of the nation-state began to decline in the 1870s, before either Truman or MacArthur had been born. To Toynbee, nationalism was “a sour ferment of the new wine of democracy in the old bottles of tribalism.” Since the Korean War, it has become clear that mankind is slowly becoming soberer, that the Germans, for example, are less Teutonic, the English less British, the French less Gallic—that chauvinism is on the way out everywhere except among the newest of the underdeveloped nations, where it is recognized as a sign of immaturity.

* It is, of course, less famous. That may be attributed to a curious principle which seems to guide those who write of titanic battles. The higher the casualty lists, it appears—the vaster the investment in blood—the greater the need to justify them. Thus the dead are honored by hallowing the names of the places where they fell; thus writers enshrine in memory the Verduns, the Passchendaeles, the Tarawas, and the Dunkirks, while neglecting decisive struggles in which the loss of life was small. At the turn of the eighteenth century Marlborough led ten successful, relatively bloodless, campaigns on the Continent, after which he was hounded into exile by his political enemies. In World War I Douglas Haig butchered the flower of British youth in the Somme and Flanders without winning a single victory. He was raised to the peerage and awarded £100,000 by a grateful Parliament. Every American child learns in school how Jackson’s brigade stood like a stone wall against the river of gore at Bull Run, but only the most dedicated Civil War buffs know how, husbanding his strength, he flashed up and down the Shenandoah Valley in 1862 with brilliantly diversionary tactics, preventing the dispatch of reinforcements to McClellan, who, had he had them, would have taken Richmond. Similarly, in World War II Salerno and Peleliu are apotheosized, though neither contributed to the defeat of Germany and Japan, while the capture of Ulithi, one of the Pacific’s finest anchorages, which was essential for the invasion of Okinawa, is unsung because the enemy had evacuated it and the landing was therefore unopposed. So it is with Hollandia, where, once again, MacArthur ignored the advice of his officers.

* At about the same time, buzz began circulating that his chief of staff was sleeping with a beautiful mistress from Melbourne. That was true. Her husband, an Australian officer, was fighting in the Middle East. Dr. Egeberg recalls that she had “fucked her way to the top.” Apparently she never slept with enlisted men, but she did start with junior officers and was promoted through the field grades, so to speak, until she reached Sutherland, who commissioned her as a WAC captain. She wasn’t the only woman in Hollandia—Kenney and Dick Marshall had secretaries from down under—but unlike the others, she lacked office skills. She couldn’t type, take dictation, or even file reports. “Sutherland was screwing the socks off her every night,” a member of his staff says, “and we didn’t know what else to do with her, so we made her a receptionist.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in America. Bookmark the permalink.