The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War (Hardcover)

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After VJ and VE days in 1945, the world was tossed into uneasy peace.  Japan was in ruins -- ripe for picking by either the Russians or the Chinese.  And in Europe, once again, the carcases of losers were being picked over by various allies.  FDR had died -- launching a reluctant Harry Truman to a front row seat.  Yes, victory was in the air... but perilous pitfalls laid ahead.

 

Truth be told, Truman obsessed with Europe.  The Marshall Plan there was playing a part to preserve democracy in the region.  The Kremlin was eyeballing Iran.  Greece and Turkey were in play.  China fell to the communists.  Meanwhile, a lone ranger, General Douglas MacArthur, took up residence in Tokyo to craft parameters for peace in Japan -- without instructions from anyone.

 

Yes, MacArthur was brilliant.  And a military leader par none.  But as put by a compatriot, General Omar Bradley, "MacArthur was a megalomaniac."  (Ouch!)  Bradley would say, "he held an obsession for self-glorification and a contempt for the judgment of his superiors".  Sounds like a great team player, huh?

 

So, here's Truman, trying to juggle the global and domestic pieces on a chess board where the squares are in constant motion.  While MacArthur -- wildly popular as a great American hero -- began careening like a loose canon across the Pacific.  In a matter of time, dominoes looked like they were falling, as some said.  Kim Il Sung (Un's grandfather) decided it would be lovely to attack South Korea -- probably getting approval from Stalin.  One thing led to another and Field Commander MacArthur had himself another opportunity to shun peace and bloody some bastards.

 

On one hand, Truman -- working with the fledgling United Nations -- wanted to avoid WWIII.  MacArthur wanted to take it to The Reds -- once and for all.  MacArthur there, in the thick of it.  He was bigger than life.  (Just ask him!)  He'd teach those commies.  And he'd ram his way right down their throats -- with a touch of theatrics that would put Shakespeare to shame.

 

So an unfortunate Korean War waged on.  Truman, the State and Defense Departments, not to mention the Chiefs of Staff voiced contrary directives.  MacArthur basically did whatever he wanted to.  Disagreements stayed sub rosa, until Truman finally pulled the plug -- to a firestorm from an adoring public.  Politics were only about 1/2 inch below the surface of actions by a partisan Congress.  Truman survived, but decided not to run for another term.  And the world bumped along into The Cold War and all the inanity we see today as the West frays from the East.  (You might ask, "Why can't we all just get along?")

 

Could we have descended into redeployment of our potent nuclear weapons?  How close to triggering WWIII were we?  Were we simply dancing with appeasement -- while the communists were eating our lunch?  Say hello Joseph McCarthy!   The author, H.W. Brands, does a fine job of driving us through the dark days that should have been nothing but rosy as our troops returned from the horrors of war.  And here we are.  Quite a bit different.  But quite a bit the same.

 

— Bob Wells

Yes, MacArthur was brilliant.  And a military leader par none.  But as put by a compatriot, General Omar Bradley, "MacArthur was a megalomaniac."  (Ouch!)  Bradley would say, "he held an obsession for self-glorification and a contempt for the judgment of his superiors".  Sounds like a great team player, huh?
 
So, here's Truman, trying to juggle the global and domestic pieces on a chess board where the squares are in constant motion.  While MacArthur -- wildly popular as a great American hero -- began careening like a loose canon across the Pacific.  In a matter of time, dominoes looked like they were falling, as some said.  Kim Il Sung (Un's grandfather) decided it would be lovely to attack South Korea -- probably getting approval from Stalin.  One thing led to another and Field Commander MacArthur had himself another opportunity to shun peace and bloody some bastards.
 
On one hand, Truman -- working with the fledgling United Nations -- wanted to avoid WWIII.  MacArthur wanted to take it to The Reds -- once and for all.  MacArthur there, in the thick of it.  He was bigger than life.  (Just ask him!)  He'd teach those commies.  And he'd ram his way right down their throats -- with a touch of theatrics that would put Shakespeare to shame.
 
So an unfortunate Korean War waged on.  Truman, the State and Defense Departments, not to mention the Chiefs of Staff voiced contrary directives.  MacArthur basically did whatever he wanted to.  Disagreements stayed sub rosa, until Truman finally pulled the plug -- to a firestorm from an adoring public.  Politics were only about 1/2 inch below the surface of actions by a partisan Congress.  Truman survived, but decided not to run for another term.  And the world bumped along into The Cold War and all the inanity we see today as the West frays from the East.  (You might ask, "Why can't we all just get along?")
 
Could we have descended into redeployment of our potent nuclear weapons?  How close to triggering WWIII were we?  Were we simply dancing with appeasement -- while the communists were eating our lunch?  Say hello Joseph McCarthy!   The author, H.W. Brands, does a fine job of driving us through the dark days that should have been nothing but rosy as our troops returned from the horrors of war.  And here we are.  Quite a bit different.  But quite a bit the same.

— From Bob's Book Talk

Description


From master storyteller and historian H. W. Brands comes the riveting story of how President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur squared off to decide America's future in the aftermath of World War II.

At the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way.
     Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. Heir to a struggling economy, a ruined Europe, and increasing tension with the Soviet Union, on no issue was the path ahead clear and easy. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The lessons he drew from World War II were absolute: appeasement leads to disaster and a showdown with the communists was inevitable--the sooner the better. In the nuclear era, when the Soviets, too, had the bomb, the specter of a catastrophic third World War lurked menacingly close on the horizon.
     The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. From the drama of Stalin's blockade of West Berlin to the daring landing of MacArthur's forces at Inchon to the shocking entrance of China into the war, The General and the President vividly evokes the making of a new American era.

About the Author


H. W. BRANDS holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin. A New York Times bestselling author, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography for The First American and Traitor to His Class.

Praise For…


"The General vs. The President is that rare military chronicle that becomes an instant page-turning classic."
San Antonio Express-News

"Fast-paced, dramatic, and amply illustrates why Truman’s stock has been on the rise in recent decades."
Boston Globe

"A vivid accounting of an event that was, on the surface, a personality conflict between two strong-minded figures and, at the bottom, a courageous act that solidified civilian authority over the military in wartime."
Dallas Morning News

"Brands spikes the shadowboxing between [Truman and MacArthur] with vivid dispatches from the battlefield that give his tale a get-along kick."
TIME

"A highly readable take on the clash of two titanic figures in a period of hair-trigger nuclear tensions . . . History offers few antagonists with such dramatic contrasts, and Brands brings these two to life."
Los Angeles Times
 
“Two American heroes tested and tried at their most inspired hours . . . An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Product Details
ISBN: 9780385540575
ISBN-10: 0385540574
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: October 11th, 2016
Pages: 448
Language: English