Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Greatest Generation Revisited New Histories Take a Mostly Critical Look at Macarthur and an Admiring One at FDR

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Greatest Generation Revisited New Histories Take a Mostly Critical Look at Macarthur and an Admiring One at FDR

Article excerpt

"The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur"

By Mark Perry

Basic Books ($29.99)


By David Kaiser

Basic Books ($27.99)

In late July 1932, presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt was having lunch with his wife, a couple of secretaries and a close adviser. He was interrupted by a phone call from Huey Long, the bombastic and influential populist governor of Louisiana.

Long complained loudly about the treatment of the D.C. Bonus March protesters, suggested how the Democrats should react to forestall a populist uprising, and threatened to withhold his support for FDR if more Democratic campaign money didn't flow south.

After he hung up, Roosevelt sighed that Long was the second most dangerous man in the country. The first, he said, was the army commander who had cleared out the Bonus Marchers so brutally and effectively - Douglas MacArthur.

Roosevelt admired MacArthur's military acumen, so strongly displayed during World War, yet he feared the general's zealotry and relentless politicking over the military budget.

MacArthur worried that New Deal spending would weaken the army, yet acknowledged FDR's political genius and growing popularity. This dance took place during the double crises of depression and war, which only intensified the seriousness of their relationship.

Two new releases from Basic Books show, in different ways and with varying success, how these two men recognized each other's strengths and tried to exploit each other's weaknesses. Most important, the authors expose the byzantine complications of politics, money and international affairs in the run up to the United States' involvement in World War II.

Mr. Perry's "Most Dangerous Man in America" is a highly detailed and compelling examination of MacArthur's career from the 1932 Bonus March savagery to the Japanese surrender on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri in 1945.

MacArthur spent the early 1930s shuttling between the White House and his congressional friends, trying to boost the military budget (specifically the Army's over the Navy's) and building a web of support among politicians and administrators in an attempt to secure his future and the Army's domination of military influence in government policy and funding.

Some congressmen grumbled about the constitutionality of MacArthur meddling in civilian affairs. Mr. Perry expertly shows how immensely difficult and dicey MacArthur's politicking was, both for him and for the military.

Mr. Perry is also careful to discuss MacArthur's subordinates, allies and enemies in great detail. This pleases the professional historian who recognizes the importance of examining complexity, but it might leave the non-specialist wondering why MacArthur himself seems to disappear for pages at a time and why these tangential figures get so much attention.

Mr. Perry's approach, however, is crucial to understanding MacArthur's major role in the Philippines and New Guinea and gives the early years of the Pacific war the analytic texture it deserves. …

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