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

By Fontenot, Gregory | Military Review, September-October 2014 | Go to article overview

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


Fontenot, Gregory, Military Review


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

Mark Perry, Basic Books, New York, 2014, 416 pages, $29.99

Mark Perry's efforts as an author reflect eclectic interests ranging from accounts of terrorism and the collection of intelligence to the remarkable account of Mark Twain's assistance to Ulysses S. Grant as the ailing president wrote his autobiography. The Most Dangerous Man in America is his ninth book. It is a first-rate account of complex relationships between the men who waged war in the Pacific and the key policy makers at the top in Washington. However, it is not truly a biography of MacArthur as the title implies.

The Most Dangerous Man begins with a vignette in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a conversation with an associate, describes Huey Long as the second most dangerous man in America. When asked if Long was second, who then was the most dangerous, Roosevelt responded, "Huey is only second. The first is Douglas MacArthur"

Perry's book is not about MacArthur as much as it is about Roosevelt and MacArthur. The careers of these two great men ran together beginning in the 1930s when MacArthur served as chief of staff of the Army and beyond Roosevelt's death. (MacArthur presided over Japan's surrender, served as proconsul in Japan, and led U.S. forces in Korea because Roosevelt had made it so.)

They were closely involved but not close. Roosevelt and MacArthur thrust, parried, and counterthrust at each other for more than a dozen years. In fact, they needed and warily respected each other even if their outward cordiality was just for show. The relationship was uneven. Roosevelt stuck by MacArthur who never rewarded the President with any genuine personal loyalty. For his part, MacArthur seems to have understood that in FDR he had met his match.

Perry, to his credit, stays out of the story. He is more circumspect about MacArthur than some other biographers. Clearly he respects the general's achievements but sees MacArthur's dark side. Capable of petty complaints and bitter personal enmity, MacArthur also proved susceptible to sycophants. Perry sees this but illustrates that all of the protagonists who made national security policy in Washington and waged war in the Pacific had their foibles. He believes that Douglas MacArthur deserves to be remembered as a brilliant operational commander capable, despite his many shortcomings, of forming effective teams of diverse partners. In many ways, MacArthur set the standard in World War II for mounting truly effective joint operations. He found ways, despite bickering with Nimitz and King, to work effectively with the Navy and with the sometimes fractious Army Air Force.

In the end, he worked well with Adm. Nimitz, Adm. Spruance, Adm. Halsey, and Adm. Kinkaid. Kinkaid, who served as MacArthur's maritime component commander, became an admirer. MacArthur had an equally close relationship with then Maj. Gen. George Kenney, who commanded his air component. Apparently shocked into indolence, MacArthur's performance in the early days of World War II could well have led to his relief. Instead Roosevelt and Marshal, both derided by MacArthur in private, stood by him. MacArthur's subsequent actions justified their support. …

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