- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I finally forced myself to read Douglas MacArthur’s Reminiscences. What a weird book — and man. Big Mac appears to have kept every complimentary note ever sent him, and reprinted most of them in this memoir.
The book, which is far worse than Mark Clark’s memoir, also confirms my feeling that MacArthur believed that reality was whatever he said it was, such as his claim in 1951 to have been as subordinate as any soldier in American history — this after bucking three presidents in a row. Or, as he delicately phrases his situational approach, "The comments are my own and show how I saw the matters treated of, whether others saw them in the same light or not."
The sentence in the book that begs the most questions is this: "In February 1922 I entered into matrimony, but it was not successful, and ended in divorce years later for mutual incompatibility." Nothing more. All I can think is that he put this in so that people couldn’t say he failed to mention his failed marriage.
There is one interesting passage in the book, about his confrontation with FDR early in that man’s presidency over the Army budget:
I spoke recklessly and said something to the general effect that when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt.
He goes on to write that FDR upbraided him for talking that way to the president, and that MacArthur apologized, and then went outside and vomited on the steps of the White House.
All this makes me glad MacArthur took no. 1 in my informal poll of the worst American generals.
Worse may lay ahead. I’ve just started the memoir of MacArthur sycophant Courtney Whitney. So far lots of talk about "Roosevelt apologists."