- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Best Defense book reviewer
Fighting for MacArthur: The Navy and Marine Corps’ Desperate Defense of the Philippines by John Gordon arrived mysteriously at my post office box in town yesterday
My quick perusal of the book (which I will begin to read next week in more detail), would be disturbing to anyone had the information it contains been researched and made available while General Douglas MacArthur was still alive, to say nothing of the embarrassment to those that allowed MacArthur to continue to command after such a startling defeat, a road early-on toward that defeat which essentially followed the General’s flawed plans for the defense of the Philippines, in view of the changing situation confronting him.
I should note that the author in his zeal, delves into a lot of minute details that seem to clutter the story he wants to tell, which is primarily about the Navy and Marines role in support of the Army commanded by MacArthur. However, the Army is not overlooked, and the over use of details aside, for anyone interested in historical backdrop surrounding MacArthur, as well as his performance in the Philippines, I would say the book is an important contribution toward such.
Although most know that MacArthur along with his chief of staff Sutherland should have shouldered much of the blame for losing the. What I found intriguing was MacArthur’s early on rosy picture he was painting to Washington, and then later outright lies in message traffic to Marshall who seems to have somewhat taken it all in stride, knowing MacArthur as he did, instead of weighing the evidence provided by a very competent Admiral Thomas Hart who was also sending his candid assessment of the situation to Washington.
Moving along quickly, the author’s research notes that as MacArthur finally, too late in the game began to accept the situation, MacArthur started to scapegoat Hart (whom he pretty much forced into retirement), when in actuality, it was MacArthur that should have "faded away." I had heard about Admiral Hart only peripherally and that he had been fired, only accepting the Admiral’s firing as the way of things in the naval service for those in command that lose. Perhaps it is about time I find out more about this man who seems to have had his finger on the pulse as events were unfolding in the Asian-South Pacific theater even before being attacked in the Philippines, and the measures the Admiral was wisely taking, while the Army was to some degree under MacArthur, not coming to grips with reality that would contribute to disaster later.
Also of interest to me, as Hart early-on understood the desperate time line all forces in the Philippines were facing, the Admiral directed that tunnel construction be sped-up on Corregidor, and began transferring food stocks there 10-days prior to the Army who only then seem to have began facing the reality the Japanese were tightening their hold around the island of Luzon. This action, and other decisions by Hart, along with quick thinking Navy and Marine leaders, would later see the Navy and Marines better fed than the Army as a result. But, would lead to resentment by Army personnel pointing a finger at the Navy as not supporting the effort, not realizing their command had let them down and the Navy had in fact shared much with them early-on prior to the evacuation to Corregidor, to include salvaged weapons and ammunition.
Additionally, the 4th Marine Regiment which had been evacuated from China a few months earlier, started their men on 2-meals a day early-on, and Hart followed with direction for all naval forces to do so also several days later, while the Army continued to chowed-down, which would also contribute to outright starvation during the siege on Corregidor later . . . All the while, MacArthur stunningly only visited up front with his troops once!
To be fair, the book does point-out there was a lot of bad luck, poor equipment in inventory, along with skill training against a war tested Japanese invading force, as well as that fog of war that contributed to the fall of the Philippines. However, my quick thumb through of the book revealed some very facinating messages back to Washington by MacArthur that hindsight aside, would seem to go to the question of the MacArthur’s mental state and his competence as a senior general officer that history really shouldn’t overlook because I believe it goes to MacArthur’s eventual same early attitude toward the unfolding of the situation in Korea that seems to parallel his understanding of the situation around him in the Philippines earlier.
"Tyrtaios" was a professional private who retired from the Corps at the pleasure of the Commandant as a lieutenant colonel.