Best Defense
Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Worst military memoir ever?

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 ...

army.mil

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.

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."

Thomas 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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

A photo illustration shows Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden posing on pedestals atop the bipolar world order, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Russian President Vladamir Putin standing below on a gridded floor.
A photo illustration shows Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden posing on pedestals atop the bipolar world order, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Russian President Vladamir Putin standing below on a gridded floor.

No, the World Is Not Multipolar

The idea of emerging power centers is popular but wrong—and could lead to serious policy mistakes.

A view from the cockpit shows backlit control panels and two pilots inside a KC-130J aerial refueler en route from Williamtown to Darwin as the sun sets on the horizon.
A view from the cockpit shows backlit control panels and two pilots inside a KC-130J aerial refueler en route from Williamtown to Darwin as the sun sets on the horizon.

America Prepares for a Pacific War With China It Doesn’t Want

Embedded with U.S. forces in the Pacific, I saw the dilemmas of deterrence firsthand.

The Chinese flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics at Beijing National Stadium on Feb. 4, 2022.
The Chinese flag is raised during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics at Beijing National Stadium on Feb. 4, 2022.

America Can’t Stop China’s Rise

And it should stop trying.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on prior a meeting with European Union leaders in Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, on June 16, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on prior a meeting with European Union leaders in Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, on June 16, 2022.

The Morality of Ukraine’s War Is Very Murky

The ethical calculations are less clear than you might think.