American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964

Author: William Manchester
ISBN: 0-316-54498-1
Reviewer: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 7 Aug 2005

American Caesar was one of those books that once you pick it up, you will find yourself flipping through pages deep into the night. Without keeping any suspense, I will flat out say that it was easily among one of the best books I have read.

The author William Manchester had done an exhaustive research on Douglas MacArthur for this book, detailing every event from his birth at an army fort through his funeral; the bibliography section of the book alone was twenty pages long. The facts dug as deep as the fact that Sarah Barney Belcher of Taunton, Massachusetts was a common ancestor of Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt. However, Manchester did not capture readers by merely loading his book with facts. Instead, he captivated readers with his beautiful narratives. Under his penmanship, the horrors of WW1 trench warfare came alive with two simple description sentences at the beginning of chapter two:

"In 1917 France's most striking geographic feature was a double chain of snakelike trenches which began on the English Channel and ended 466 miles away on the Swiss border. Facing one another across the no-man's-land between these earthworks, the great armies squatted on the western front amid the stench of urine, feces, and decaying flesh, living troglodytic lives in candlelit dugouts and sandbagged ditches hewn from Fricourt chalk or La Bassée clay, or scoopoed from the porridge of swampy Flanders."

What Manchester was most notably successful with this book was the smooth interaction between minute details with the big picture, leaving the reader in complete understanding of how seemingly small events weaved into the fabric of MacArthur's life. MacArthur was one of the most controversial public figures of the 20th century, and Manchester succeeded in explaining how each step he had taken in his life developed his unique personality, and in turn how his personality shaped the modern history of Asia and the United States. However, by my observation by the end of the book Manchester had become so much a worshipful fan of MacArthur that as the book went on, critiques of MacArthur appeared less and less. When critiques were included, they often only appeared in form of a small-fonted footnote.

Nevertheless, Manchester's writing alone was worth the time I invested in reading this 700-page volume. Reading about his tenure in WW1 and WW2, I found myself cheering for him in his ventures. When as a general he walked the frontlines in the path of danger, my heartbeats skipped a beat whenever a sniper's scope came near him. By the time he was fired because of the initial American losses at the Korean War, I became enraged over the SCAP becoming the scapegoat for Washington's lack of intelligence on China. When MacArthur tearfully told the people of Philippines that in his old age he could no longer promise again "I shall return", I too became teary-eyed alongside of the Filipino people who listened to their savior with watery eyes. Finally, when I finished reading the last word of the last chapter, I closed American Caesar and wept as if I had lost a lifelong friend. Manchester gets a perfect 10 out of 10 from me for being able to write a book that not only accurately depicts the life of Douglas MacArthur but also being able to reach out and touch me emotionally through the book.

Pick it up, and you will see why it is no surprise that American Caesar was a #1 Best Seller.



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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Ed Parmenter says:
    15 Jun 2009 02:36:13 PM

    While I agree that it is a great work, there are at least nine place where what he writes is in error. One of the most obvious of those is on page 465 where he writes that "over two million homes had been destroyed by fleets of LeMay-General LeMay spent all of WW II in Europe, and did not become commander of the Strategic Air Command until 1948!
    He makes other statements, which a little research will prove are false or based on other works which make spurious statements.
    One of those is the reference on page 322 about threatening General Eichelberger with demotion to Colonel. Absolute prevarication as Eichelberger was a permanent Brigadier General with a temporary rank of Major General. He would have had to undergo a Courts Martial and be convicted before being reduced and a charge serious enough to warrant that would have resulted in loss of all rank and his being removed from the Army with NO benefits from his service!
  2. EM Salvato says:
    30 Jun 2009 02:05:01 AM

    With all due respect to Ed Parmenter, Gen. LeMay did not spend his entire time in Europe. When the B-29s entered service they originally had to launch from China to hit Japan. The XX Bomber Command was suffering huge losses (as much due to poor doctrine as to enemy action) and LeMay was sent to correct thes problems. Starting in 1944, LeMay used his XX and XXI Bomber commands from Tinian and Guam to incinerate Japanese cities where war production had been farmed out as a cottage industry. As for Gen. Echelberger, true he was a permanant Brig Gen, but MacArthur was given to grand statements to get his point across to subordinates. Remember on Buna when he told the commander to "return victorious or don't return". Gen MacArthur was a force of nature and history the likes our people shall unfortunately never see again. Gen Eichelberger probably believed MacArthur(who had been previously the longest serving Chief Of Staff of the Army) as being quite capable of reducing him to colonel.
    ES
  3. dieseltaylor says:
    2 Nov 2010 03:38:42 AM

    EM Salvato _ I think what Ed quoted is the point, you and he agree. Unfortunately Ed omitted the end quotation marks so it is confusing.

    BTW Ed I think you mean "fabrication" rather than prevarication.

    I have not read the Manchester book but I have read other peoples views and he comes across as being slightly mad. And possibly less than honourable in taking a large cash sum from the Phillipine President.
  4. Anonymous says:
    1 Jan 2013 08:56:56 AM

    Filipinos suffered a lot because of McArthur's stupidity.

    1.As USAFFE Commander he had a formidable airforce capable of destroying **** Airbases in Taiwan. He had a lead time of 8 hours after Pearl Harbor but he was technically AWOL to order a preemptive atack. The result? 85 percent of his strategic bombers and fighter planes are destroyed in a single day!
    2. He had a total of 120,000 infantry (30,000 US Army Soldiers and 90,000 ROTC conscripts) divided into 3 Commands in Luzon. When Homma lands in Lingayen and Lamon Bay with only 40,000 troops, he does the incredible and activates Oplan Orange 3!
    Concentrate all forces to Bataan and leave them there to be annehilated. He left his command and escaped on a PT Boat! Homma thought he was dealing with a small force and got the surprise of his life when a total of 85,000 USAFFE troops surrendered in Bataan and Corrigidor.

    3. When he returned to the Philippines, the 8th Army finds Manila defended by 20,000 badly equipped Japanese Marine fanatics who swore to defend it to the last man. At about this time McArthur was busy preparing for a grand celebration. To prevent losses and win quickly, he lets the 8th Army bombard Manila with artillery and Tank Fire 24 hours a day for 3 straight days, even though they knew that it had a population of 1 million. The result, more than 100,000 Filipinos died and they blame the **** for massacring them! Nearly all the structures in Manila had been turned into ruins. They could just have laid seige...with no water and food, the **** could have easily been taken out after one month with minimal fighting!


  5. Anonymous says:
    16 Apr 2013 02:10:14 PM

    I understand that manila was a city of great architectural beauty,so much so that the Japanese general ordered it be saved.A younger commander disobeyed the order...of the two,who is the braver? Who is the hero? Who does society celebrate?

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