ISBN: 64-22955 (Library of Congress Catalog Card Number)
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 31 Aug 2006
Not too many officers in the history of professional armies had a career as illustrious as Douglas MacArthur. Written in his own words without the assistance of a ghost writer, Reminiscences was MacArthur's memoir that spanned decades of American history.
The flow of the book was typical of any memoir, and probably would not be worthwhile to discuss in depth and risk spoiling details for those not familiar with his life and career. Not unlike memoirs and other autobiographical works of other prominent military figures at the time, Reminiscences began with anecdotes of his childhood, experiences at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and memories of wars. However, as one flips through the book quickly, the realization of the length of his career would quickly come to mind. Between 1903 when he joined the Corps of Engineers as a junior officer and when he return from Japan in 1951, he served in regional conflicts such as the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1914 to global wars such as WW2. His dabble into politics also set his career apart from his peers. Although he never held office, repercussions of his political decisions rivaled any American president. The reform of Japan opened the gate for war-torn Japan to once again rise, this time economically, as a global power. His recommendations to open talks with Russia at the early phases of the Pacific War, as well as his personal diplomatic negotiations with Australia, crossed the distinct line between a soldier and a statesman. The trial of Tomoyuki Yamashita, too, set a legal precedence that held military brass fully accountable for the actions of men of even the lowest ranks. In this book, the reader would acquire a first-person view of how and why the decisions were made.
As a man in such an influential position, MacArthur could not help but become a controversial figure. Particularly during the later half of his career, he found himself at the spotlight in the world theater. While statements out of his large ego had become rather repetitive by the end of the book, his unrelenting and unquestioning patriotism continued to inspire until the last word. That was how he closed the book, too. The final pages of the book came in the form of his Duty-Honor-Country speech for the West Point cadets during his May 1962 visit, dramatically bringing his fiery patriotism to a climax in the final three pages of the book. While a soldier by profession, literature was an interest of his, and the usage of a powerful speech to close out the book was only one of the many literary highlights found in this memoir that was not easy to find in the works of his peers.
His relationships with prominent figures such as Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall, and Franklin Roosevelt were almost soap opera of sorts in mass media. However, if the reader sought to find his personal comments regarding these topics in this book, disappointment might be in the store. If there was one word to describe his descriptions on these relationships, that word would likely be "whitewashed." He denied outright the rumors of his distrust of naval top brass and the political tension with Roosevelt. His jealousy of Eisenhower, a formal subordinate his at Philippines who eventually rose above him to become his superior was absent from the book. Only his frustrations with Truman and his administration was written in depth, noting his astonishment that, for the first time in American history, United States was fighting a war the she had no intention of winning. Even despite the frustrations, however, MacArthur avoided using direct language to attack Truman who he considered a poor president in terms of international (particularly military) policies.
Quotations from correspondences were used heavily in Reminiscences, providing primary documents that could not be easily found elsewhere. Throughout the book, MacArthur adopted a style where he would briefly mention that he had received support for a certain action, and an asterisk would lead the reader to, if the reader opted, look at the footer for contents of the correspondences. The correspondences often came from important figures such as Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and Lord Admiral Mountbatten. Citations for awards and medals, which were aplenty throughout his career, were also presented much the same way. Many critics of MacArthur reported that the selection of correspondences and citations reflected the megalomania MacArthur suffered. While one cannot deny that truth in that criticism, one must also attempt to understand that it was the very same ego that got him where he was. He was a figure who was bigger than life itself, and it took the kind of confidence (or, arrogance) to become such the person who could define the course of human history. After all, as one who had always stressed the importance of the Pacific defense but unfortunately only to deaf ears, MacArthur in a way earned his bragging rights.
The only complaint that one might had would be the lack of a true reflection of MacArthur on the figures he might not had enjoyed working with. Similarly, major episodes of his life that were not-so-glorious, such as the unpreparedness at Philippines, were skipped over, leading to accusations of his gigantic ego. For more information on these shortcomings of the book, other works such as William Manchester's American Caesar provided those missing pieces.
Overall, Reminiscences was not only a book worth reading, but it should probably be required for those who are interested in the Pacific War or the political tension immediately following WW2. When used beside other works on MacArthur, Reminiscences truly becomes a book brings to light insight that could not otherwise be acquired.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939