by RICHARD E. DANIELSON
UNDER the stress and tensions of the cold war in the West, the hot war in the East, and the word war in Washington, many Americans are thinking in military terms and about military men, our leaders in World War II. Some of these have died or been retired; others may bo called upon again to lead troops in action or to decide great problems of strategy. A natural curiosity drives us to wonder how these leaders rose to high command, upon what principles they reached their decisions, how fairly they have been praised or blamed.
Fortunately our generals have not been silent. A respectable throng of them, with or without literary assistance from the world of the shades, have told us much about the war and themselves. General Siilwell’s posthumous and salty papers described the vacillations of our policy in China in no uncertain terms. General Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe inspired or reinforced the public’s admiration for his personality and his ability as a Supreme Commander. General Mark W. Clark in Calculated Risk added to his already considerable stature. There were General Eiehelberger’s excellent Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, and General Brereton’s book, and General Arnold’s book — and how many others. Seldom have warriors in what we call, in dreary gobbledygook, the “higher echelons” been so prompt to hurl away their crossbows and scimitars and start typewriting with one or two fingers.
Now we welcome two more — A Soldier’s Story by General Omar X. Bradley (Holt, $5.00)1, and The MacArthur I Know by General George C. Kenney (Duell, Sloan & Pearce, $2.75), By the time this article appears a considerable section of the American public will be already familiar with at least those portions of General Bradley’s story which were published in Life magazine. Among the more than 5 million purchasers of Life there must be some who do more than look at t he pictures. Mr. Luce’s staff of learned clerks who write those hardhitting editorials must believe with some justification that a percentage of their followers are at least literate, even if they prefer the pleasures of the eye to the sterner and more tedious processes of the mind. Otherwise, why write the editorials?
However, I think that General Bradley’s book should be read in its entirety rather than in morsels if one is to understand how carefully constructed a book it is, how wise and reasonable. Otherwise a reader may be disturbed by superficial blemishes or incongruities which in the full import and importance of the book may be forgotten or ignored. For instance, it disturbs me every time so schoolmast erish-looking a gentleman as General Bradley finds it expedient to use the phrase “helluva" or “sonuva" followed by an appropriate noun. It is as it the late Calvin Coolidge had at tempted in a fit of whimsy to cut a caper. But these lapses from the high seriousness of history are small matters compared with the essential honesty and dignity of this narrative. In his Preface, General Bradley states the purposes behind this book: —
“To explain how war is waged on the field from the field command post. For, it is there, midway between the conference table and the foxhole, that strategy is translated into battlefield tactics; there the field commander must calculate the cost of rivers, roads, and hills in terms of guns, tanks, tonnage — and most importantly in terms of the lives and limbs of his soldiers. How, then, did we reach our critical decisions? Why and how did we go where we did? These are the questions I have been asked most often. . . .
“Despite the enormous quantities of documentation available to historians of this last World War, the real reasons behind many of our decisions are comparatively obscure. For many of our most important moves were decided upon at informal conferences where no memoranda were kept. Many of the most important instructions were given over the telephone. . . .
“To tell the story of how and why we chose to do what we did, no one can ignore the personalities and characteristics of those individuals engaged in making decisions. For military command is as much a pract ice of human relations as it is a science of tactics and a knowledge of logistics. Where there are people, there is pride and ambition, prejudice and conflict. In generals, as in all other men, capabilities cannot always obscure weaknesses, nor can talents hide faults.”
It is probable that to most lay readers the discussion of personalities and human relations under the pressures of war will be more interesting than the technical matters of logistics or calculated risks. If so, there is ample material in General Bradley’s book for much pro-and-conning. lie writes about his fellow soldiers with frankness, stating his opinions with candor and giving the reasons for them with a calm impersonality which shows no rancor but withholds no suitable comment or necessary clarification. On such controversial subjects as his relieving Generals Terry Allen and Theodore Roosevelt of their respective commands, he gives full credit to the abilities of these fighting generals, but he explains that I heir Division had gol out of hand, that il had come to feel that the ordinary rules and disciplines did not apply to it, that it was, in short, too big for its breeches and something — no matter how unpopular — had to be done about it. So he did it and the result—after much recrimination— was successful and, in a military sense, satisfactory.
In the case of his celebrated controversy with Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, he states his case with no personal animosity but with a proper warmth. There was a clear difference of opinion between them, and General Bradley, particularly at the time of t he Battle of the Bulge, thought that Montgomery had been unfair in his allusions to the American troops, had exaggerated his own part in the battle, and had snaffled an American Army into his command which was withheld from Bradley’s group longer than necessity demanded. General Bradley, however, admired Montgomery as a soldier and he writes of this incident: “I am quite certain he never knew just how exasperated we had become, for our persona! association continued cordially throughout the war with never a mention of the fracas.” “Military science,” he says elsewhere, “is not an absolute science; it is incapable of absolute judgment on what may be right or wrong. My assertions are statements of opinion, they can be challenged and they undoubtedly will be challenged. If, however, we can profit from such post mortem exchanges of military opinion, the arguments that such criticism evokes will be worth the storm.”
If, in such matters, he states his case with conviction and arrives at calm, measured conclusions, he is equally clear in his estimates of men’s characters and personalities. Always prompt to give credit for achievement or constructive personal qualities, he judges a soldier as a soldier and as a man. Thus he writes in the Preface about General Patton: —
“I may offend those who prefer to remember Patton not as a human being but as a heroic-size statue in a public park. I prefer to remember Pal ton as a man, as a man with all the frailties and faults of a human being, as a man whose greatness is therefore all the more of a triumph.”
Indeed, Patton irritated, amused, and at times confused him. His flamboyance, the cavalier way in which he often ignored essential logistics, his way of acting first and thinking afterwards, were exactly the reverse of General Bradley’s orderly and deliberate habit. On one of the earliest pages of the book we read: “Precisely at seven Patton boomed in to breakfast. IIis vigor was always infectious, his wit barbed, his conversation a mixture of obscenity and good humor. He was at once stimulating and overbearing. George was a magnificent soldier and a vain man.”
This sounds highly critical, but as the story develops we find that Patton’s greatness is fully appreciated and that his foibles are treated in the kindliest fashion. He was not at his best in North Africa and he was at his worst in Sicily, but in France and Germany he was at the full tide of his genius, “a magnificent soldier.” Patton’s friendship and above all his loyally, first as Bradley’s commander and later as his subordinate, are st ressed again a nd again. If I hey were temperamentally far apart, they nevertheless were close friends and effective associates in a great team.
Of General Bradley’s own abilities as the Commander of a Corps, an Army, and a Group of Armies there can be no dispute. They were demonstrated to the sat isfact ion of everyone — except the Italians and the Germans. He met an ever increasing burden of responsibility with professional competence, a wise judgment, and that inner strength which derives from a character founded on self-discipline. It will be a satisfaction to his admirers that he has written his story so clearly and so well in perhaps the best book the war has produced. It should be a satisfaction to all Americans that a poor boy from a small country town could, as the result of an almost accidental appointment to the Military Academy, rise in due season to the command of a group of armies in the greatest of all wars.
If I may quote again from the author’s Preface, and I do so because he describes his effort — so nobly achieved — better than I can, he says: —
“This is the story of a war fought six years ago, unleavened with the passing of time, unseasoned by hindsight judgments. I have tried to tell the story as we lived it, with the prejudices, the obstinacy, the pride, the vanity, and the sensitivity that afflicted us at that time. To avoid falling into the trap of self-justification, I have deliberately refrained from reading any of the books (hat have been published so far on World War II.”
General Kenney’s The MacArthur I Know is a timely, friendly, and candid appreciation of that great soldier and proconsul. His book begins: —
“Before the reader gets too far along in this book, I believe I should warn him that I am a MacArthur man. I think that I know General Douglas MacArt hur as well as anyone does, except of course Jean his wife. I admire him professionally, I like him personally, and I value him as a friend. I consider him one of our greatest statesmen and leaders, and the best general that this country has ever produced. . . .
“However, I think that I can look at MacArthur objectively. He is a superior individual, but he is human and therefore not perfect. lie has faults, although many of the characteristics that people criticize appeal to me more than the characters of his critics. very few people really know Douglas MacArthur. Those who do, or who think they do, either admire him or dislike him. They are never neutral on the subject.”
General Kenney commanded the Air Force in MacArthur’s Pacific campaigns, and from their first conversation in Australia he discovered that he was a MacArthur admirer, and he never had cause to change his opinion. It was fun, he says, to work with Douglas MacArthur. In this book he discusses the General’s career, his amazing record at West Point, his achievements in World War I, as chief of Staff, and in the Philippines; he retells the story of Bataan and Corregidor and all the long Southvest Pacific campaign up to the surrender in Tokyo Bay. He discusses at some length the General’s administration in Japan. And, if he is consistently pro-MacArthur, his book is nevertheless a good and intimate biography of an extraordinary All or almost all of his factual story is already on the record. The value of the book lies in the intimate touches, the sidelights, the small pertinent facts which the public does not know. He tells the scandalmongers and the slander peddlers just how and why they are liars. The “Dugout Doug” lads who intimated that the General lacked physical courage are treated most faithfully by General Kenney. He goes so far as to demonstrate that MacArthur does not wear a wig or dye his hair. No criticism of his commander is too small to escape his at tent ion.
On the other hand he does try to be objective. He concedes that it is more than possible to dislike the General. His had press he attributes largely to incompetent public relations officers, but some of it as due to personal qualities which offend many people. In short General MacArthur is human and has some of the defects of his qualities.
General Kenney takes up with frankness some of the incidents for which General MacArthur has been criticized — for example, the fact that the American planes at Manila were destroyed on the ground after due warning had been received of the attack in Pearl Harbor. On the whole, in this and other instances, his defense is skillful and effective. He writes in an easy, unaffected style which is nev er ponderous.
Toward the end of the book he asks and answers two questions about “one of the most controversial characters of all times.” They are: —
“Has Douglas MacArthur served his country well ?
“My answer is yes and I believe the record will support me.
“Has Douglas MacArthur been motivated by personal ambitions or by patriotism?
“To my mind, few men have been more selfless in service to their country regardless of (he effect of their act ions on their own personal fortunes.”
And that’s General Kenney on General MacArt hur. Which does not prove to those who believe in discipline that he should not have been relieved of his command.
- A long, generous book of 554 pages,, with pertinent illustrations and excellent maps.↩