April 2017 Book Reviews
Expand Equal Opportunity
MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific. Walter R. Borneman. Little, Brown and Co. 608 pages. $30
By Col. Cole C. Kingseed
U.S. Army retired
Three-quarters of a century since the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, Gen. Douglas MacArthur remains one of the war’s most controversial figures. There is simply no middle ground when it comes to examining the Far Eastern commander. Said Australian Gen. Thomas Blamey, who served under MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific Theater, “The best and the worst things you hear about him are both true.”
In MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific, renowned military historian and award-winning author Walter R. Borneman portrays the general, warts and all. MacArthur is “a study in contradictions, capable of inspiring the very best in some men, but also opening himself to ridicule and even inspiring hatred in others,” Borneman writes.
In the time-honored fashion of most warriors, MacArthur claimed to eschew electoral politics, but behind the scenes he was adroit in political manipulation and personal persuasion, so much so that in the early 1930s, then-presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt labeled the then-Army chief of staff as “one of the two most dangerous men in the country.”
Borneman later dedicates a complete chapter to MacArthur’s presidential ambitions in 1944. Though MacArthur repeatedly stated he was neither a candidate for the executive office nor would he seek the nomination, Borneman ponders the question: “But would he accept it?”
“Say what you might say about Douglas MacArthur as a man or a general, this foray into presidential politics—and there would be others to come—was nurtured by MacArthur’s lesser qualities,” Borneman writes. “It was not his finest hour. His vanity, conceit and selfishness were on graphic display, and they motivated his actions.”
MacArthur at War, however, is a story of MacArthur in World War II. In examining his subject’s role in the war in the Pacific, Borneman divides his biography into five time periods: escape, which covers 1941–1942; exile, 1942; redemption, 1943; return, 1944; and resolution, 1945.
Borneman wonders how within the space of a few months starting in the spring of 1942, MacArthur “went from being the commander of troops who had been caught with their planes on the ground despite the warning of Pearl Harbor through a hasty withdrawal to a dead-end peninsula inadequately stocked for a protracted siege—where the largest surrender in American history took place—to being the most esteemed military hero in the eyes of the American public.” He then suggests three things that explain the phenomenon.
Borneman’s assessment of MacArthur’s professional relationship with other senior American commanders is intriguing. The author posits that MacArthur never forgave Gen. Jonathan Wainwright for allowing Maj. Gen. Edward P. King Jr., who was in direct command on Bataan, to surrender the garrison. MacArthur also criticized I Corps commander Gen. Robert Eichelberger for his pace of operations, which did not meet MacArthur’s timetable.
And when Gen. George C. Marshall Jr., the Army chief of staff, met MacArthur in December 1943 following the Tehran Conference, one observer noted their demeanor was formal and restrained, with no signs of intimacy or close friendship. Despite any personal differences the two generals might have over global strategy, Marshall’s visit was “really evidence of the support Marshall showed for MacArthur and the Pacific war effort.”
Where, then, does MacArthur stand in the pantheon of great American battle captains after the four-year period that marked both his greatest military triumphs and defeats? Borneman provides mixed reviews.
Will we ever know the real MacArthur? There will always be “superlatives of either adulation or disdain and emblematic of the superlatives that always would catalog the contradictions of his personality and define the hallmarks of his career,” Borneman writes. Still, with this book Borneman has taken an important step in solving the riddle behind one of our nation’s most celebrated military figures.
Col. Cole C. Kingseed, USA Ret., a former professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy, is a writer and consultant. He has a doctorate from Ohio State University.
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In Sickness and in Warfare: Bacteria’s Battlefield Impact
Bacteria and Bayonets: The Impact of Disease in American Military History. David R. Petriello. Casemate. 264 pages. $32.95
By Maj. Joe Byerly
A rite of passage for every member of the armed forces is the laundry list of vaccinations we receive throughout our time in uniform. While the stings, pinches and slow burns of many of these shots aren’t fully appreciated, everyone understands they are a requirement to serve. What is not always understood is the historical road that led us to the necessity for the smallpox, typhoid and tetanus vaccinations—the battles, leaders, and course of events that were shaped because of disease.
In Bacteria and Bayonets: The Impact of Disease in American Military History, David R. Petriello provides readers with a short and concise volume on the impacts disease has had on American warfare since the founding of the New World.
Petriello, a history lecturer at Caldwell University, N.J., is the author of several other books. His latest work adds an additional layer of context to over 300 years of conquest and warfare. Additionally, it gives those interested in the study of war an appreciation for the power and influence of disease on past conflicts, and provokes thought on the implications for the future of war.
Petriello begins with the conquest of the New World by European explorers. It is here where he establishes the dominant role that disease, specifically smallpox, played in establishing a foothold in Mexico and early English colonies. For example, Hernán Cortés’ victory over the Aztecs in their capital of Tenochtitlán was made possible by a smallpox outbreak that wiped out a significant portion of the population, paving the way for Cortes and his men to conquer the Aztec empire.
As the author notes, the population of Mexico and Central America fell from a peak of 20 million in 1520 to approximately 1 million about 100 years later, in 1619. Disease played a greater role than man or sword.
The impacts of contagion were no different on the Native American populations encountered by the settlers in Roanoke and Jamestown, Va., and Plymouth, Mass. Petriello points out that disease helped depopulate the regions surrounding the Colonies, paving the way for the Colonies to grow. Most Americans have heard the story of how an Indian named Squanto helped save the Plymouth settlers by teaching them planting techniques and guiding them through the peace process with surrounding tribes.
However, it was disease more than goodwill that saved the Pilgrims. The author writes, “When Squanto wandered into the Pilgrims’ world, he did so as an exile. Had it not been for the epidemic visited upon his tribe … Squanto himself would not have been seeking out kindred human company.”
Bacteria and Bayonets continues through the French and Indian Wars to modern conflicts, leaving readers with the outlook that pestilence was a major force behind the outcomes of many wars up until World War I. At times, over 30 percent of armies were bedridden because of smallpox, influenza, dysentery or venereal disease. Key leaders were taken out of the fight prior to decisive battles, potentially affecting the outcome. During the American Revolution, the spread of smallpox became such a fear that Gen. George Washington began forcibly inoculating the Continental Army to keep his fighting force intact.
Those serving in the military in recent history take for granted the impacts of disease on our ability to fight. By World War II, vaccinating soldiers became common practice and the military figured out other preventive measures to take against disease. As Petriello observes, “Whereas there were 102,000 cases of measles in World War I with 2,370 deaths, there were only 60,809 cases in World War II with only 33 deaths reported.” In the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, disease had minimal impacts on the force.
One of the reasons Petriello’s work is important to those who study war and warfare is because it helps us think about the role disease could play in the future of war. As biotechnologies continue to advance, so do the dangers and risks of weaponization by rogue governments or nonstate actors. For example, the DNA equipment required to synthesize a number of deadly contagions is less expensive and easier to purchase than other weapons of mass destruction.
Bacteria and Bayonets is a well-researched book, based on a wealth of firsthand accounts, biographies, scientific studies and official government reports. Because of the length and the author’s fluid writing style, readers are able to quickly achieve the two goals set forth by Petriello. The first is to see the interconnectedness of disease and U.S. military history. The second—and in his own words—is to challenge readers “to think of how the nation and world would have been different had the various pestilences not arisen and impacted events when and how they did.”
Maj. Joe Byerly is an armor officer and executive officer for the 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
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Foreign Policy Expert Makes Sense of the World
A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order. Richard Haass. Penguin Press. 339 pages. $28
By Col. Kevin C.M. Benson
U.S. Army retired
Students and practitioners of American foreign and security policy have much to learn from reading and reflecting on our world using the frame Richard Haass offers in his latest book. He is a superb and thoughtful writer, and his latest work meets his high standards.
Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and served as the senior Middle East adviser to former President George H.W. Bush. He is the author or editor of 12 books on foreign policy and international relations and has received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award.
His latest book, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order, is powerful. In it, Haass outlines a history of “order” and order’s centrality to stability. Stability is essential whether our world is multipolar, bipolar or unipolar. Stability among and between power centers enables commerce and trade, reasonable predictability, and expectations of actions among great powers and those aspiring to great power status.
Haass’ first section is a short history of the world and relations among states from 1648 to the end of the Cold War. The second section is his assessment of the world from the end of the Cold War to today. Haass describes key moments from the First Gulf War to the second and the rise of nonstate actors in a system best suited for nation-state actors. This rise of nonstate actors, with power, makes the requirement for stability even more vital to the maintenance of order in the world.
This need reinforces the importance of introducing his term “sovereign obligation.” Haass defines it as “a government’s obligations to other governments and through them to the citizens of other countries,” and writes it is “realism updated and adapted to meet the exigencies of a global era.” Haass’ World Order 2.0 is a stable world of nation-state and selected nonstate actors in consultation about what best suits interests while avoiding direct confrontation wherever and whenever possible.
Haass is not a proponent of unilaterally exercising the responsibility to protect doctrine, also known as R2P. He maintains the action needed to sustain order and stability requires dialogue among the powers among nation-states. The need for action to counter a pandemic, for example, must be accompanied by dialogue to ensure a confluence of interests in action. This is the obligation of sovereign nations, especially those with the capability to respond.
Haass’ third section contains his suggestions for the re-establishment of a recognized regime or order and stability in the world, in the current circumstances. The suggestions are not easy to put into action, but according to Haass and accompanied by reasoned diplomacy, they will restore stability to a system of empowered actors, nation-state and some sanctioned nonstate such as the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There is a path to a better world than at present.
Haass is a brilliant writer and member of the U.S. foreign and security policy establishment. His views require sober analysis and thought. He is placing current events into a familiar frame of reference to provide answers.
However, what if we are seeing the indications of a true paradigm shift where the old order no longer provides complete answers to current challenges? Haass’ attempts to provide answers are in accord with the established methods of viewing events. These, by his admission, are not completely satisfactory. Will something new emerge from this period of disarray? It seems Haass believes this is the case; perhaps he should offer answers at first in accordance with accepted wisdom.
Col. Kevin C.M. Benson, USA Ret., served in armor and cavalry assignments in Europe and the U.S. He is a former director of the School of Advanced Military Studies and has a doctorate in history from the University of Kansas.
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Dealing With the Consequences of Modern War
Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home. Joe Klein. Simon and Schuster. 320 pages. $27
By Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer
U.S. Army retired
In the U.S. military, “Charlie Mike” is shorthand for “continue the mission.” Charlie Mike is a moving story about 21st-century veterans continuing the mission by closing ranks and dealing with the consequences of war.
Author Joe Klein is an award-winning Time magazine columnist covering U.S. politics and foreign policy, and he is the author of seven other books. War changes the warriors and make no mistake about it—every veteran has been changed by war. Some changes are obvious with scars that can be seen; some wounds are invisible to all but trained observers. Most soldiers recover over time and lead productive lives. Some need a helping hand.
Charlie Mike takes a look at young veterans of the Long War in Iraq and Afghanistan who wanted to channel their service into something positive even after separating. They chose to start their own organizations, and Army veterans—the post-9/11 generation in particular—should take notice. Navy veteran Eric Grietens enlisted because he believed in standing up for innocent people. He was wounded in Iraq, but he didn’t let it stop him from continuing his mission. He went on to found The Mission Continues, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization “dedicated to bringing together veterans and innovative community organizations to create transformational change for communities in need all across the country.”
Former Marine Sgt. Jake Wood, one of The Mission Continues’ first fellows, co-founded Team Rubicon in 2010 in response to a devastating earthquake in Haiti. The team continues to call on post-9/11 veterans to provide disaster relief to people in high-risk areas around the world, especially in areas that other organizations see as exceedingly dangerous.
The veterans profiled in Charlie Mike are committed to using their specialized training and skills to help civilians, but they also help each other as brothers and sisters in arms by providing a means of transition from military to civilian life. Team Rubicon, for example, seeks to give veterans “a purpose, gained through disaster relief; community, built by serving with others; and self-worth, from recognizing the impact one individual can make.”
Combined with leadership roles and other professional development opportunities, these organizations speak to all former military regardless of MOS, branch, or time spent in service, but they are particularly valuable for the newest generation of veterans.
Twentieth-century terms such as combat fatigue and shell-shock have been replaced by post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. And surveys suggest that more than half of all returning veterans suffer to some degree from the lingering effects of war. For the veterans who need help, the nation is committed to providing quality care for as long as it is needed.
Charlie Mike is an intimate and often exhilarating story of veterans’ determination to continue the mission. Applying their military experience, leadership and organizational skills to respond to natural disasters both at home and abroad, they truly have made and continue to make a difference in a troubled world, helping others in time of need and each other in the process. All are made stronger by the experience.
Klein presents a clear picture of the cost of modern war. This true story reads like a novel about extraordinary individuals and their struggle to adjust to life after war. The veterans’ stories are different. Some are inspiring and filled with the promise of a better future, while others are heartbreaking. With apologies to Tom Brokaw, Charlie Mike provides further evidence that this, in fact, is the next Greatest Generation.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie W. Spencer, USA Ret., an AUSA senior fellow, is the former director of AUSA’s Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs.