Fine-Tuning the Cold War

Book Reviews:

Two books on MacArthur and Truman

H.W. Brands, The General vs the President. MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. Doubleday, New York, 2016

William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964. Little, Brown and Company, New York, 1978

Readers who want to know how the Cold War was fine-tuned will find good discussions in these two books. However, both books are based on questionable assumptions that undermine their historical value. Also on the downside, much of the information in the 2016 book seems to have been taken directly from the 1978 book, or from the same sources. I think that both MacArthur and Truman wrote autobiographies that provided much of the original information, but, of course, without a critical eye.

I recommend getting some familiarity with the Korean War before reading these books. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_War.

The two authors do not really explain the war. Even worse, they buy uncritically into the U.S. State Department version of what happened. The Americans were heroes, the South Koreans were incompetent, the North Koreans and the Chinese were evil and aggressive imperialists.

The differences explored in these books were not the differences between the U.S. and North Korea, the U.S. and China, the U.S. and the U.N. nor the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The only differences explored are the minor differences between committed anticommunists, especially Truman and MacArthur.

MacArthur, everyone in the book and the authors agree, was a brilliant military strategist. He was also an arrogant gloryhog who wanted to be President. Truman was an outstanding politician. Various other generals and politicians exalted MacArthur, but eventually came around to Truman’s side. The difference between the two main protagonists had to do with the conduct of the Cold War. Basically, MacArthur was ready to risk everything for a military victory against all communists; Truman wanted military containment of the communists while draining them economically. Truman’s version is the one we lived with, but he had to fire one of the most popular military leaders in modern history to establish his program.

MacArthur wanted to destroy the Chinese Army. Truman and his cohorts thought that a long-term effort to destroy the Soviet Union was preferable. The American people were divided, as we are now.

–Gene Lantz

I am on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. Programs and my “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts are posted on soundcloud.com on Wednesdays. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

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