cover image The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War

The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War

H.W. Brands. Doubleday, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-385-54057-5

Brands (Reagan), professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, expounds on President Truman’s decision, in April 1951, to fire Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then the UN commander in Korea, after months of listening to him threaten to expand the war. The issues behind this decision might take up as much as a long magazine article, so Brands adds workmanlike dual biographies and an account of the Korean War before getting down to his main business, which will refresh readers’ memories without adding any special insights. Despite MacArthur’s assurance that they wouldn’t, Chinese forces entered the war in November 1950. During the headlong retreat that followed, MacArthur uttered increasingly shrill warnings about Armageddon unless he was permitted to attack China proper. The general’s superiors never shared the public’s adoration of him, and all supported Truman’s action in relieving him. This produced widespread but short-lived outrage, and historians now agree it was the right decision. Brands does not rock any boats. His Truman is a plainspoken leader whose reputation has risen steadily since bottoming out in 1951. His MacArthur, a military genius with an inflated ego, follows a timeworn tradition. Readers may weary of long quotations from correspondence and committee hearings, but they will encounter the definitive history of a half-forgotten yet bitter controversy. [em](Oct.) [/em]