cover image MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero

MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero

Stanley Weintraub. Free Press, $27.5 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83419-1

Weintraub's popular military histories string together firsthand reportage and testimony to create compulsively readable, blow-by-blow accounts of key events. His latest covers the early Korean War, from June 1950 to April 1951, when Truman removed Douglas MacArthur from command. Journalistic accounts, memoirs, papers and previous histories let Weintraub cover the backroom, high-level maneuvering, the evolving public relations of the conflict and the dismaying and bloody facts on the ground. He narrates the first year-and-a-half of the peninsular ""police action"" along with all the related Cold War issues without which Korea would make no sense--among them debates about Formosa (Taiwan); slippery dealings between Stalin and Mao; and disputes over when, where and whether to use the Bomb. The superbly paced and detailed volume differs from Weintraub's previous works (like his account of Pearl Harbor, Long Day's Journey into War) in its clear focus and partisan stance: Weintraub's story line follows, and blames, MacArthur as the general tries both to escalate the war and to take responsibility for its conduct. Using dispatches and books by war reporters from Murrow to Keyes Beach and Marguerite Higgins, Weintraub creates a finely wrought sense of how the war looked as it was being fought: some readers will cherish this volume for that reason, while others will want more academic analysis--more views of institutions, theories and budgets. Analytically inclined readers may also quarrel with Weintraub's decision to cast MacArthur as bullheaded antihero. But even Weintraub's fiercest detractors (that is to say, MacArthur's defenders) will admit that he writes a densely gripping narrative, taking and defending with power and verve one position about the early Korean War. The volume also differs from Weintraub's other war books--as the foreword acknowledges--because it describes a war in which Weintraub fought: this one difference perhaps produced the rest. (May)