Book review: MacArthur in Asia by Hiroshi Masuda

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 4:49pm

MacArthur in Asia
by Hiroshi Masuda
Cornell University Press

Hiroshi Masuda's MacArthur in Asia was well-received in Japanese in 2009, but its dour translation makes little new ground in English.

An academic at Yokohama's Toyo Eiwa University, Masuda toured Bataan and Corregidor, and provides interesting battlefield and potentially contentious Death March recollections of Japanese troops who had been shipped there from China. If the author highlights General Douglas MacArthur's skill in recruiting the 15 specialist "Bataan Boys" to his staff, he fails to fully explain their office politics, however.

Masuda cites the rivalry for MacArthur's attention between the signals chief, Major General Spencer Akin, and his intelligence counterpart, Major General Charles Willoughby, and describes how the "ambitious" lawyer Major General Courtney Whitney ruffled fellow staffers' feathers when he demanded a Tokyo office on the same floor of their boss, his old friend from Manila.

Having set the scene for some high-level jockeying for favour and promotion, MacArthur in Asia soon stales, however, because the author has failed to read between the lines of long-dead staffers' oral histories to reinterpret how they and MacArthur ticked.

Masuda reveals General Dwight Eisenhower as an incisive critic of MacArthur, his former boss in Manila, but he doesn't look too deeply for any bad blood. He shows how his chief of staff, Lieutenant General Richard Sutherland, was MacArthur's "hatchet man" while his deputy, Major General Richard Marshall, was a "more persuasive" team player, but shows too few hints of these characteristics in their changing inter-relationships over the years. MacArthur's publicist, General LeGrande Diller, kept a grip on the media, the author says, yet students of corporate communications will have to look hard for actual instances of the Bataan Boys' crisis management.

MacArthur's military strategy proved fallible from Clark Field to Korea's Chinese border, but readers might wonder how the general's staffers closed ranks against Washington's mounting scepticism of their increasingly big-headed, mouthy boss.

The author is similarly selective with other MacArthur entourage stories. In a rare glint of excitement, Masuda relates MacArthur and the Bataan Boys' desertion of Corregidor on cash-laden torpedo boats, but fast-forwards through their reorganisation of allied forces in Australia to the bloody "battle" in New Guinea and his "return" at Palo, Leyte.

A professor of Japan's diplomatic history, Masuda also leaves the reader guessing whether Corregidor was "one-twelfth" or "one-third" of the size of Manhattan, and wondering about the circumstances of Major General Edward King's surrender on Bataan, in April 1942.

Worse, the author fails to query MacArthur and his staff's role in the February-March 1945 Battle of Manila that killed about 100,000 Filipinos, but is covered in only half a page.