managing the generals -- 5/30/14

Today's selection -- from The Most Dangerous Man in America by Mark Perry. Perhaps the most critical job in fighting the Germans and Japanese in World War II was insuring the cooperation and managing the considerable egos of some of America's most senior American commanders -- a list that included Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. This most delicate job regularly fell to the top general of them all: General and Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, who kept a little black book of the most talented military leaders, which he used as a reference in addressing the war's acute global need for combat leadership:

"As [Marshall] scanned the list of senior officers capable of higher command [to be stationed in Australia and lead the war against Japan in the south Pacific, General Douglas] MacArthur's name stood out. While MacArthur was 'shrewd, proud, remote, highly strung and vastly vain,' as a British senior officer later described him, he was also experienced, courageous, imaginative, a brilliant organizer, and the sole senior American officer who had actually commanded large formations in wartime.

"As Marshall scanned his list of potential army, corps, and division commanders -- Dwight Eisenhower, Mark Clark, George Patton, Omar Bradley, Courtney Hodges, Robert 'Nelly' Richardson, and a half dozen others (all of them listed in the little black book he kept in the drawer of his office at the War Department) he noted that none of them had [MacArthur's] experience. Eisenhower was untested, Clark a sniveler, and Patton a marplot; Bradley had never heard a shot fired in anger; Hodges lacked ambition; and Richardson was unwilling. MacArthur was the only one who wouldn't have to learn on the job and who had the experience necessary to reassure the frightened Australians. ...

Gen. George C. Marshall, seated at center, with members of his general staff, November 1941.

"In fact, MacArthur was much less of a headache for Marshall than other American commanders, such as Eisenhower subordinates George Patton and Mark Clark. Patton, a bombastic showman, cultivated public acclaim and feuded with nearly everyone he met. His ego might have been unrivaled -- except for Clark's. Despite being Eisenhower's best friend, Clark trailed a coterie of worshipful reporters and regularly disparaged anyone whose fighting qualities garnered public acclaim. Patton and Clark weren't the only problems Marshall had. Cultivating public attention was a virus among American commanders, sparking constant inter-service and inter-Allied feuding: [Fleet Admiral and Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, Ernie] King despised Patton, Hap Arnold couldn't bring himself to speak to King, and Eisenhower thought British commander Bernard Law Montgomery 'conceited.' The animus didn't end there: Patton held all British commanders in disdain, Clark stewed over the headlines given his peers, and General Omar Bradley plotted ways to take advantage of Patton's antics. Meanwhile, General Terry de la Mesa Allen, one of the best American combat leaders, described Bradley as 'a phony Abraham Lincoln.'

"Among all these interpersonal rivalries, MacArthur's efforts to push himself into the limelight stand out. He failed to publicize his subordinates' demonstrations of perseverance and valor. For example, when the Australians caved in the right flank of the Japanese position at Buna, MacArthur's headquarters remained silent, and when [General Robert] Eichelberger's soldiers were assailing the Triangle (rotting Japanese corpses were piled so high that the defenders wore gas masks), MacArthur issued a Christmas circular to the press: 'On Christmas Day our activities were limited to routine safety precautions. Divine services were held.' ...

"MacArthur praised Eichelberger in a personal letter, awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross, bragged about him to visitors to his headquarters, but was irritated when Eichelberger was featured in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post and Life. 'Do you realize I could reduce you to the grade of colonel and send you home?' he asked, but then relented: 'Well, I won't do it.' "


Mark Perry


The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur


Basic Books


Copyright 2014 by Mark Perry


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