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Band of Brothers, Team of Rivals
Two books examine the American generals who won World War II.

Reviewed by Evan Thomas
Sunday, June 17, 2007

15 STARS

Eisenhower, MacArthur, Marshall Three Generals Who Saved the American Century

By Stanley Weintraub

Free Press. 541 pp. $30

PARTNERS IN COMMAND

George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace

By Mark Perry

Penguin Press. 472 pp. $29.95

"We heard God speak here today, God in the flesh, the voice of God," cried Rep. Dewey Short of Missouri, after Gen. Douglas MacArthur gave his "Old soldiers never die" address to Congress in April 1951. In Stanley Weintraub's 15 Stars, MacArthur struts and postures like a Greek god of war, vainglorious and conniving. Fortunately, during the Korean War, Harry Truman had the guts to fire MacArthur for insubordination shortly before he gave his "old soldiers" speech. Equally fortuitous, during World War II, MacArthur fought in the shadow of less flashy but better commanders.

It is remarkable to think that MacArthur was only the third most important U.S. Army general officer in World War II. You may scoff at American exceptionalism or regard divine providence as so much hooey, but there's no question that, at critical moments in our history, great leaders have emerged, often from relative obscurity. Weintraub tells the stormy tale of America's three five-star generals of World War II -- MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall. Mark Perry's Partners in Command portrays the latter two -- and shows why they, and not MacArthur, had the right stuff.

The son of a Medal of Honor winner, first in his class at West Point, MacArthur was a flamboyant genius. But he was also flawed and dangerous, a potential demagogue who wanted to be president. Far more critical to winning World War II were a pair of generals who were mediocre students at their military academies and the sons of failed businessmen. Army Chief of Staff Marshall was the man Winston Churchill called the "organizer of Victory," while Eisenhower led the liberation of Europe as supreme allied commander. As Perry observes, they were the most able American military duo since Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

Eisenhower and Marshall were not friends. Cool, remote, Marshall was matter-of-fact, while Eisenhower was gregarious and opinionated. Marshall called Eisenhower "Ike" only once, and that was by mistake, while Eisenhower addressed his boss simply as "General." Marshall was impersonal to the point of rudeness. "I have no feelings," he once said, "except those I reserve for Mrs. Marshall." But the two generals shared good judgment. "Both men had an innate feel for what could reasonably be asked of America's soldiers and of the American people," writes Perry. They knew that Gen. George S. Patton's bluster about how Americans love war was not true, and that, in fact, Americans were not very good at it. The solution, they understood, was for America never to fight alone or for long.

The only thing worse than fighting a war with allies, Marshall once said to Eisenhower, was "waging a war without allies." The Allies of World War II were hardly a united front. The British said the Americans were "overfed, overpaid, oversexed, and over here"; the Americans retorted that the British were "underpaid, undersexed, and under Eisenhower." The Americans wanted to get the war over quickly by invading France and heading straight for Berlin. The British wanted to tarry in Africa and the Mediterranean, partly to preserve their empire but also to train the green Americans. The British were right; the Americans needed the experience before invading France. (During the North Africa campaign, the Americans were so inept and timid in the face of Nazi armor that British soldiers dryly referred to the Yanks as "our Italians.") The condescension of British Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery was especially trying to the Americans; "Monty" was "capable of swaggering while standing still," writes Perry. Keeping the alliance together and moving forward took all of Eisenhower's diplomatic skills and Marshall's patience and common sense.

Of course, dealing with the imperious MacArthur was just as trying for Eisenhower and Marshall. Ike had been MacArthur's chief of staff before the war and called his boss "General Impossible." The men loathed each other. "Best clerk I ever had," MacArthur sniffed. "I learned dramatics under MacArthur," sniped Eisenhower. Marshall had to tactfully, but repeatedly, remind MacArthur that he should stop whining to reporters about how the Pentagon was undermining MacArthur's campaign in the Pacific. In Weintraub's telling, MacArthur constantly exaggerated his achievements and belittled his rivals.

A veteran popular historian, Weintraub has written a brisk, if somewhat workmanlike group narrative. Perry's Partners in Command goes deeper to plumb the human side of the relationship between Marshall and Eisenhower. He captures the nuance behind their can-do sense of duty. Early in the war, Marshall bluntly tells Eisenhower that, as a staff officer, he won't get promoted. "General," responded Eisenhower, "I don't give a damn about your promotion. I was brought in here to do my duty." Rising from his seat, Eisenhower turned on his heel and began to stalk off. But before he got to the door, Eisenhower couldn't resist a backward glance. "There was a little quirk of a smile," Eisenhower recalled. "I grinned and I left. I just had to grin." MacArthur would have raged. It's a good thing he never made it to the White House. ยท

Evan Thomas is editor-at-large at Newsweek and author, most recently, of "Sea of Thunder."

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