MHQ Review: Noteworthy Books, Summer 2015 | HistoryNet MENU

MHQ Review: Noteworthy Books, Summer 2015

8/5/2015 • MHQ, MHQ Reviews, Reviews

American Warlords
How Roosevelt’s High Command Led America to Victory in World War II
By Jonathan W. Jordan
624 pages. NAL Caliber, 2015. $28.95

 

Bestselling author Jonathan Jordan’s reputed purpose in this detailed book is to examine the interplay and effects of four men on the course of war: President Franklin Roosevelt; General George C. Marshall; Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson; and Admiral Ernest J. King, the chief of naval affairs. While Jordan does in fact trace the workings of FDR’s inner circle, he expands the circle beyond those men and clearly casts Marshall as the savior of the day—a highly moral, confident, unflappable soldier committed to speaking truth to power—be it Roosevelt’s, Stalin’s, or anyone else’s. “I frankly was fearful of Mr. Roosevelt’s introducing political methods of which he was a genius into a military thing,” Marshall confides to a friend early in the war. Each of Jordan’s two other “warlords” had the same worry as the war progressed, but that is only one piece of the story Jordan tells.

As he follows back-room military and political maneuverings from Pearl Harbor to the Big Three conference in Tehran to the preparations for Operation Overlord to Yalta and beyond, Jordan also addresses the problems and problem personalities (Patton and MacArthur particularly, and sometimes Churchill) that Roosevelt’s inner circle, including Eisenhower, had to deal with. Perhaps the most compelling stories here are of the historical turns that almost, but didn’t, hap-pen—Marshall as commander of Overlord, Dewey as president, the Morgenthau Plan (to reduce postwar Germany to a meek agrarian state) rather than the Marshall Plan—each of them near misses that would have recast history.

Rescue at Los Baños
The Most Daring Prison Camp Raid of Word War II
By Bruce Henderson
384 pages. William Morrow, 2015. $27.99.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was as great a shock to Americans stationed or working in the Philippines as it was to the rest of America, but the implications for them were far more immediate. A day later, Japanese bombs were falling on Manila. By Christmas, the U.S. military had withdrawn to the Bataan Peninsula. That left American civilians—and there were a considerable number of them in Manila—to fend for themselves.

Henderson profiles some of those civilians—American nurses, doctors, engineers, many of them small-town men and women with ambitions and an urge to see the world—and builds a narrative that weaves their stories into one tale of survival. Five months after Pearl Harbor, most of them, about 2,000 American civilians, found themselves prisoners of war at Los Baños Internment Camp, wedged between Laguna de Bay, the Philippines’ largest lake, and 3,580-foot Mount Makiling. Aside from the Japanese and local Filipinos, no one knew of the Americans’ whereabouts or of the camp itself until the last days of 1944, and even then their ordeal would go on for more than a year.

Henderson gives a vivid account of the privations and cruelties, valor and sadism of life at Los Baños under its notorious quartermaster, Japanese warrant officer Sadaaki Konishi, who seemed intent on starving his American prisoners. At the same time, Henderson tracks the larger war in the Philippines and the formation, training, and personalities of the 11th Airborne Division. Activated in North Carolina in February 1943, the 11th Airborne was commanded by Major General Joseph Swing, who was “determined to prove that paratroopers were the world’s most elite and versatile fighters.” He did that on February 23, 1945, when he executed what General Colin Powell later called, “a textbook operation for all ages and all armies”—the liberation of Los Baños. Henderson follows the events of that day in detail then follows some of the major players back to the U.S. as they attempt to adjust to life after war.

West Point 1915
Eisenhower, Bradley, and the Class the Stars Fell On
By Michael E. Haskew
224 pages. Zenith, 2014. $30.

The men entering West Point in 1911 had no idea what the next 60 years would hold for them or the country, but as with the class of 1846, war would bring some of them a place in history and many of them a successful military career. Of the 164 cadets who graduated from West Point in 1915, 59 became generals, more than any other class before or since. Through the course of two world wars, Korea, and the Cold War, Haskew follows the careers of some of the graduates, most in quick sketches. But, as the title indicates, this book is devoted to Dwight D. Eisenhower, and to a lesser degree, to Omar Bradley.

Unlike many of their fellow cadets, who were from well-off families, young Eisenhower and Bradley saw the academy as an opportunity for a free education and a better life—and not insignificantly, as a great place to play sports. A prankster and rule breaker, Ike earned an impressive number of demerits, but, as Haskew makes clear, Eisenhower’s self-direction and leadership would play to his advantage as his career progressed. After Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was summoned to the War Department, in part because his old West Point classmate, then Major General Joseph McNarney, had been tasked with reorganizing the army’s command structure and he wanted the best people on the team. When Eisenhower reported to an overtaxed Marshall on a plan for the Philippines, Marshall told him to proceed, saying he was surrounded by “able men who analyze their problems well but feel compelled always to bring them to me for final solutions. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me what they have done.”

Haskew devotes some time to the Marshall–Eisenhower relationship over the war years, but he also looks at the accomplishments of McNarney, who ultimately took Eisenhower’s place as supreme commander of the European Theater and commander of U.S. Forces of Occupation in Germany; and James Van Fleet, who was so often in the thick of war (Metz, Bastogne, Utah Beach, then Greece and Korea) that Truman called him “the greatest general we have ever had.”

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