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The Pacific War


The Pacific War


The Pacific War: The Strategy, Politics, and Players that Won the War, by William B. Hopkins, takes a fresh look at the operations leading to the Allied defeat of Japan in World War II. The author employs a regional rather than chronological approach to campaign events. The narrative focuses on the personalities, politics, and strategy responsible for events in each region. A very general overview of the fighting in each area is provided.

The author's premise is that the Pacific War was principally a navy war. However, government censorship prevented the U. S. Navy's successes against the Japanese from being fully reported to the American public. General Douglas MacArthur and the U. S. ground troops received most of the publicity. Thus, the U. S. Navy's importance in the war was never fully understood by the American public. For example, "Very few news articles recounted the role of the U.S. submarine fleet, whose performance in cutting Japanese supply lines excelled that of all other branches of service." 1 Many "players" had vital roles in the victorious Pacific campaign - FDR, Secretary of War Henry Stimson; Secretaries of the Navy Frank Knox and James Forrestal; Admiral William D. Leahy; General George C. Marshall; Admiral Ernest J. King; and air force General H. H. "Hap" Arnold. Yet Admiral King "...stood out as the architect of victory in the Pacific" and "...credit for implementation of the winning strategy goes primarily to Adm. Chester W. Nimitz." 2 And where stands the American Caesar, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur?

I was impressed by Hopkins' numerous comments on General MacArthur. The bulk of them are negative and concern the general's decisions, judgment, and character. The comments are supported by footnotes and an excellent bibliography. Hopkins also credits MacArthur for his accomplishments, so overall I believe he has done a commendable job in dealing with one of the most controversial players in the Pacific War. In particular, I am impressed by his reference to one unresolved controversy involving MacArthur. I have previously read both of the sources he cites, and as far as I know, only Hopkins and two other authors have written about it. 3

The controversy centers on the payment of $640,000 by Manuel Quezon, president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, to the personal bank accounts of MacArthur, as commanding general of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), his chief of staff, General Richard K. Sutherland, his deputy chief of staff, General Richard J. Marshall, and his personal aide, Colonel Sidney L. Huff. MacArthur received $500,000 (about $6.6 million in 2009 dollars), Sutherland $75,000, Marshall $45,000, and Huff $20,000. The January 3, 1942 executive order issued by Quezon effecting the payments states the payees "...are hereby granted recompense and reward, however inadequate, for distinguished service rendered between November 15, 1935 and December 30, 1941." The acceptance of these awards by MacArthur and his staff was a violation of U.S. Army regulations. 4

As a background footnote, MacArthur had retired from the Army in 1937 and began receiving his pension. He was recalled to active duty to command the USAFFE in July 1941. For more than five years prior to his recall, he served as military adviser to the Philippine Commonwealth. In this role he received annual salary and allowances totaling $33,000 (about $513,000 in 2009 dollars) from the Philippine government, in addition to his regular Army salary and after his retirement, his pension. He also demanded and received luxury, air-conditioned penthouse accommodations for himself and his family atop the Manila Hotel.

Hopkins' book says Quezon made the payment to MacArthur to cement their friendship. One of the other sources implies MacArthur changed his position regarding Quezon's evacuation to the United States via American submarine after the payment was made. Prior to the payment, MacArthur had stated it would be impossible to safely evacuate the Philippine president. After the funds had been transferred, the general arranged for his safe evacuation by the submarine USS Swordfish. Another source implies that MacArthur had repeatedly sought pay raises for himself and his staff. He therefore could have viewed the payments as just compensation, long overdue. Another theory expressed in the literature is that "Quezon hoped the gift would confirm his faith in MacArthur and obligate the general to press Washington harder for assistance to the Philippines. In his mind the money may have been symbol of reciprocal obligation and bonding so common in the Philippine culture, not a bribe." 5 The true purpose for the payments may never be known. All the involved parties are dead. There is no mention of the payments in their published memoirs or records. Government records confirm that FDR and the War Department knew of the payments but did not stop them. Perhaps future research will shed new light on this affair. For now it is a dark cloud over MacArthur's legacy.

Overall the book is a significant contribution to the literature of the Pacific War. Its regional organization gives the reader an understanding of the personalities, events, and forces that shaped American strategy in each theater of operations. The author weaves facts supported by solid scholarship listed in an extensive bibliography and his own views based on service in the South Pacific during World War II into a well constructed feat of prose that is a compelling page turner. It begins with a series of chapters establishing the basis for the war, followed by chapters devoted to the areas where the strategies were executed and the fighting occurred, e.g., the Solomon Islands, Australian New Guinea, Netherlands New Guinea, China, the Central Pacific, the Philippines, and the Japanese home islands. There is not as much detail about the fighting as you would find in one of Samuel Eliot Morison's volumes, but there is enough information to give the reader a sufficient overview of what occurred in each area. For the casual reader, this book will give you an ample understanding of the Pacific War and why America was successful. For the Pacific War buff, the book includes insights obtained from the minutes of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff and the British and American Combined Chiefs of Staff, as well as from other recent literature. Of particular interest to me is a chapter devoted to the establishment of the most important American fleet anchorage in the western Pacific at Ulithi Atoll, 360 miles southwest of Guam. Very little has been written about this base and its importance to America's final push to the Japanese homeland. Whether you are a casual reader or a buff, I am confident his book will find a permanent spot in your library and serve as a valuable reference source for many years.

In closing, I want to mention that the author served with the 3rd Marine Division in the South Pacific during World War II. He was also called to active duty in the Korean War, where he was wounded and sent back to the United States for hospitalization. I extend my heartfelt thanks to Mr. Hopkins for his service to our country, and for this significant book.

Footnotes:

1. Hopkins, William B., The Pacific War: The Strategy, Politics, and Players that Won the War, p. 2.

2. Ibid.

3. If you are interested in reading more about this controversy, here are the sources I draw on in the following paragraphs. Schaller, Michael, Douglas MacArthur: The Far Eastern General, p. 59-61. Petillo, Carol M., Douglas MacArthur: The Philippine Years, p. 208-212.

4. I used the online CPI inflation calculator at CPI Inflation Calculator to determine the 2009 value here and in the next paragraph (accessed on October 26, 2009).

5. Schaller, Michael, Douglas MacArthur: The Far Eastern General, p. 59.