REMINISCENCES by Douglas MacArthur. 438 pages. McGraw-Hill. $6.95.
Glorified by the right, vilified by the left, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was rarely portrayed in human terms. With his penchant for drama, he enjoyed his controversial role, but he paid a price for it: he was praised and blamed most of the time for the wrong reasons. His Reminiscences, written in the last two years of his life, should help put him back in perspective. He was, after all, probably the finest U.S. combat general in both world wars and one of the great peacemakers of modern times.
More restrained and modest than his usual florid prose, MacArthur's Reminiscences does not add much new information to the innumerable volumes already written about him. It omits, in fact, MacArthur's nasty squabbles with Generals Pershing and Marshall, his truculent communiqués and press releases that so infuriated his superiors. Nor was MacArthur one for personal revelations; yet Reminiscences does give fascinating glimpses of the human side of MacArthur during his many hours of triumph and his many moments of despair.
Mother Knew Best. MacArthur was said to take after his father, a gallant colonel of the Union Army and later governor general of the Philippines. But the memoirs reveal that he probably owed a lot more to his strong-willed mother, Mary Hardy, who fired him with ambition and lived close to him all her life to see that he did not falter.
"Never lie, never .tattle," she taught him, and young Douglas was put to the test during his first year at West Point. The victim of a bit of hazing that became a national scandal, Douglas was ordered by a military court to name the offending upperclassmen. His mother cautioned him in a poem:
Be this then your task, if task it shall be,
To force' this proud world to pay homage to me.
Be sure it will say, when its verdict you've won,
She reaps as she sowed: "This man is your son!"
Douglas did not tattle.
Lest other biographers should overlook them, MacArthur retells with zest the high points of his youthful heroics. On his first assignment in the Philippines, he reports that he was waylaid on a narrow jungle trail by a pair of desperadoes; he dropped them both with his pistol, while a slug tore through his campaign hat. When the Marines were occupying Vera Cruz in 1913, MacArthur went on an unauthorized reconnaissance aboard a railway handcar. Shooting his way out of a series of ambushes, he arrived back in Vera Cruz with four bullet holes in his shirt, but unscathed. As a brigadier general in
World War I, MacArthur always went "over the top" with his men, was twice wounded and gassed (he refused to go armed or wear a gas mask).