Book Review: Fire And Fortitude

Fire And Fortitude: The US Army In The Pacific War, 1941-1943, by John C. McManus

Sometimes one proves a point by trying to prove the contrary. Such is the case here, as this book deals with the general trend to minimize the role of the United States army in the Pacific War and as a result demonstrates the peripheral nature of the army in much of what happened in the Pacific War. That is not to say that the army is unimportant in the Pacific War, far from it. But given the fact that the war involved amphibious assaults and a high amount of island hopping, it is unsurprising that the navy and naval aviation have dominated the accounts of the Pacific War, and this book does not really provide a lot of information that would make that general focus seem entirely unreasonable. There is, though, it should be noted, something fascinating about the perspective of the Pacific War that one gains by focusing on the army. If the book is obviously partial in the interservice rivalries of the United States military during the Second World War and in the historiography afterward, this book provides some fascinating discussion about some of the more contentious aspects of the war, including the malign presence and behavior of one Douglas MacArthur.

This book is about 550 pages long and it is divided into two parts and fourteen chapters. After an author’s note and a prologue discusses the desire on the part of the author to write a book that tells the arm’s view of the Pacific War, a story that does not tend to be focused on to a great extent in most accounts of the Pacific War, it must readily be admitted, The first part of the book looks at the onslaught that was faced by the American army at the beginning of World War II (I), including the stunned surprise and doom of the army in the Philippines which was within a few months forced to surrender after running out of food (1, 2, 3). After that it included the troubled relationship between Stillwell and the Chinese (4), which was poisoned in mutual mistrust, as well as a discussion of the relationship between the US and Australia (5), which included some problematic areas of society, and the hell that was faced by the prisoners in the Philippines (6). The second part of the book then explores the turnabout that took place (II) as possibilities were recognized in New Guinea and Gudalcanal for advance (7), the US advanced on Buna (8), the US successfully recovered the islands lost to Japan in Alaska (9), the US advanced in such a way as to avoid Rabaul (10), continued advancing in northern New Guinea (11), all while discussing the survival of the American prisoners in the Philippines (12), the struggle of the US to build logistics networks in Burma (13), and the invasion of Makin (14), after which the book ends with acknowledgements, a selected bibliography, notes and an index.

I am not sure if it has been done already, but at some point it would be worthwhile for someone to comment on the negative role that Douglas MacArthur had in the well-being of the U.S. Army during World War II. Despite the fact that he is highly viewed as being a genius, there were a lot of very bad and very shady things that he was involved in. This book, without apparently trying to, demonstrates his moral cowardice in fleeing from the Philippines and leaving his army to suffer and surrender all while he torpedoed attempts to honor his subordinate Wainwright, those experiences in prison camp were harsh. Then there is the way that MacArthur stole clout for the success of his troops in New Guinea without ever once going to the front, and sabotaged the efforts of his best subordinates to get better commands in other theaters while marginalizing them and denying them the credit they deserved for their successes, all of which built up a lot of ill will in a grueling campaign in the terrible geography of Northern New Guinea. That is to say nothing of the double standards of his keeping his wife and son with him close through the entire war despite denying that privilege to everyone else, and his underhanded attempts to engage in a backdoor campaign for the presidency in 1944. And that is only part of what you will find in this excellent and deeply interesting book, even if it is by no means a balanced account of the Pacific War.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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