5/4/12 - comparing grant and macarthur

In today's excerpt - Ulysses Grant was the general who led the North to victory in the American Civil War. Often a failure at his small business endeavors before the war, he was plain-spoken, modest and unassuming as a general. When he arrived in Washington from the West to assume his duties as head of the army in a rumpled, dirty private's uniform, he was not recognized until he signed his name at the guest register of the Willard Hotel. His autobiography -- dictated from his death-bed to Samuel Clemens as a way to raise money for his again-impoverished family -- is now regarded as one of the classics of American literature. Douglas MacArthur was one of the most controversial generals in American history. Revered and deified by many, he is most remembered for his generalship during the Korean War and in the Pacific Theater of World War II. But he was egotistical in the extreme, adopting the full decor of generalship and more -- and as many reviled him as deified him, especially for what they viewed as the unnecessary aggression and blunders of Korea. Like Grant, he wrote an autobiography:

"Like many of the great captains he strove to emulate, Douglas MacArthur loved to read history. Starting with books collected by his father, he had amassed a personal library of 7,000 to 8,000 volumes by the late 1930s. He was particularly keen on the lives of military officers. His second wife, Jean Faircloth, fed this appetite with Christmas presents that included biog­raphies of such notable generals as Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jonathan 'Stonewall' Jackson, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. MacArthur read avidly, sometimes consuming three books in a day.

"He laced his public speeches with historical references and used them in conversation with a frequency that intimidated visitors and acquaintances alike. Late in life, MacArthur wrote his own history in the form of autobiography. In recording his 'participation in our great struggles for national existence, human liberty, and political equality,' he confessed (in a line that must have evoked a smile from readers who knew him) that his 'greatest difficulty' lay in 'recounting my share in the many vital events involved without giving my acts an unwarranted prominence.'

"In character and implications, MacArthur's Reminiscences differed sharply from Grant's Memoirs. Grant's narrative gathered power from the forward movement of simple, direct statements; MacArthur constructed his as a leisurely and orotund scrapbook of personal memories, supported by excerpts from letters and speeches. Readers have judged Grant equally brilliant as memoirist and general because he reported with such clarity the de­cisions he made and the actions he took and then assessed with such candor the consequences of those acts, for his men, his mission, and himself.

"By contrast, MacArthur never passed up an opportunity to instruct the reader on the importance of the things he had accomplished, unless he could quote other authorities to the same effect. Above all, Grant conveyed the drama and tragedy of the Civil War while doing justice to the ambiguities of its origins and outcomes. MacArthur, on the other hand, concentrated on conveying the excitement and nobility of wars about which he felt no ambivalence at all: wars fought in the defense of freedom, democracy, and Christianity, conducted by officers whose devotion to duty, honor, and country offered a motive sufficient to justify the sacrifice of their own lives, and the lives of the soldiers they led."


Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton


The Dominion of War: Empire And Liberty in North America 1500-2000


Penguin Books


Copyright 2005 by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton


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