Old Soldiers Never Die
by Geoffrey Perret, Random House, New York, 1996, $32.50.Old Soldiers Never Die is the happy conjunction of a highly qualified writer, Geoffrey Perret, with a highly interesting subject, General Douglas MacArthur. Perret has solid academic credentials, and he is the author of several books on World War II. The respect that Perret has for his subject comes through clearly in his writing, but it is also clear that he has not been captured by the MacArthur mystique. He treats the man in a scholarly, evenhanded manner, showing us his foibles and warts along with the genius and strength of character that have enshrined MacArthur in American folklore.

Perret has been able to resolve many misconceptions about events in the general’s life that have appeared in other biographies. He shows, for example, that the influence of MacArthur’s mother, “Pinky,” on his promotions was not nearly so decisive as was once alleged. MacArthur’s actions in the rout of the Bonus Army, composed of unemployed World War I veterans, from Washington in July 1932 are examined in some detail, and he is exonerated of all charges of brutality and callousness.

There are some aspects of MacArthur’s life that remain mysteries. For example, Perret does not answer the question of why President Harry Truman hated MacArthur so fiercely. Also left unanswered are the reasons for some of MacArthur’s lapses in judgment, such as his decision to advance to the Yalu River between China and Korea, thus drawing the Chinese into the Korean War. To his credit, the biographer does not make the mistake of trying to appear all-knowing.

John I. Witmer