Book Review: MacArthur's Korean War Generals


by Stephen R. Taaffe

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2016. Pp. xi, 268. Maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700622217

Commanding in Korea

Prof. Taaffe (Stephen F. Austin State) follows his Marshall and His Generals with this look at senior U.S. commanders in Korea. He opens with a discussion of the outbreak of the war in Korea, and the initial disastrous lack of success which attended American efforts to stem the North Korean offensive. Taaffe discusses the principal reasons for this poor performance. He notes that the troops initially committed to combat in Korea, the occupation forces from Japan, were usually short of vital equipment and generally not well-trained. But he also discusses the generally overlooked fact that some senior officers had come out of the Second World War with poor combat records and some with little or no combat experience, having spent most of 1941-1945 on staff duty. So the army was unready, and its performance was often uneven.

This overall lack of success was at times made worse by MacArthur’s command style, as the general preferred sycophants over abler but less deferential men, particularly in staff positions.  Some of the men discussed come off well, notably Lt. Gen. Walton Walker, who gets a far more favorable treatment than in many accounts, the USMC’s Maj. Gen. Oliver Smith, and Gen, Matthew Ridgway, all of whom made major contributions to restoring the situation in Korea.  Others, notably Lt. Gen. Edward Almond, whose lackluster performance in Italy were attributed to African-American personnel of 92nd Infantry Division, who he seems to have personally despised, and Charles A. Willoughby, who had spent over a decade as MacArthur’s chief of intelligence, have the prevailing negative views confirmed.  Although some attention to senior Republic of Korea officers might have added some depth to the discussion of senior leadership in the war, overall Taaffe us a rather good overview of the Korean War, from the perspective of the American commanders. 

A volume in the UPK series “Modern War Studies”, MacArthur’s Korean War Generals will prove useful reading for anyone interested in command in war, Douglas MacArthur, the Korean War, or the history of the U.S. Army.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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