Sunday, July 13, 2008

Book Reviews of The Last Lion: Alone and American Caesar

William Manchster is a former U.S. Marine who took up the task of writing a trilogy about Winston Churchill entitled "The Last Lion". Sadly, he suffered a stroke and passed away before he could finish the third book of the trilogy, but fortunately, he gave to us the second volume, which is the finest biograhpical work of writing I have ever read. The Last Lion: Alone covers the years of 1932-1940, which covers Winton's time out of power and influence right up to the very threshold of that great moment when he stood up against the Nazis as prime minister.

The book starts off with a description of the average day for Winton at his home. It is a funny way to kick off a book of such serious subject matter. After reading this book, you will begin to view World Wars 1 and 2 not as separate events but as bookends to a long struggle that ended the world order. The British Empire would be rendered kaput by its dumb decision to fight the Kaiser in WW1 but its valiant fight against the Japanese and Nazis in WW2. This was the Empire's finest hour and it's final act, and it had its greatest citizen around for leadership. Sadly, in this book, you read how Churchill was kept out of power and viewed poorly by everyone in power. It is amazing to read how the British and French were scared to fight the Germans at every single turn despite numerical superiority. The first World War truly paralyzed thought and rational decision making. As an American, this is difficult to understand because we entered WW1 so late, avoiding the millions in casualties that the Germans, British and French suffered. You will get upset at the stupidity of the British government officials, as they try to make friends with the Nazis, while Churchill is screaming daily about the Nazis thirst for blood, war and territorial expansion. Churchill was one of the few foreigners who had read Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf, and saw the blueprint for Hitler's actions once he became leader of Germany. Hitler didn't hide his ideas; he wrote them down for all the world to see. Few took him seriously, and no one in the British government did except Churchill. The book is about 700 pages long, but is a well paced read.

If you do pay attention to the news, beyond the NY Times, you will chuckle at how the Brits and their media go out of their way not to offend the Nazis even after war is declared. It will remind you of how messed up the UK is right now with their inability to face the Islamic terrorism and cultual suicide that is going in the UK. About 70 years ago they did not have the will to face Hitler when they should have, and now they refuse to fight for the common citizen of the UK and face up to the "no go zones" popping up in British cities for non-Muslims and countless other small things that will eventually snowball ro cause a major counter-movement that will end ugly. A "no go zone" means that Muslims have said that the area is not safe for non-Muslims to enter. Yup, basic human freedoms gone for everyday people. This is why so many UK citizens are moving to Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Sorry for the rambling. One additional bonus in this book is the author's sense of humor. He was witty and sarcastic at times; I thought he was British. I highly recommend this book, and have already made mym grandfather excited to get it from the library. It's worth the read.

Because of my love for Manchester's work on Churchill, I also purchased for $1 his biography of Douglas MacArthur. At just under 800 pages, it is a rich work and a wodnerful story. First, Douglas MacArthur had a son, brother, father and grandfather all named Arthur MacArthur. How stupid is that? I'm Scottish like MacArthur and my last name starts with Mc, but in no way would I name my son Blank McBlank. MacArthur was a unique American soldier, and unique person in the story of human history. American Caesar is a good description for MacArthur because he seemed cut from a different time and thrust into the modern world.

Extremely intelligent, romantic, direct, hateful, arrogant, distrustful and creative are all good ways to describe him. MacArthur was in love with fighting at the front, which could be best described as from a need to meet his father's standard from the Civil War of charging up a hill in the midst of battle to win a victory as a teenager. Douglas had what I would not quite describe as a death wish, but a glorious death wish. He seemed to grasp the realities of modern warfare faster than his contemporaries, and was a master of doing the unexpected. One thing this book did was spark an interest in mean or learning more about the Pacific theater of WW2. Because of my grandfathers and their brothers service in Europe, the History Channel's use of Hitler's video records, Steven Spielberg's obsession with making money off WW2 in Europe, the pull of studying an evil force like the Nazis and America's focus on Europe, I have read up on the European theater and feel comfortable with the facts and themes. I was close to a blank slate about the Pacific theater until this book. I think all Americans should learn more about teh pacific theater and the aftermath.

The absolute greatest portion of this book is the portion that covers how MacArthur handled the Japanese in WW2 and afterwards as the viceroy in charge of that defeated nation. While much focus was on how the powers split Europe up, MacArthur was given a free hand to do whatever he wanted to do in Japan. Did you know MacArthur wrote the Japanese constitution? Did you know that he didn't mess with the power of the Emperor? MacArthur gave Japanese women the right to vote, liberalized the economy, and tried to retain honor for the vanquished country despite being the victorious General. Reading the book, it appears that MacArthur understood the Japanese better than any other Allied officer. If ever a post-war occupation went smoother, I have not heard of one. Does anyone ever learn about this in US history class? No.

Like all classic characters, they have flaws that lead to their downfall no mater how gifted they are. MacArthur decidd to tussle one time to many with Harry S. Truman, and he was relieved of his command. I see both sides in the argument. Truman was right to be worried about expanding the Korean War to a World War by bombing Chinese based bases. MacArthur was right in wanting to be able to bomb the Commies from their front lines on back to the bases that they would run home to for cover just across the Chinese/Korean border. A chill went through my body as I encountered the passages where the civilian government placed handcuffs on the UN fighting force in a conflict. It reminded me of some of the bits from history books I have read about a conflict that happened in Vietnam.
Regardless of that, MacArthur was an intriguing character and a distant relative of Mr. Winston Churchill. I enjoyed this biographical work immensely, and I am sad to know that Manchester will never again write another historical study for fans of history ever again. Sitting back and reading "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", I am in awe of how many truly amazing figures were in charge of the warring nations in WW2. I have already read a dual biography on Stalin and Hitler by Alan Bullock and "The Conquerors", which dealt with Allied plans for post-war Germany, focusing on FDR. FDR, Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler: that is a murderer's row (literally) of heavyweights in their respective homelands' histories. As previously stated, Churchill was the British Empire's finest leader and first citizen in its finest hour. FDR is one of the top 5 presidents in US history. Hitler is a figure who will forever haunt, Germany, Europe and debates of genocide. Stalin's crimes and lasting impact still affect the world to this day. Has there ever been a collection of world leaders all in power at the same time that had such a huge impact on the world? I do not think so.

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