The History Faculty New Book Series presents:
The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War
(Doubleday, October 2016)
by H. W. Brands
Professor, and Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History, University of Texas at Austin
At the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way.
Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. Heir to a struggling economy, a ruined Europe, and increasing tension with the Soviet Union, on no issue was the path ahead clear and easy. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The lessons he drew from World War II were absolute: appeasement leads to disaster and a showdown with the communists was inevitable--the sooner the better. In the nuclear era, when the Soviets, too, had the bomb, the specter of a catastrophic third World War lurked menacingly close on the horizon.
The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. From the drama of Stalin's blockade of West Berlin to the daring landing of MacArthur's forces at Inchon to the shocking entrance of China into the war, The General and the President vividly evokes the making of a new American era.
Henry William Brands was born in Oregon, went to college in California, sold cutlery across the American West and earned graduate degrees in mathematics and history in Oregon and Texas. He taught at Vanderbilt University and Texas A&M University before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, where he holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History. He teaches history and writing to graduate students and undergraduates. He writes on American history and politics, with books including The Man Who Saved the Union, Traitor to His Class, Andrew Jackson, The Age of Gold, The First American and TR. Several of his books have been bestsellers; two, Traitor to His Class and The First American, were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. He lectures frequently on historical and current events and can be seen and heard on national and international television and radio. His writings have been translated into Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Czech and Ukrainian. For the past three years he has been writing a history of the United States in haiku form and publishing it on Twitter. He guesses he will be at it for two more years. More about Professor Brands at: hwbrands.com.
No RSVP needed, however please email Courtney to receive a copy of the reading selection to be discussed.
View a complete list of upcoming books to be discussed in this year’s History Faculty new book talk series.