The Emperor’s General
You’d probably find this book in your local store in with the military adventure novels of Tom Clancy and so on, but I doubt that many of Mr. Clancy’s enthusiasts would stay very long with this one. As World War II in the Pacific winds down and Japan’s surrender is imminent, the peacetime occupation of that country under the watchful guidance of General Douglas MacArthur begins, as seen through the (fictional) eyes of young Captain Jay Marsh.
Marsh, born and raised in Arkansas, a football hero at Southern Cal, fluent in Japanese through a stroke of luck, and again by chance an untrained assistant to MacArthur, takes us inside the transition process. The general knows the allies and powers back home are howling for justice through war crime prosecutions, perhaps to the extent of charging the emperor himself. As politics begin to surpass military action, MacArthur also knows he needs Hirohito to remain as emperor, as a symbol of government the Japanese people will follow, and to facilitate the country’s acceptance of their new Constitution.
With MacArthur as a shield, the emperor will avoid prosecution. The question is, who needs who more? This is a novel of Oriental-style intrigue, deceit, and wrongful justice, most of which is true but the details of which many textbooks gloss over. As the active protagonist, the single-minded, egotistical Douglas MacArthur does not fare well in young Marsh’s growing disillusionment, but Webb’s portrayal of the complicated man behind the uniform is not unsympathetic either. He also strongly suggests that the ramifications of what transpired were long and costly.
The personal lives of the people swept up in the chaos of the time are not ignored either. Love affairs do not have an easy time of it when world-shaking events are taking place, and ambition begins to intrude.
Again, if you’re seeking a rousing military adventure, this book is not it. On the other hand, if you have an interest in what goes on behind the scenes in the arcane world of Asian diplomacy — or what might have — you’ll find a good deal to whet your appetite here.