Book Review: Fighting for MacArthur: The Navy and Marine Corps' Desperate Defense of the Philippines


by John Gordon

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011. Pp. viii, 370. Illus., maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio, index. $32.95. ISBN: 1612510574

While the story of the Philippine Campaign of 1941-1942 has been told often, the important role of the sea services in that desperate fight has been neglected, due in part to the efforts of Douglas MacArthur and his fans to dominate the narrative.    In Fighting for MacArthur, retired Army officer and university professor (Georgetown, George Mason) Dr. Gordon, earlier the author of Alternative Futures: Their Implications for Army Modernization, seeks to correct this oversight.  And an excellent job he does of it.

Opening with a look at the prewar military situation in the Islands, Gordon outlines the resources of the Navy and Marine Corps, war planning, and the final pre-war preparations, before examining the desperate, protracted “last ditch” resistance, which, heroic as it was, might well have been better conducted but for serious command failures.  He looks at command relationships (bad while MacArthur was in charge, better under Jonathan Wainwright), submarine and surface actions, ground combat by veteran marines and novice sailors, naval support to the Army, and much more.  A good writer, Gordon has several excellent battle pieces.  

For critical issues, such as the differing Army and Navy views as to the correct strategy for the defense of the islands in the opening days of the war, Gordon provides some careful analysis.  Although the blame for mistakes often falls on MacArthur and his staff, he is not unwilling to criticize senior naval personnel for errors or oversights as well.

Fighting for MacArthur is an excellent book for those interested in the battle for the Philippines, and, perhaps even more importantly, the origins of the often toxic inter-service tensions that plagued the conduct of the Pacific War.


Note: Fighting for MacArthur received the “Arthur Goodzeit Award” from the New York Military Affairs Symposium for the best new work in military history to appear in 2011.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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