Book Review: Frustrated Ambition: General Vicente Lim and the Philippine Military Experience, 1910–1944


by Richard Bruce Meixsel

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018. Pp. xii, 352. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $36.95. ISBN: 0806159057

A Forgotten Soldier

The author of Fighting for MacArthur and other works on the military history of the Philippines, Prof. Meixsel (James Madison) gives us the first ever biography of the man widely regarded as the greatest Filipino soldier, Vicente Lim (1888–1944).

The first Filipino graduate of West Point (1914), although American racism, Filipino politics, and Army policy kept him from the best assignments, Lim performed well at the Command and Staff College and the War College, rising to lieutenant colonel before retiring in 1935 to join the infant Philippine Army. Denied command of the new force, Lim performed staff duties and helped prepare the army for war. During the Japanese invasion, he commanded the Philippine Army’s 41st Division, which performed better than any other unit during the protracted fighting on Bataan – Filipino or American, a matter generally ignored in most histories of the campaign. Captured by the Japanese, he was eventually released, and began working for the resistance, again captured, he was executed.

Meixsel tells this story well. We get many useful insights into the culture and history of the Philippines, the politics of American rule and the creation of a quasi-independent commonwealth in 1934. Meixsel gives us a detailed account of the defense of Bataan, and a severe critique of existing accounts of the Japanese invasion. He establishes the role of the Philippine Army as the backbone of the defense, with many American units not seeing much action at all and some even folding under pressure, a subject neglected in the prevailing often racist literature.

A volume in the Oklahoma “Campaigns and Commanders” series, Frustrated Ambition not only rescues an outstanding soldier from obscurity, but makes a significant contribution to the literature on the defense of the Philippines.


Note: Frustrated Ambition is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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