A recurring theme in “The Coldest Winter,” the late author David Halberstam’s thorough analysis of the Korean War published two years ago by Hyperion, is the insatiable yen for recognition that drove Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and how it affected history.
MacArthur “did not merely seek the limelight, he had an addiction to it,” Halberstam wrote in painting the brilliant, temperamental and vainglorious commander of troops in World Wars I and II and Korea as “the most theatrical of men.”
MacArthur’s flair for the dramatic was evident in most things he did, from battlefield strategy such as his improbable amphibious landing at Inchon that turned the Korean War in favor of the good guys, to public appearances like his 1951 farewell address to Congress after he had been canned by President Harry S. Truman for insubordination.
That speech is well remembered by the nation’s seasoned citizens as the one in which the old general headed off into the sunset with a closing line from a popular barracks ballad suggesting that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
A decade later at West Point, he told cadets assembled to hear his final farewell speech, “The shadows are lengthy for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished — tones and tints …” He said he now listened “with thirsty ear for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll …”
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who as a young officer had served under MacArthur at home and abroad before becoming famous in his own right, was once asked by a woman if he knew MacArthur. “Not only have I met him, ma’am,” Ike replied, “I studied dramatics under him for five years in Washington and four in the Philip-pines.”
Ike’s perception of MacArthur as drama queen can be applied to the present media hoorah concerning bombastic conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. I’m thinking that when it comes to a theatrical ham hopelessly addicted to the limelight, Limbaugh as showbiz performer might well have given MacArthur a serious run for his money, albeit not in any history-altering sense.
There has been rampant speculation that the cocksure talk show icon is the de facto leader of a foundering Republican Party. Democratic Party strategists bent on fomenting revolution in the ranks of the loyal opposition contend that he is. But many Republicans likely agree with former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, a conservative writing in Newsweek magazine, that Limbaugh is “just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.”
Limbaugh infamously said awhile back that he hopes President Obama fails. Later, he said he had meant that he hopes Obama’s liberal policies fail. It was a disingenuous clarification that came too late, Frum charges. Limbaugh had deliberately phrased his hope “in a way that drew maximum attention to himself, offered maxi-mum benefit to the administration and did maximum harm to the party he claims to support,” Frum insists. Limbaugh got an audience, Obama got a target and Republicans got the blame. Most everyone else just got sick of the story.
Frum originally excoriated Limbaugh on his Web site, NewMajority.com. Although his cover story in Newsweek didn’t plow much new ground, it was notable for allowing Limbaugh to accomplish what few mortals have been able to do these days — knock Obama off the magazine’s cover.
The brouhaha, which skeptics suggest is welcomed by Washington politicians of both parties to take the heat off their penchant for throwing taxpayer money madly off in all directions, is probably best left for the television shout shows to pound to death, as only they can do.
That could leave the rest of us to ponder a long-standing question that, far as I know, has never been definitively answered: Who has the larger ego — Limbaugh or television’s gadfly investigative reporter Geraldo Rivera?
If you held a gun to my head and forced me to make a decision, I suppose I’d opt for the shameless self-promoter Rivera, the bumbling Inspector Clouseau of investigative muckraking who seems never to notice that his latest outrageous publicity stunt has blown up in his face.
But it would be a close call.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.