Douglas MacArthur (January 26, 1880-April 5, 1964) was a controversial American general. The son of a famous general, MacArthur was driven by a limitless ambition. Displaying suicidal bravery and remarkable leadership ability, he became a brigadier general during WWI. Continuing to rise, MacArthur became chief of staff in 1930, but was publicly criticized following the brutal eviction of the Bonus Marchers, WWI veterans camped out in Washington. Denied a second term as chief of staff, it seemed that his career was over and he retired from the U.S. Army in 1937. When war with Japan seemed inevitable, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt recalled MacArthur to active duty in July 1941 and gave him command of the Philippines. Taken by surprise by the speed of the Japanese invasion in late December 1941, MacArthur was evacuated to Australia where he oversaw the island-hopping campaign and eventual recapture of the Philippines. Following the Japanese surrender, MacArthur was appointed American viceroy, and implemented sweeping changes in Japanese society, economy and politics. Taking command of the American response when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, an amphibious landing at Inchon ensured victory, but he permitted American forces to approach the border with China, which provoked a massive Chinese intervention. After repeatedly defying President Harry Truman, he was relieved of command in 1951. Failing to win the Republican nomination for president, MacArthur suffered the humiliation of seeing his former aide, Dwight Eisenhower, become president. Retreating from public life, MacArthur died on April 5, 1964 due to kidney and liver failure.
Unlike other major American generals like Dwight Eisenhower, John Pershing, George Patton, and George Marshall, MacArthur was literally born into the military. MacArthur’s father was a Civil War hero who spent much of his post-Civil War career in dusty army outposts on the frontier, removed from civilization. Although raised to be a southern belle, his wife Mary (Pinky) proved to have the strong spirit necessary to survive ten years on the frontier before her husband finally earned a posting to the more comfortable Fort Leavenworth. A lieutenant colonel when the Spanish-American War (1898) broke out, MacArthur was promoted to brigadier general, and told to take part in an expedition to the Philippines. Following the American victory, MacArthur was made military governor of Manila, and found himself fighting the Filipino rebels who had been allies against Spain. Displaying bravery and tactical genius, MacArthur’s suppression of the insurgency made him famous, while his generosity in recommending medals and promotions won him the admiration of several junior officers who would become key leaders in the future, including Frederick Funston, John Pershing and Billy Mitchell.
In recognition of his achievements, MacArthur was made military governor of the Philippines in May 1900, and he combined repression of the revolt with the construction of schools and hospitals. Despite his efforts, the rebellion continued, so President William McKinley decided that a civilian would be more effective and made William Howard Taft governor. Having spent his formative years commanding frontier posts where he would arbitrate civilian disputes without any checks on his authority, MacArthur was not accustomed to dealing with other lines of authority. When MacArthur’s continued opposition to Taft became unbearable, he was relieved of command.
A Senate investigation cleared MacArthur of any blame, but his career never recovered because McKinley was assassinated, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became president. Roosevelt and Taft were friends, so Taft became Secretary of Defence, and later succeeded Roosevelt as president. Although eventually promoted to Lieutenant General, MacArthur never had another major command. Unable to stop himself from speaking his mind to the press, MacArthur was reprimanded by Roosevelt, therefore he failed to become chief-of-staff, even though he was the army’s senior general. Learning that Taft would become president, MacArthur acknowledged defeat and resigned his commission on June 1, 1909. He died three days later, and his wife would spend the rest of her life ensuring that her two sons lived up to his image.
MacArthur’s early years were spent in frontier posts where he grew up listening to tales of the Civil War, while his mother instilled within him a deep sense of patriotism. When MacArthur entered West Point, his mother lived at a nearby hotel for the entire four years in order to keep an eye on him, meeting him regularly to monitor his progress and apply motivation when necessary. A dutiful son, MacArthur spent every free moment studying, so he graduated at the top of his class. Determined to ensure that MacArthur did not become too entangled in romantic relationships, his mother met personally with girls who thought that they were in a serious relationship with him to explain that his only relationship was with his career.
Following graduation, MacArthur entered the Engineering Corps as a second lieutenant and was posted to the Philippines. After receiving promotion to first lieutenant, he served as his father’s aide on an inspection tour of Asia, which exposed him to the rich cultural variety of Asia when most Americans had never left their hometowns. Returning to the United States, MacArthur was sent to engineering school in Washington, DC, and also briefly served as aide to President Theodore Roosevelt before graduating, but he neglected his work in order to spend time with his parents, in particular escorting his mother to social events. His commanding officer did not appreciate being a lower priority than MacArthur’s parents, and his career suffered. However, MacArthur blossomed when he was assigned to Kansas to command a company.
When his father died in 1912, MacArthur and his brother had to cope with their own grief, but also deal with their mother’s need for attention. A posting to the capital exposed him to the senior leadership of the army, where he served under General Leonard Wood, chief of staff, and it seems likely that his later habit of appealing to the public through newspapers when blocked by superiors was influenced by Wood’s similar habit. MacArthur was sent to Vera Cruz, Mexico after it had been occupied by an American fleet to enforce an arms embargo against President Victoriano Huerta, who had seized power during the Mexican Revolution. Risking execution as a spy if captured, a mission to find train engines displayed his resourcefulness and bravery, as well as won him promotion to major a year later. Despite the promotion, MacArthur reacted with bitterness when he failed to receive a Medal of Honor.
Possessing remarkable charm when needed, MacArthur became the personal assistant to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker as the nation prepared for the increasing likelihood of entering WWI. Facing the problem of selecting which National Guard unit would be sent to France first, Baker accepted MacArthur’s suggestion to create a division made up of units from many states, and the division would be called the Rainbow Division. A grateful Baker promoted him to colonel and made him chief of staff of the division, transferring him from the Engineering Corps into the infantry, where promotions were faster.
Assuming temporary command of the division as it waited for its new commander in France, MacArthur foiled an attempt by general HQ to use the division as a source of replacements for other divisions. MacArthur simply notified the senators and congressmen of the states represented by the division, and their complaints ended the threat to the division. Seeking political aid against his superiors did not endear MacArthur to the staff at HQ, but he interpreted the resentment as envy because he was a fighting man. Younger than most of the other officers in the division, MacArthur developed close bonds with the men, and he also became friends with key officers including Wild Bill Donovan, Eddie Rickenbacker, Father Francis Duffy and Billy Mitchell. Genuinely brave, he joined night-time raids on enemy trenches, although that bravery may have been motivated by a thirst for glory. Having grown up watching his father command, MacArthur knew the vital importance of taking care of his men, who responded with a deep admiration. Earning several medals, promotion seemed likely, given the rapid expansion of the American army, especially since his mother was a dedicated lobbyist, who wrote numerous letters to the secretary of war and to General Jack Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, combing flattery with claims of support from higher authorities. MacArthur would inherit his mother’s habit of writing self-serving letters overflowing with flattery and veiled threats of influence.
Promoted to brigadier general, MacArthur led his troops to repel the Germans during their July 1918 offensive. He had developed the habit of preparing meticulous plans so that his subordinates could stay in HQ while he went to the trenches to inspire the troops even though as chief of staff, he belonged in HQ. Soon after he received his promotion, he was given command of one of the division’s two brigades, but he continued to lead from the front, despite Pershing’s intelligent criticism that the days of commanders leading armies from the front were over, since modern warfare required generals to be at HQ. When the division took part in the campaign against the Saint-Mihiel salient, MacArthur was the first man out of the trenches. Although gassed, he refused to be sent to the rear to recuperate, and led his troops to win a victory during the bloodbath at Cote-de-Chatillon. When Major General Moehner was promoted to corps commander, MacArthur temporarily replaced him as commander of the division, the youngest divisional commander of the war. Despite twelve decorations from the American army, and nineteen other medals from Allied nations, he remained hungry for honor, and complained bitterly of enemies among Pershing’s staff when he was denied the Medal of Honor.
West Point had had trouble adjusting to the rapid expansion needed after the declaration of war, and hazing became intense after the war. The army Chief of Staff decided that the academy needed to be “revitalized,” and he appointed MacArthur superintendent. He soon won the admiration of his staff, while his relaxation of the overly strict rules earned the gratitude of the cadets. Most important, he stopped hazing and modernized the instruction, preparing the cadets to fight the next war, not wars from the previous century. At the same time, MacArthur ignored discipline himself, wearing distinctive but forbidden loose caps and short overcoats, while returning salutes with a casual motion of his riding crop. Unfortunately, the faculty successfully resisted most of his reforms, but he had at least started the reform process. Responding to pleas from offended senior officers who wanted to defend tradition, Pershing finally transferred the young brigadier general with the radical ideas to the Philippines.
Before leaving, MacArthur married Louise Brooks, a divorced mother of two, who had been romantically linked to Pershing. A member of society who partied with the fast crowd, Brooks did not meet with the approval of MacArthur’s mother, who refused to attend the wedding. The decision to send MacArthur away from the United States might have been due to anger that Brooks had broken off an engagement to Pershing’s aide John Quekemeyer, whom Pershing viewed as a son.
Discovering that he had been sent there to prepare the island chain for a possible invasion by the Japanese, MacArthur felt that he had too few troops. Busy with his assignment, he had little time to spend with his new wife, who was not well-suited for the tropics, and found herself growing close to the American community, which had a racist view of the locals, unlike the color-blind MacArthur. The two lovers had been drawn together by an irresistible attraction, but did not have the compatibility needed for a long-term relationship.
His mother had sought his sympathy by pretending to be ill, but the death of his brother from appendicitis brought her back from her sick bed to focus on the career of her remaining son. Former members of the Rainbow Division were hired to lobby on MacArthur’s behalf to gain promotion to major general. Whether it was due to her efforts or MacArthur’s record, he was promoted to major general shortly before Pershing resigned as chief of staff. This new rank was too high for any position in the Philippines, so he returned home. Given command of the Third Corps, there was little to do in an era of tightened budgets, and his marriage declined, despite his efforts to merge with the fast, snobbish crowd that he despised. Bored and dispirited, especially after serving on the court-martial of his friend Billy Mitchell, he jumped at the chance to head up the US Olympics team in 1928. The United States dominated the Olympics, but his marriage had ended in fact if not name, so he sailed to take command of the troops in the Philippines in 1928 alone. They divorced a year later.
Chief of Staff (1930-1935)
Working hard to strengthen the archipelago’s defences, MacArthur also found time to compete for the position of chief of staff, and he succeeded in 1930. Seeing her son finally succeed where his father had failed, MacArthur’s mother was naturally proud, but would have been less so if she had known about the mistress he kept in an apartment, an Eurasian former showgirl he had met in the Philippines in 1930 when she was sixteen. She would see him only in the apartment, during the few hours of free time he had, and play no role in his social life. Tiring of her when she started to build her own life, he ended the relationship in 1934.
Despite MacArthur’s efforts, President Herbert Hoover had dramatically cut the military’s budget, and MacArthur’s tours of other nations made him all too aware of the increasing likelihood of war and the unprepared nature of the American army. Like many senior officers, MacArthur was deeply opposed to Communism and pacifism, considering them to be linked. Unlike most officers, who kept their opinions to themselves in public, MacArthur was unafraid to speak his mind, attacking demonstrators who criticized how the government was handling the Depression. Furthermore, he refused categorically to believe that veterans were involved in these protests, therefore he would not accept that the tens of thousands of Bonus Marchers (Bonus Expeditionary Force) camped in Washington in the spring and summer of 1932 in an attempt to obtain their promised bonus were real veterans, even though later research proved that 94 percent had served, and 67 percent had been sent to Europe.
MacArthur was not one to admit that he was wrong, and he had a close relationship with President Hoover, so when the president asked that the protestors be evicted on July 28, he embraced the task. Believing a revolution was being planned, MacArthur was determined to lead the counterattack from the front as usual. Major Dwight Eisenhower, his aide, tried to dissuade him from taking personal charge of the mission, since it would harm his image, but was ignored. To be fair, MacArthur’s decision to accept personal responsibility for a repulsive task would be praiseworthy if he thought that it was a necessary but repulsive task. He didn’t. In fact, he exceeded his orders, and ignored Hoover’s direct order to stay away from the main BEF camp, although there is some debate over whether he had actually received Hoover’s order. Hoover, unlike MacArthur, realized that an armed attack on the shacks and tents of the marchers would be wrong, and more important to the president, a public relations catastrophe. The camp was torched and two babies died from exposure to tear gas.
Proving that he was a better politician than people believed, MacArthur evaded charges of disobeying a direct order by holding a press conference at midnight, where he placed responsibility on Hoover’s shoulders, praising him for taking decisive action that had saved the nation from a budding revolution. Disciplining MacArthur would have made Hoover look weak, and cost him the support of the Republicans in congress during the upcoming election.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) became president, MacArthur failed to make an effort to win the support of FDR and his advisers for new military equipment. Since both men competed naturally for the spotlight, and FDR was the reigning American champion, MacArthur’s relationship with the president was not close. Although he was not a diehard conservative, he was conservative, and did not think that the nation needed FDR’s New Deal. When the military’s budget was cut in half, the two men had a fierce confrontation, and MacArthur felt that he would have to resign, but FDR kept him as chief of staff. When MacArthur tried to sue reporters who had criticized his treatment of the Bonus Marchers, he had to withdraw the lawsuit when one of the reporters produced his mistress’ love letters, and he feared that his mother would find out about his mistress.
MacArthur found time to strike back at his perceived enemies, including Pershing’s former aides, so he refused to promote George Marshall from colonel to brigadier general. Renewing MacArthur for a second term as chief of staff would have been extremely unpopular due to resentment of his treatment of Bonus Marchers, so FDR compromised by keeping him until a replacement could be chosen, but the replacement would be Pershing’s candidate, not MacArthur’s.
Field Marshal of the Philippine Army (1935-1941)
Returned to his former rank of major general, MacArthur was assigned to command the forces in the Philippines, arriving in 1935. The Far East had become interesting because the Japanese had conquered Manchuria, and the Philippines had been made a commonwealth in preparation for full independence in 1946. The man who was the obvious choice to become president of the commonwealth was Manuel Quezon, a former guerrilla who had surrendered to MacArthur’s father a generation before. Eisenhower was persuaded to come as his aide, and his eighty-four-year-old mother refused to be left alone, so she sailed as well. She died shortly after they reached Manila, but MacArthur had fallen in love with Jean Faircloth, who was roughly twenty years younger.
Determined to maintain a mystique of superiority, MacArthur frequently changed clothes to give the appearance that he was not bothered by the humidity like other mortals. Cultural differences worked in his favor. MacArthur did not get along well with most of his fellow Americans, who disliked his pomposity, but he was extremely popular with Filipinos, who appreciated his preference for vague appeals to patriotism and Christianity.
MacArthur had always hated the Pentagon’s plan for the defence of the Philippines, which involved retreating to the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island, and waiting for relief. Instead, he hoped to build a core army and a much larger force of reservists who could fight a guerrilla war that would make an invasion of the Philippines too costly. MacArthur was convinced that the British failure at Gallipoli during WWI had proven that amphibious invasions did not work, even though its many beaches and coves made the Philippines a much juicier target than Gallipoli, a giant rock with steep cliffs. MacArthur’s predecessors had bluntly informed their superiors that the archipelago was simply too far away and too close to Japanese-held Formosa to be held. As war with Japan seemed increasingly likely, the Pentagon began to believe MacArthur’s comment that he could defend the Philippines because they had confidence in American air power, MacArthur and the incompetence of the Japanese soldier. MacArtthur was made a field marshal by Quezon on August 24, 1936, the first and last time an American officer received that rank.
Back in the U.S. for the formal swearing-in of the new commissioner, MacArthur married Jean on April 30, 1937 in a small ceremony. They were happy together because she adapted herself entirely to his routine and did not make any demands. When they had a son almost a year later, he was named Arthur MacArthur IV, and his godparents were Manuel and Aurora Quezon.
Informed that he would be brought back after he had served two years in the Philippines, MacArthur resigned from the military on December 31, 1937. He remained military consultant to President Quezon, but now he was an employee, well-paid, but an employee. Since he did not share the white American leadership’s condescension towards the Japanese, especially since the Japanese had overwhelmed China, a much more powerful nation than the Philippines, President Quezon cut the military budget and explored neutrality, while calling for the U.S. to give the Philippines independence. These actions further reduced the Pentagon’s desire to send badly needed weapons to a remote nation in the Pacific, when the U.S. itself, Hawaii and Panama were considered more important. After Germany invaded Poland, England moved to the top of the list.
Lt. Col. Eisenhower resigned as his aide in 1939, even though MacArthur stressed that the Philippines would be more vital than anything he would do back in the U.S., once again giving in to his ego. Despite Eisenhower’s departure, MacArthur was building his own clique of staff officers, including Colonel Charles Willoughby and Lt. Colonel Richard Sutherland. It is unsurprising that Eisenhower was eager to leave, since he had been politely indicating a desire to move on with his career for some time, and he did not view the position of chamberlain in MacArthur’s court to be a career. The route to advancement involved a variety of postings, including school, staff and command positions, and serving on MacArthur’s staff meant that he could not command troops in the field. Unlike most American generals, MacArthur had not attended the officer training schools at Leavenworth or the War College because he had risen so quickly during WWI. As a result, he created a staff of officers who were loyal to him and would remain with him as long as he needed him, not until their next posting. It is worth mentioning that MacArthur openly believed in “great men” who dominated history, and undoubtedly considered himself to be one of those men. Eisenhower had also grown progressively tired of MacArthur’s inability to admit that he had made a mistake, and worse his habit of pinning the blame on subordinates, usually Eisenhower.
At the same time, MacArthur’s plan to train forty thousand Filipino reservists a year had obviously failed, except he refused to admit that it had failed. The training period was too brief and the nation had too many islands to organize regular training, especially since there were not enough weapons for them.
When Vichy France surrendered to Germany, handing over its colonies to Germany and its allies, Japan seized Indochina (modern Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos), placing Japanese forces in dangerous proximity to the Philippines, but MacArthur still refused to consider the Japanese military to be a serious threat.
Faced with limited resources, the War Department was debating abandoning the Philippines, Guam and Wake. More depressing to MacArthur was that men who had been majors and colonels when he was chief of staff had become generals, and he feared correctly that they did not plan a leading role for him if war broke out. Playing his final hand, MacArthur sent a message to Chief of Staff George Marshall, announcing that he would return home since he had no official position. The president interfered, saying he wanted MacArthur to command in the Philippines. After the Japanese occupied Indochina, FDR re-appointed MacArthur to his former rank of major general in July 1941, and had promoted him to general by December, while merging the Filipino and American forces there into one army under MacArthur’s control. FDR then provoked a war with Japan by declaring an embargo on oil which was crucial for the Japanese war machine. News that the United States would not abandon the Philippines ended President Quezon’s defeatism.
MacArthur labored tirelessly to prepare the nation for war, but there was little time, especially since he insisted on defending the entire archipelago. American reinforcements trickled in but the small flotilla of American warships was not enough to defend the waterways linking the main islands. The problem was that if the Japanese successfully landed, all of the supplies were located near the beaches, not safely back in Bataan, where they would be needed to survive a long siege. Even then, the critical issue was MacArthur’s belief that he could simply hole up in the reinforced tunnels of Corregidor and thumb his nose at the Japanese, but he failed to grasp that air power had dramatically changed the situation. The ground reinforcements were coming slowly because MacArthur, the expert on the spot, had repeatedly predicted that the Japanese would not attack until April 1942. MacArthur clearly felt that he had plenty of time because when Major General Lewis Brereton arrived in early November to take command of the air forces in the Philippines, he was sent to visit America’s allies in the Pacific, instead of inspecting the airfields in the Philippines and preparing their defences.
Negotiations with the Japanese had broken down, and Washington sent a message that it was preferable that the Japanese attack first, but not if it endangered the Philippines. Despite the clear warning, MacArthur refused to change his timetable for a Japanese attack, remaining convinced that it would happen in April. Brereton’s patrols began to encounter Japanese planes in the airspace around the Philippines, which was an obvious preparation for an invasion.
When news of the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor arrived, MacArthur met with the naval and air force heads and Quezon. It would be charitable to say that he was simply overwhelmed by the competing needs and flow of data, since Admiral Hart was worried about his fleet, Brereton was concerned about his planes and Quezon was desperately pushing for neutrality. However, he was the commander and it became clear that he had not forged a good team since Sutherland, his chief of staff, was little help, and he did not coordinate well with Hart and Brereton. In fact, he initially refused to meet with Brereton, which is bizarre since MacArthur’s own strategy called for the destruction of any Japanese amphibious landing by Brereton’s planes. Instead, Brereton could not get past Sutherland, who rejected Brereton’s plan to launch attacks on Japanese bases on Formosa. Offence was vital since Brereton had a powerful force of long-range B-17 bombers but lacked the fighters or anti-aircraft batteries to defend them. Notified that the U.S. and Japan were officially at war, MacArthur hesitated instead of immediately executing the pre-arranged defensive plan. So, time was wasted, the ships remained at anchor and the bombers did not actually have bombs loaded inside. Meanwhile, fog prevented Japanese planes from leaving Formosa, and the Japanese were afraid that they had lost the element of surprise.
Preparation for bombing and reconnaissance missions only started at 11am, eight hours after the original warning. Brereton made a fatal error when he called in all of the fighters for refueling at noon, and the planes were literally caught on the ground when Japanese fighters suddenly appeared. While MacArthur was the man in charge, Brereton was an incompetent officer, more interested in finding a party than monitoring the defenses of his air fields. However, he had argued unsuccessfully for a greater ratio of fighters to bombers to defend the airfields.
Without air cover, the main naval base at Cavite was destroyed several days later, so Admiral Hart decided to preserve his remaining ships and retreated to the Dutch East Indies, leaving only three gunboats, six PT boats and several submarines. Hart bluntly told MacArthur that the Japanese had blockaded the Philippines, but MacArthur felt he had been abandoned and would blame the Navy for his defeat. Once the crisis moment was past, MacArthur’s personal courage returned, and he would refuse to take cover whenever Japanese planes appeared. Although aware that a Japanese invasion could not be stopped, MacArthur still refused to order the retreat to Bataan, believing that it would be defeatist. The Japanese landed on December 22, and easily overwhelmed the token resistance. Most of the Filipino troops were untrained and ran when faced with veteran Japanese troops. The remaining Filipinos and the US forces were only slowing down the Japanese, so MacArthur faced reality and ordered the withdrawal, but huge quantities of supplies had to be destroyed. Despite seeming impossible logistic challenges, remarkable coordination between HQ and the two separate forces of North and South Luzon ensured that they made it safely to Bataan by early January 1942. MacArthur had 80,000 troops, as well as 26,000 refugees, but little food, so they were on half rations from the start. Corregidor had been turned into a daunting fortress but it was unable to withstand constant Japanese air and artillery bombardment.
To be fair, no one in the Allied HQs had predicted the scale or speed of the Japanese advance, which would enable them to conquer so many separate targets in the Pacific. By the spring of 1942, the forces at Bataan were alone in the Pacific. Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya, Wake Island, and the Dutch East Indies had all been overrun. Only Bataan was left.
Initially, MacArthur’s forces outnumbered the Japanese, but he remained on the defensive because he had no access to supplies, most of which had been abandoned during the retreat. Neither the Pentagon nor the president would simply admit that it was impossible for supplies to reach the Philippines. Unknown to MacArthur, FDR and Secretary of War Stimson had already written off the Philippines. Feeling betrayed, MacArthur believed that his enemies at the Pentagon were responsible, blaming Marshall in particular. Actually, the advice to abandon the Philippines and shift resources to Australia, the nearest possible base, had been made by newly promoted Eisenhower, who had joined Marshall’s staff. Hit hard by Pearl Harbor and following defeats, the navy was unwilling to risk crucial ships on doomed blockade runs.
Marshall decided that MacArthur’s death or captivity would deprive the U.S. of his experience and more important, his value as a symbol, even though he realized that MacArthur would cause trouble. FDR finally agreed in order to provide Australia with a symbol of American commitment to its defence. MacArthur initially refused to leave but it was a direct order. MacArthur was supposed to be accompanied only by Jean and his son, but he decided to bring along sixteen members of his staff, as well as his son’s nanny. After a dangerous and extremely unpleasant journey by PT boat to Mindanao, they were flown to Australia. Exhausted by the journey, MacArthur was further disappointed to learn that there was no army waiting for him, although he was appointed supreme commander of the Southwest Pacific. His brief speech during the arrival ceremony in Adelaide ended with the words “I shall return” even though War Office representatives had asked him to change it to “we shall return.” The phrase was badly received by American leaders, but he had intended it for the Filipinos, who trusted him, not the U.S. Still, it was an early sign of megalomania, especially since every item of supplies dropped into the Philippines had those words printed on it. The officers who had accompanied him during the journey would be his trusted circle, everyone else would be viewed with distrust.
MacArthur would blame everyone but himself for the failure to defend the Philippines, ignoring the fact that it could never have been defended, and he had made the decision to waste resources training a huge force of reservists instead of a smaller, capable army, while failing to ensure that Bataan was properly stocked.
MacArthur was faced with an almost impossible task, since the he was unfamiliar with Australia, and the front consisted of island chains that had barely been mapped. To his credit, he quickly grasped that huge distances of water meant safety since it took time for Japanese fleets to cover them, while it would be impossible for the enemy to build fixed positions on the water, just on the islands. Most important, he accepted that mobility was his ally, and island fortresses could be bypassed. He viewed the war as a contest between himself and the Jap, and his powerful public relations machine publicized that view.
The Pentagon wasted five precious weeks figuring out how to divide the Pacific command. It was tricky because the person most aware of MacArthur’s talents was MacArthur, and he intended to be properly recognized. As usual, he blamed the delay on his enemies in the Pentagon and the Navy, not simple bureaucratic problems. Admittedly, he was loathed by admirals to a surprising degree, and they understandably believed that a naval officer should command a naval war. Natural conflict between the army and navy was not helped by MacArthur’s open contempt for the navy and the air force, which he felt had abandoned him in the Philippines. Unable to find a compromise, the Pentagon divided command between Admiral Chester Nimitz, who moved through the central Pacific, and MacArthur, who headed straight for Japan. Once MacArthur had a clearly defined area, he ensured that he maintained strict control over the forces in that area, and MacArthur’s paranoia about his turf would become legendary.
Aware that their survival depended on the Americans, the Australian people and government both rallied behind MacArthur, even though he refused to appoint any Australian or Dutch officers to his staff. All eleven of the senior positions in his HQ would be filled by Americans, and eight of the eleven had come with him from Bataan. Hoping to salvage some pride from the humiliation of his defeat in the Philippines, MacArthur would constantly claim that the stubborn defence at Bataan had delayed the Japanese advance long enough to save Australia. Thousands of Americans had somehow discovered his address in Australia and sent him letters. Despite the crushing weight of work, MacArthur spent countless hours answering his fan mail, which is difficult to justify given his responsibilities, but serves as further evidence of his oversized ego.
Experienced Australian divisions were returning to Australia from the African front, but his optimism was blunted by the news of Corregidor’s surrender on May 6. In fact, Japan seemed unbeatable. No one in the Allied HQs had any idea what was Japan’s final objective, but Australia was definitely on the list. The Japanese themselves did not know what to do next, because they had never expected to advance so far. Like the United States, there were tensions between the navy and the army, which made it harder to choose an objective.
The island of New Guinea, north of Australia, was the perfect base for an invasion, and it would have been captured by the Japanese but American cryptographers had figured out the Japanese destination, and an American fleet had blocked the Japanese fleet escorting the invasion force. The American fleet lost more ships during the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942) but Japanese were forced to retreat, thus preserving the shipping line between the United States and Australia. Since the battle had taken place in his turf, MacArthur would take credit for the defeat, assigning the victory to his land-based bombers, even though carrier-based planes did most of the fighting. Three weeks later, the American Navy, again assisted by code breakers, won the decisive battle at Midway, although it did not seem decisive at the time, since the Japanese continued to push towards Australia. Instead of an immediate invasion, airfields were built on nearby islands to bombard the country into submission.
Despite horrendous conditions, MacArthur decided to fight the Japanese at New Guinea, believing that they could not be stopped if they reached Australia. Thanks to the drive and ability of MacArthur’s new air force commander, General Kenney, he was able to transport and supply enough troops in New Guinea to repel the Japanese attack. It was a genuine victory that helped overcome the public stigma of his defeat in the Philippines, except there was no stigma. Even though it had been the United States’ worst defeat, the nation needed heroes, so he was slotted into that position, aided by his limitless thirst for glory and powerful friends in the right-wing press, who happily used him as a symbol to oppose the hated FDR. MacArthur-mania had swept the nation. MacArthur-mania existed because he made it very clear that the fame would not be shared by any other officer, especially not the officers who were doing the actual fighting. Uninterested in any other theater, MacArthur literally thought that he was the center of the war. He continued his WWI habit of making the plans and letting others execute them, but he stayed away from the front, although he permitted correspondents to report that he often visited the front. In fact, he closely resembled the general officers in their comfortable chateaux that he had despised during WWI. MacArthur-mania was resented by the troops under his command who complained bitterly when they returned home.
Although MacArthur was suffering from incredible stress during the first nine months in Australia, unlike every other theater commander, he had the company of his family to support him. He worked long hours because his emphasis on loyalty rather than ability meant that he had a staff of such mediocrity that it bordered on the incompetent, so he had to perform many simple tasks that should have been assigned to junior officers. Like a feudal lord, he demanded loyalty but he returned that loyalty, therefore he kept incompetent senior members of his staff, even though he was aware of their deficiencies.
Once the Japanese had been repelled, MacArthur moved his HQ to Port Moresby. The tide had turned and the Japanese were falling back from MacArthur and Nimitz’s two-pronged assaults, aided by the strategy of island-hopping, bypassing enemy strongpoints, which MacArthur claimed to have invented, but may have simply taken credit for. The Japanese had employed the strategy in their initial offensive, and it had been used by American forces when attacking the Aleutian Islands. Actually, he had rejected the idea when it had been suggested by the Joint Chiefs several months earlier. MacArthur did display real brilliance as he coordinated attacks, bypassing enemy strongholds, keeping them off balance, but while his publicity machine was in full force, the battles themselves received little attention from the press, if not from his peers, because there were few casualties to attract attention.
The victories increased the calls for him to be the Republican candidate for president. MacArthur did not discourage these calls, and he may have seriously hoped to be selected as a compromise nominee if the convention was deadlocked between the leading contenders, Thomas Dewey and Wendell Wilkie. He certainly went out of his way to pose for pictures for various newspapers, and his staff made sure that reports only mentioned him, which is why none of his senior officers became famous like Patton, Bradley and Montgomery, who served under Eisenhower. However, MacArthur overexposed himself in his blatant courting of press and politicians, and his candidacy ended in the early stage of the primary.
FDR proved that he was the better politician by deciding to meet with MacArthur and Nimitz in Hawaii to figure out how to inflict a final defeat on the Japanese. They needed to resolve the issue of the Philippines, since there was a huge debate in the Pentagon over whether to bypass it and focus on Formosa. Arguing his case well, MacArthur won FDR’s support for an invasion of the Philippines. After the successful invasion of the Philippines, MacArthur was given a fifth star.
MacArthur maintained his image of leading from the front with repeated pictures of him striding through the water to reach a beach, even though it had been an accident the first time, and there are reports that he had been furious at the beachmaster who had made him get wet. When they landed at Luzon, MacArthur had realized the value of the image of a five star general striding decisively through the surf while under fire, even though they were not under fire, so even though the Seabees had labored to prepare a small jetty of sand for him to step on to, he ordered the coxswain of the landing craft to lower the ramp in two feet of water, and he strode majestically towards the land. Press releases reported him as taking personal command of the front even though he usually just inspected the front-line positions after the fighting was finished. Despite a disturbing fixation on favorable press coverage, MacArthur was physically brave and refused to take cover during bombing raids. One interpretation is that he had suicidal tendencies. Fixated on liberating all of the Philippines, MacArthur carried out numerous landings to on various islands that had no strategic value, simply to gain credit for liberating the entire nation, even though these landings directly contradicted orders from the Joint Chiefs to move on to Japan. As a national hero, they let him have his way, but would regret it several years later.
Occupation of Japan (1945-1951)
Edging out Nimitz again, MacArthur was rewarded with command of the invasion of Japan, which was expected to be bloody. When the Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945, he was placed in charge of the Allied occupation of Japan. To everyone’s surprise, MacArthur proved to be a generous, kind conqueror, who focused on treating the Japanese with dignity. Desperate to land on Japan before the navy, MacArthur flew into Japan on August 30 even though there was only a light guard of American troops on the ground, and his staff unanimously opposed it. While treachery from the Japanese high command was unlikely, zealous nationalist youth would eagerly kill MacArthur, and the Japanese police were struggling to keep them under control. Maintaining his gracious attitude, MacArthur cancelled martial law shortly after his arrival. Presiding over the surrender ceremony on the battleship Missouri on September 2, his brief speech avoided any mention of guilt or vengeance, which stunned the Japanese who had expected humiliation. MacArthur seemed to genuinely believe what he said, but he was speaking for posterity, so his words were dramatic and high-minded, while most of the senior officers simply concentrated on enjoying the moment of total victory over an opponent.
MacArthur’s conciliatory approach took Washington by surprise. The government had imposed harsh conditions on the Germans and expected to do the same with the Japanese but MacArthur insisted on a gentler approach. The Japanese military was allowed to disarm itself, and he refused to summon the emperor to a meeting, waiting instead until he came of his own accord.
It is key to remember that MacArthur’s obsession with absolute loyalty and love of drama may have annoyed and even offended many of his fellow Americans, but he had been born to be an autocratic ruler in Japan. Having experienced an inconceivable trauma, the Japanese needed a powerful figure to reassure them that everything would be all right, and MacArthur was happy to be that figure. Contemporary Americans thought that his speeches were overly eloquent, bordering on ridiculous, but that was his natural way of speaking and it matched perfectly the emphasis on politeness and ceremony that was a key part of Japanese culture. He wisely chose one of the few buildings to survive the bombing, a six-story insurance building, because it overlooked the Imperial Palace, further strengthening the image that he, not the emperor, was number one, and people even began to refer to the building as Dai Ichi (Number One). Unlike Germany where the occupation was divided into national sectors, MacArthur ruled all of Japan without interference from allies, the Soviets or even Washington. Technically he was responsible to President Harry Truman, FDR’s successor, but Truman approved of what he was doing and made no complaints.
Although he was a dictator, MacArthur’s primary objective was to introduce real democracy, not a sham democracy to conceal an America-friendly dictatorship, in Japan. There is no doubt that he was a dictator. All legislators who belonged to right-wing, militaristic parties were dismissed. Newspapers could be closed down on his orders, and American businessmen and journalists needed his permission to enter the country. The authoritarian approach worked. By the end of 1945, the Japanese army had been completely disarmed, and the occupation force had been reduced to 152,000 American and 38,000 British soldiers.
MacArthur worked hard, and the Japanese knew it. He worked seven days a week, and never took a vacation. Actually, the appearance was deceiving. While he could return home for leisurely naps, his staff was expected to remain on duty from 7am to 9pm. In fact, he rarely deviated from a routine that involved his office and his residence, so he did not actually see Japan, preferring to watch brief films on Japan shot by American Signal Corps cameramen. Surrounded by his family and a staff hand-picked for loyalty, he lived a life completely isolated from reality. New additions to the staff never became part of his inner circle. As he became older, routine became increasingly important, and he avoided socializing, except on his terms, where he would retire after lunch for a nap or to read a military biography after dinner while his wife handled the entertaining. Continuing to demonstrate the same suicidal contempt for danger, MacArthur refused bodyguards or to change his schedule, even though he knew that Communist and right-wing terrorists were plotting his assassination.
MacArthur was aging and he had put on weight, but he always ensured that he had his cap on for photos to cover his thinning and greying hair, despite a comb-over and liberal application of dye. Even so, regular visitors noticed a frailty and nervousness, as well as twitching hands that might have been the early signs of Parkinsons. but he still looked healthy during brief visits, which was all the contact that most people had with him.
President Truman’s invitation to return home for the celebrations of the end of the war in 1945 was declined because MacArthur believed that if he left Asia, even briefly, it would signal that the United States was abandoning Asia. Whether he genuinely believed this, or he simply used it as an excuse to reject a summons home to face his superiors, namely the president and the Pentagon, is unknown. Perhaps he feared confrontation or could simply not handle dealing with equals and superiors. It was a slap in the face to Truman and Marshall, basically telling them that he was too important to go home for a parade. There is no doubt that he did not have the same personal relationship with Truman that he had had with Roosevelt, and the JCS was made up of men who had fought in Europe, not the Pacific, so they were viewed as unfriendly. The first refusal was bad enough, but the refusal of a second invitation a year later was a clear signal that MacArthur believed himself to be a power of his own. When Truman did not press the issue, MacArthur’s opinion of him likely fell lower.
Unlike the Nuremberg trials, the court-martials of Japanese war criminals were carried out by military officers who answered to MacArthur, who had written the charges and frequently encouraged the officers to speed up the trial. It was far from an example of impartial justice. General Tomoyuki Yamashita was charged with responsibility for atrocities committed in the Philippines and Singapore even though there was no proof of his involvement in the massacres. Although it was unpopular in the United States, MacArthur’s decision to not try the emperor as a war criminal was likely a key factor in the smooth process of occupation.
MacArthur’s rule experienced few bumps because he governed through the existing Japanese political system and because the Communists never became a serious factor in Japan. The Allied Council in Tokyo was an advisory council, and MacArthur only attended a single meeting. Actually, he adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards political parties and newspapers as long as they did not criticize him, so they had more freedom than they had had during the war. The new head of the Japanese government was given a list of changes to implement, including women’s suffrage, education reform and the end of monopolies. Since the Allied governments did not want the strong Japan that the reforms would create, MacArthur needed the Japanese to elect a new government in 1946 and he wanted the new constitution already in place, so when the predominantly conservative government made only cosmetic changes, he simply drafted his own constitution and gave it to the government. While reducing the emperor to a figurehead, he designed the new political system and added a clause where Japan renounced war forever. Probably the biggest reform was equality for women, giving women the vote and permitting divorce, a seismic change in a society where women had a lower status in every aspect of life. After he announced that the draft had his “full approval,” skipping over the fact that he was the author, the Japanese cabinet had no choice but to adopt it. The relaxed attitude was replaced by a strict censorship, and since there was no public criticism of the new constitution, candidates who publicly backed it won during the election, thus publicly vindicating MacArthur. The Allied nations were too pre-occupied with other matters, and it was already finished before they noticed. The elections themselves were fair and while the big winner, the Liberal Party, was conservative, it was not linked to the militarists, and only a handful of Tojo’s supporters had been re-elected. Communists did equally poorly as well.
Although Communists had not done well in the election, they soon dominated the newly formed labor unions. When they threatened a general strike on February 1, 1946, he clamped down hard, banning strikes by public workers, censoring the main Communist newspaper and limiting contact with Communist countries. This approach succeeded because he had also introduced genuine land reform that ensured that roughly ninety percent of farms were owned by the actual farmers.
After permitting his name to be placed on the ballot of several states during the Republican primaries, MacArthur was humiliated when he received only a handful of delegates.
Both MacArthur and Washington realized that Japan needed to be defended by American troops, but Washington wanted an occupation army, while MacArthur wanted the troops to be posted as part of a voluntary agreement with the Japanese government. Rebuffed by Washington, he turned to the press to make his opinion known. He also started contacting political leaders in the U.S., and some of those leaders would use that contact for their own purposes.
MacArthur continued to plot against his enemies, both old ones like Marshall and new ones like Dean Acheson and Eisenhower. MacArthur did not have a high opinion of his former aide Eisenhower, calling him his former clerk, and commenting that Eisenhower had not actually planned any campaign in Europe, just allowed his generals to do the fighting, and that there would have been far less casualties if he had directed the invasion of Europe. His choice of subordinates did not help. Sutherland had gone home, so MacArthur relied more and more on Courtney Whitney despite warnings from other members of the staff that he was a bad influence.
The transformation of Japan into a friendly ally was considered vital because MacArthur knew that it would have to replace China, since the Nationalists were clearly losing the civil war with the Communists. This situation took the American public by surprise since FDR had insisted that Chiang’s China be part of the Big Four during WWII, so people were stunned and shocked to learn that a majority of Chinese had chosen the Communists, which naturally made them anti-American, even though the average Chinese peasant thought little, if anything, about America. MacArthur continued to feed reporters his opinions, and he stated that Chiang should have been given even more support, regardless of rampant corruption, because he was an anti-Communist. He also used public fears about the fall of the Nationalists to gain support for a stronger military presence in Japan.
Having said repeatedly he did not expect that a major war would break out on the Korean Peninsula, MacArthur would be proven wrong when the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) crossed the border, starting the Korean War. Truman reacted quickly, persuading the UN Security Council to permit the use of force to defend the Republic of Korea (ROK), and committing American occupation troops in Japan to that defence. MacArthur would blame Washington for the poor condition of his forces, even though he was in command in Japan and had completely neglected the Eighth Army, but MacArthur’s successful career was based on a habit of never admitting mistakes. In fact, his wife had represented him during visits to the occupation divisions stationed outside of Tokyo, but MacArthur never observed any of the training exercises where he would have seen that the troops were woefully ill-prepared for anything resembling soldiering. The JCS had inspected the Eighth Army and seen firsthand that it was better prepared to occupy a brothel than to charge up a hill, but there was little point in raising a stink since there was no money to hold proper training exercises, there appeared to be no threat facing the occupation army and it would involve a major confrontation with MacArthur, who would not take kindly to being told how to run his army.
It may seem strange that the United States had pulled out of South Korea given the growing series of confrontations with the Soviet Union, but the planners at the Pentagon had felt that the main showdown would be in Europe, so resources needed to be conserved for the real match, not the opening fights. Moreover, the Americans were thinking like occupiers of Japan, not Japanese, who had always considered control of the Korean peninsula vital to the defence of Japan.
By early August, the NKPA had gained control of all of South Korea except for the area around the port of Pusan. Although Lieutenant General Walton Walker had established a solid perimeter and stopped the NKPA advance, MacArthur convinced the navy and marines to execute a landing at Inchon, in the rear of the NKPA, on September 15. Seoul was liberated ten days later. When Walker commenced his own break-out, the NKPA quickly crumbled. Hoping to re-unite Korea, MacArthur sent American troops into North Korea.
Claiming that he understood the Oriental mind, MacArthur told the Pentagon and Truman personally when they met at Wake Island that the Chinese would never invade, despite repeated Chinese warnings that it could not accept the presence of US troops on its border. Part of the problem is that MacArthur felt that he had a unique grasp of the Oriental mind, even though knew nothing about Asians, having last set foot on the Asian mainland in 1905, was unable to speak fluently, or even badly, any Asian language, and having dealt only with a few Filipino leaders and then a few conservative Japanese politicians. Incapable of admitting that he was wrong or that anyone could know more than him about a subject, he ignored the advice of real Asian experts. A charitable viewpoint would be that MacArthur was old, a victim of his own success and surrounded by sycophants who refused to tell him the truth. Regardless, he was happy to take credit for the early victories but he evaded the blame for the deaths of thousands of men and the expansion of the war. Intimidated by MacArthur, the Joint Chiefs permitted him to send US troops towards the Yalu, even though it should have been obvious that China would not accept troops from a hostile nation on its borders. As MacArthur exceeded or disregarded his orders, he became more confident that he was invulnerable and publicly demanded a wider war.
Ignoring reports of Chinese units in North Korea, MacArthur was completely unprepared for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Chinese ‘volunteers.’ The UN and ROK forces were dangerously spread out, therefore the Chinese routed the Eighth Army, and the Marines of Task Force X barely fought their way out of a trap at the Chosin Reservoir. MacArthur’s allies in Congress and the press placed the blame for the disaster on Truman, while calling for a wider war. When Walker died in a traffic accident, much of the blame that should have gone to MacArthur went to Walker. Willoughby did his part to protect his superior, claiming that his intelligence team had known the exact number of Chinese in Korea, and that MacArthur had ordered the offensive to determine how the enemy would react.
MacArthur flew several times to Korea between late January and February 20 to hold press conferences with the Korean War as a background but still failed to look at the army he was theoretically in charge of. These trips with his pet correspondents were largely a reaction to the press attention that Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway, Walker’s replacement, was receiving from reporters actually based in Korea and their opinion that Ridgway, not MacArthur, was responsible for the turn-around. Fed up with MacArthur’s grandstanding and elaborate visits which signalled to the Chinese that another offensive was about to start, Ridgway sent MacArthur a diplomatic message persuading him to hold press events somewhere else.
Aware that the State Department was planning to release a statement offering a ceasefire and hinting at negotiations on a UN seat for China, MacArthur issued a bold warning that China was completely out-matched militarily, and personal negotiations with him would be needed to ensure that the war did not expand. News of the statement reached Washington late in the evening of March 23, and Secretary of State Dean Acheson realized that MacArthur would have to be removed, although it seemed doubtful that the JCS would agree. Informed of MacArthur’s statement the next morning, Truman immediately decided that MacArthur would have to go. Actually, he had been considering it for months. American allies had understandably wondered who was in charge, the president or MacArthur.
When a letter written by MacArthur that criticized the efforts of diplomats to fight the war with words, rather than weapons, was read to the House of Representatives on April 5 it was the final straw for Truman. After Marshall and Acheson warned that there would be a huge fight due to MacArthur’s massive political support, Truman agreed to wait while the JCS prepared for the transfer of command. The JCS were intimidated by MacArthur, but they realized that civilian control of the military meant that he had to be replaced. After reviewing the telecons for the past few years, Marshall admitted that MacArthur should have been removed years ago. Army Secretary Frank Pace was already in Korea, so he was sent to Tokyo to inform MacArthur that he had been relieved of duty and would be replaced by Ridgway. When reporters from the Chicago Tribune, owned by Colonel Robert McCormick, a strong supporter of MacArthur, asked too many questions, Bradley worried that MacArthur might find out and resign first in order to embarrass the president. Eager to ensure that MacArthur was fired, Truman ordered an aide to hold a press conference at one in the morning announcing that MacArthur had been relieved of duty. Pace received a message in Korea telling him to inform Ridgway that he was now supreme commander of the Pacific. MacArthur learned from Armed Forces radio that he had been fired. Truman addressed the nation by radio on the evening of April 11 to explain that he had dismissed MacArthur because the general disagreed with the government’s policy.
MacArthur had planned to make his way slowly through the Philippines and Australia before returning to the United States in time for the Republican convention, but Republican leaders urged him to return as soon as possible to present his side of events. The White House was inundated with protests, largely due to the manner in which MacArthur had been fired, rather than the fact that he had been fired. A Gallup poll found that 69 percent of adults sympathized with MacArthur, but soldiers in Korea were happy to see him go.
The Japanese public was genuinely sad since he had brought stability after the surrender and the war had also single-handedly rejuvenated the Japanese economy. Both Prime Minister Yoshida and Emperor Hirohito visited MacArthur to pay their respects. MacArthur had been an excellent choice as viceroy for Japan since the Emperor believed that he was descended from Heaven but MacArthur knew that he was a god.
When MacArthur returned to the United States on April 19, it was the first time he had been home in fourteen years. Aside from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was greeted by the majority and minority leaders of both houses of Congress, who knew a presidential candidate when they saw one. Only Truman refused to greet him.
Congress had invited MacArthur to address a joint session and the address would be broadcast nationwide. The thirty-four-minute-long speech claimed that the real enemy was China and that the United States must resist the global enemy of communism. Criticizing the Truman administration’s appeasement of China, MacArthur called for stronger measures against China, including a naval and economic blockade, thus inflaming public criticism of the Truman administration. Several days later, MacArthur was honoured by a huge ticker tape parade in New York City. However, when the Senate opened hearings on his dismissal on April 25, the general’s testimony was unconvincing and few senators felt any desire to declare war on China. When George Marshall and Omar Bradley politely but firmly demolished MacArthur’s claims to understand either his own theater or the global nature of the battle against Communism, Republican senators tried to stop the hearings or at least prevent the testimony of the rest of the JCS, hoping to limit the damage, but were overruled. By the end of the hearings, MacArthur was not longer a titan, just a tired, old man, who had clearly fallen behind the global situation, and knew nothing outside of Asia. MacArthur established himself at the Waldorf-Astoria but as time passed, the number of reporters who would arrive to receive press releases from MacArthur’s public relations chief Courtney Whitney would steadily decline.
Embarking on a massive national tour, MacArthur attracted crowds that routinely numbered in the tens of thousands, but people had come to honor him, not to hear his pro-Republican speeches, which offended the people who respected his achievements but did not share those beliefs. Preparing for the Republican convention, his primary goal was to deny the nomination to Eisenhower. Although the details have never been made clear, MacArthur and Senator Robert Taft, leader of the conservative faction, appear to have made a deal where MacArthur would initially support Taft, and be rewarded with the position of vice-president. Viewing Eisenhower as his former assistant, MacArthur was never able to accept him as president, and he remained bitter for the rest of his life.
No longer obligated to spend any time with dignitaries, MacArthur became even more reclusive than before. The only people that he saw were his wife, his son, and his loyal aides Whitney and Sid Huff. The army provided MacArthur with an office for the two aides, but he received no responsibilities, and he only left his hotel suites to attend boxing matches, football games or musicals. Aside from his army office, where he never went, he attended several meetings a week in his capacity as chairman of the board of the Sperry Rand Corporation, where he received a high salary and lent the company his ample prestige. Following his eightieth birthday, an elderly MacArthur accepted a large advance for his memoirs in order to provide his wife and son with a large inheritance, and he completed the memoirs before his death. However, his health had declined and he spent a month at Walter Reed Hospital undergoing operations before he finally died on April 5, 1964 due to acute kidney and liver failure.
Directed by Peter Webber, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Matthew Fox
Following the Japanese surrender, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the occupation forces, appoints General Bonner Fellers to determine whether or not Emperor Hirohito should be hung as a war criminal.
Directed by Terrence Young, starring Laurence Olivier and Ben Gazzara
Following the sudden North Korean invasion of South Korea, an American major organizes resistance while General Douglas MacArthur plans an ambitious landing at Inchon in the rear of the enemy. (full review)
Directed by Joseph Sargent, starring Gregory Peck and Marj Dusay
It presents General Douglas MacArthur’s life from the American defeat in the Philippines in 1942 through WWII, his service as consul in Japan, the Korean War and his final confrontation with President Harry Truman. (full review)
The Court-martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)
Directed by Otto Preminger, starring Gary Cooper and Rod Steiger
General Billy Mitchell achieves fame during WWI and struggles during the 1920s to convince his military superiors that planes can sink battleships. Tired of seeing friends die in accidents caused by budgetary constraints, Mitchell begins to publicly criticize his superiors in the press and is court-martialed. (full review)
They Were Expendable (1945)
Directed by John Ford, starring Robert Montgomery and John Wayne
Although dismissed by the navy as too weak for combat, PT boats prove their worth in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor as America struggles to defend the Philippines during WWII. (full review)
American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964-William Manchester, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1978.
The incredibly annoying introduction, where it is clear that Manchester could only explain MacArthur by comparing his strengths and weakness to other notable historical figures, shows that the author has produced an overly favorable book. This hagiographic approach reflects the author’s acceptance of MacArthur’s own memoirs at face value. Manchester labors manfully to avoid any criticism of MacArthur. MacArthur, not Lieutenant General Walton Walker, receives credit for the successful defence of Pusan in the early stages of the Korean War, even though Walker did all the actual fighting. Attempting to defend the humiliating defeat of American forces by the Chinese during the initial invasion, Manchester claims that the Chinese received copies of MacArthur’s battle plans from the Russians who had several spies in the British government, ignoring the lack of cooperation between the Soviets and the Chinese, and the fact that MacArthur did not submit detailed battle plans to the Pentagon, believing that it was unnecessary to obtain the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While it is an in-depth look at MacArthur, the lack of objective analysis makes it difficult to take American Caesar seriously.
Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur-Geoffrey Perret, New York: Random House, 1996.
Perret is an entertaining writer, and while he clearly admires MacArthur, he does not hesitate to acknowledge the man’s lesser qualities, especially his pompousness and inability to bear criticism. Like a good researcher, he enjoys sharing the more interesting discoveries he has made. Describing the breakdown of the relationship between MacArthur’s first wife Louise Brooks and her former lover general John “Black Jack” Pershing, he presents Pershing’s response to her ultimatum that she marry him or leave her bed. Pershing replied: “Louise, marrying you would be like buying a book for somebody else to read.” An insightful judge of character, Perret has a layered view of MacArthur, comparing MacArthur’s medal fixation with a CEO’s desire to have as many perks as possible included in his contract.
Perret makes the common error of dismissing Walker’s ability, implying that he was too old for a combat command and was on the verge of abandoning Korea from Pusan until MacArthur stiffened him. MacArthur did not fight the battle at Pusan, Walker did, MacArthur simply flew in for photo opportunities. However, Perret gives a fair summing up of MacArthur, pointing out that he was a great general with moments of genius, but he caused too many problems, especially while running political and military campaigns at the same time. Definitely a more nuanced view of MacArthur than William Machester’s American Caesar. Overly favorable, but worth reading.
MacArthur’s War: Korean and the Undoing of an American Hero-Stanley Weintraub, New York: Touchstone, 2001.
The author spends a bit too much time dealing with famous correspondent Marguerite Higgins, who is mentioned more than the rest of the press put together. Primarily concerned with MacArthur, Weintraub spends as much time dealing with MacArthur’s reaction to the sudden Chinese offensive after Thanksgiving as the actual military situation in Korea. The 8th Army’s collapse and the struggle of the Marines to survive at the Chosin Resevoir are not covered in detail, but mentioned simply to show how much MacArthur and his clique, including Almond, were out of touch with the situation. Since the title is MacArthur’s War, the book only deals with MacArthur’s involvement in the Korean War, therefore a reader seeking an in-depth examination of the war itself in Korea will need to read other books. However, Weintraub provides a superb look at the court surrounding MacArthur, thus revealing how the man’s gradual disconnect from reality eventually led to his humiliating removal from power.