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Naval Historical Center #62439
One of the most controversial figures in American history, Douglas MacArthur was the son of Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient Arthur MacArthur. Born at Little Rock Barracks, Arkansas, Douglas MacArthur graduated from West Point in 1903 at the head of his class, despite the distraction of having his mother, whom he called "Pinkie", living in a house just outside the gates all four years. It is not unreasonable to speculate that MacArthur’s character reflected a lifelong need to live up to the expectations of Pinkie.
MacArthur also experienced severe hazing as a West Point cadet, much of it inspired by the fact that his father, who was serving as military governor of the Philippines, was recalled and subjected to a Congressional investigation of Army mistreatment of Filipinos. Though Arthur MacArthur was largely exonerated, he was reassigned to Stateside duty, which he found unsatisfying. In 1905 he persuaded his superiors to let him take Douglas as his personal aide on a tour of the Far East. This left a profound and lasting impression on the young lieutenant, who later wrote that the tour would "color and influence all the days of my life."
MacArthur became the personal aide of Army Chief
of Staff Leonard Wood in 1912, introducing him to the Army's inner
circle. He became part of the General Staff the next year. During the
Vera Cruz expedition of 1914, he acted as Wood's personal emissary,
leading a controversial reconnaissance
mission that some of his fellow officers thought warranted a Medal of
Honor but which an Army board branded an "error of judgment." MacArthur
vigorously protested the ruling but could not get it reversed.
MacArthur demonstrated his
considerable physical courage in
the First World War, where he became the assistant division commander
(“Rainbow”) Division and often led it
from the front ranks. His
courage probably derived from his fatalism and sense of
destiny. He also developed a signature style, characterized by
deliberately exposing himself into danger, wearing non-regulation
dress, and disputing any orders he considered prejudicial to the honor
of his division.
Between the Wars. MacArthur's postwar career was equally illustrious. His assignment to occupation duty in Germany and subsequent appointment as superintendent of West Point allowed him to retain his temporary wartime rank of brigadier general. As superintendent of West Point, he instituted a number of important reforms (but was unable to completely abolish hazing). He was a member of the Billy Mitchell court-martial while serving as commander of III Corps near Washington. He became the commander of Army forces in the Philippines, as was his father before him, and developed a strong devotion to the Commonwealth that persisted until the end of the Second World War. The assignment to the Philippines also gave him a safe haven to come to terms with his divorce from his first wife and her subsequent allegations of his sexual inadequacy.
MacArthur was appointed Chief of Staff, the Army’s highest post, in 1930. It was as Chief of Staff that MacArthur’s darker side first became evident to the public. Ordered by President Hoover to maintain order in Washington during the Bonus March, he apparently exceeded his orders and had the marchers violently dispersed. Many of the marchers had brought their families with them, and it was later claimed that two infants were smothered by tear gas during the confrontation.
After completing his tour as Chief of
Staff in 1938, MacArthur went
through a difficult period brought on both by the prospect of early
retirement (the Army had little use for ex-Chiefs of Staff) and by his
own indiscretions. He had met and fallen in love with a Eurasian woman
in Manila, Isabel Cooper, and secretly brought her to Washington and
set her up in a private apartment. When MacArthur tried to sue a pair
of muckraking journalists for libel over the Bonus March, MacArthur's
ex-wife saw to it that the journalists learned about MacArthur's
mistress. MacArthur was forced to drop the suit and pay the
journalists' legal expenses. MacArthur repeatedly threatened suicide
to his acquaintances, including his aide, T.J. Davis, who became tired
of talking him out of it. During a train trip, MacArthur told Davis, "I've done
everything I can in the Army and life, my term as chief of Staff is
ending. As we pass over the Tennessee River bridge, I intend to jump
from the train. This is where my life ends, Davis" (Schaller 1989). Fed
up with replaying this drama, Davis wished MacArthur happy landings.
MacArthur never threatened suicide again.
Roosevelt extend MacArthur's tour as Chief of
Staff, likely because Roosevelt wished to increase military spending
and MacArthur had a talent for winning Congressional appropriations.
The question of what to do with MacArthur when he finished his tour was
settled in 1937, when MacArthur retired from the Army to organize the
Philippine armed forces. MacArthur shocked his peers by accepting the
rank of field marshal in the Philippine Army, which they thought was
beneath the dignity of a former
of Staff of the U.S. Army. The importance of this title to
MacArthur is proven
by photographs showing him still wearing the cap of a Philippine field
as late as 1944. During his trip to the Philippines to take up this new
assignment, MacArthur met Jean Faircloth, whom he later married and by
whom he had his only child, Arthur MacArthur IV.
One of MacArthur's finer qualities was a relative
lack of racism in his attitude towards Filipinos and other
non-Westerners. He refrained from using racial epithets even against
the Japanese during the Pacific War,
in sharp contrast with many other Army and Navy officers. During his
time organizing the Filipino armed forces, MacArthur became deeply
integrated into the Filipino social network. He treated elite Filipinos
as his social equals and becoming particularly close to Manuel Quezon,
choosing him as the godfather to his son.
MacArthur believed that the
Philippines could be successfully
defended against Japan,
a conclusion contrary to twenty years of staff
studies. He hoped to organize a Philippine Army of over
twenty divisions, modeled on the Swiss army and
supported by a small Air Force and coastal Navy. His plans seriously
overtaxed the very limited Philippine Commonwealth budget even after
they were repeatedly scaled back. MacArthur demanded a salary that was
exorbitant for the time and circumstances, and there is evidence he
requested "commissions" for work done by his U.S. Army aides, in
violation of American law. MacArthur became increasingly isolated, one
U.S. Army major telling a reporter that MacArthur "cut no more ice in
this U.S. Army than a corporal" (Schaller 1989). His efforts to secure
the post of High Commissioner to the Philippines only increased his
isolation from Washington. Like most American leaders of the time,
MacArthur grossly underestimated the Japanese, stating that "the
American, the British and the Dutch could handle her with about half
the forces they now have deployed in the Far East" (ibid.)
Still in the Philippines when war broke out in Europe, MacArthur was recalled to active duty in the U.S. Army on 26 July 1941, the same day the oil embargo against Japan was announced. MacArthur was given the rank of lieutenant general and placed in command of Armed Forces, Far East.
MacArthur and the first Philippines campaign. As war loomed, MacArthur continued to assert that he could stop any Japanese invasion on the beaches. When Thomas Hart, the commander of Asiatic Fleet, tried to coordinate his plans with those of MacArthur, the latter told Hart to "Get yourself a real fleet, Tommy, then you will belong." Hart wrote his wife that "The truth of the matter is ... that Douglas is, I think, no longer altogether sane.... [H]e may not have been for a long time." However, MacArthur believed he had a trump card, the then-new B-17 Flying Fortress, whose capabilities were greatly overestimated prior to its first trial of combat. Considerable reinforcements, including 33 of the precious B-17s, had been sent to the Philippines, and more were on the way, when war broke out.
MacArthur saw his air force go up in smoke the first day of the war, under circumstances that have never been adequately explained (but see the entry for Lewis Brereton). Quezon later told Eisenhower that MacArthur believed the Philippines could be kept neutral, but an early air strike from Clark would compromise that neutrality. MacArthur's beach defenses collapsed, and he finally ordered the retreat to the Bataan Peninsula that was anticipated in the older war plans. Because he had delayed the order to retreat, inadequate supplies of food were stockpiled in the peninsula, which would greatly increase the suffering of its defenders in the subsequent siege.
In the 1970s, historians discovered
that MacArthur had accepted
a bonus of half a million dollars from the Commonwealth government in
1942. Although this was allowed for in his contract to
Philippine armed forces, the timing and circumstances of the award
violated Army regulations. The award came just before MacArthur saw to
that Manuel Quezon,
the Commonwealth president, was evacuated from Corregidor
MacArthur toured the Bataan front just once during the entire campaign. This earned him the moniker “Dugout Doug” from some of his troops, who attributed it to lack of physical courage. This is implausible, given the considerable physical courage MacArthur displayed throughout his career. The true explanation may be lack of moral courage: MacArthur had promised his troops that relief was coming, and when it became clear that Washington was going to abandon the Philippines, MacArthur could not face his troops and tell them the truth.
performance in the Philippines was so
lackluster that he arguably should have been relieved of
command. But MacArthur
had an astonishing flair for public
relations. Eisenhower, a
aide, once joked that he had “studied dramatics”
under MacArthur for seven
years in the Philippines. MacArthur’s supporters
spun the first Philippines
campaign as a kind of Battle of the Alamo that had thrown off the
timetable and bought the country precious breathing space. (In fact,
Japanese conquest of Southeast Asia was completed ahead of schedule,
itself took longer than the Japanese anticipated.) MacArthur
himself was spun as “the
Lion of Luzon”
and “America’s best
general.” Babies were named for him, streets were renamed for him, and
he was showered with honors, including being named "Number One Father
for 1942." MacArthur replied that he hoped his son would remember him
when praying "Our Father, who art in Heaven", probably the plainest expression of the general's megalomania.
Roosevelt himself seems to have been caught up in the MacArthur mystique. Cutler (1994) reports that
The President's personal physician, Dr. Ross T. McIntire, revealed after the war that Roosevelt "may have smiled now and then at some of the General's purple communiques, but always there was appreciation of him as a military genius who had worked miracles in the face of heart-breaking odds." One of Roosevelt's most trusted advisers, Admiral William D. Leahy, wrote of MacArthur: "I had always entertained an extremely high opinion of his ability." And Roosevelt himself told MacArthur, while the latter was serving as Chief of Staff of the Army, "Douglas, I think you are our best general, but i believe you would be our worst politician"
Roosevelt evidently felt he could not allow MacArthur to be captured by the
nor would he return him to the States to become a possible political
Instead, Roosevelt awarded MacArthur the Medal of Honor, four stars,
command of the Southwest
Pacific Area, ordering him to quit Corregidor
and escape to Australia. On 11
March 1942 MacArthur reluctantly complied, publicly
declaring that he understood his assignment to be to organize the
relief of the
Philippines. “I shall return” became a
memorable rallying call, but it was
typical of MacArthur that the phrase was not “We
shall return.” As
later wags put it, “With the help of God and a few Marines,
to the Philippines.” Roosevelt likely hoped that the presence of a
prominent American general in Australia would boost the reputation of
the U.S. in that country.
MacArthur in the
Southwest Pacific. MacArthur proceeded to build a
personality cult within his
headquarters. Many of his staff officers had escaped from
him, and tremendous personal loyalty was expected of them.
lived lavishly, having demanded (and gotten) his own train from the
government, which included a flatcar for his limousine, purchased with
the bonus from Quezon and originally used by the Prince of Wales during
visit to the island continent. Marshall
MacArthur, "General, you don’t
have a staff. You have a court." One of MacArthur's more sympathetic biographers, Clark Lee, nonetheless
wrote of MacArthur's staff that "it is frequently (and largely truthfully) said
that they share several characteristics — each carries a chip on both
shoulders, is highly and sometimes childishly sensitive, and is
convinced that the general is the greatest man who ever lived" (quoted
by Larrabee 1987). By contrast with Nimitz, MacArthur never made
any effort to establish a joint staff. His staff was organized and run
as an Army staff, and Allied
and U.S. Navy officers were included as
technical assistants only.
MacArthur's Chief of Staff, Richard Sutherland, was typical of the kind of men with which MacArthur surrounded himself. Sutherland was a captain in Tientsin in 1938, when MacArthur brought him onto his staff. Sutherland rose to major general by the time war broke out, without ever having commanded a unit larger than a company. This was bad enough, but MacArthur aggravated the problem by giving Sutherland enormous control over most aspects of planning and operations. MacArthur also relied heavily on his intelligence chief, Charles Willoughby, a German immigrant with strong right-wing views who MacArthur once called "my lovable fascist."
MacArthur was careful to cultivate the press, and his press officers regular released MacArthur Communiques, as they
came to be known, that gave the impression that MacArthur was
personally directing operations. Talented subordinates such as Eichelberger
discovered that to steal "any publicity from MacArthur was like driving
a dagger into his heart" (Schaller 1989). While all propaganda
involves at least a selective use of the truth, MacArthur's communiques
were unusually dishonest, claiming (for example) that Allied losses in his theater between Buna and the invasion of Leyte were just 122 killed, 2 missing, and 529 wounded
versus over 150,000 Japanese killed. Besides carefully omitting the
bloody conflicts marking the beginning and end of this time period, the
figures are simply wrong; Biak
alone cost the Allies 474 dead or missing and 2428 wounded. Incorrect
figures for enemy casualties are understandable, but wildly incorrect
figures for one's own can only be a fabrication. Nor was the dishonesty
limited to the text of the communiques: In January 1943, MacArthur
posed with Eichelberger in a jeep at Rockhampton,
Australia, but released the photos with the caption "General MacArthur
at the front with General Eichelberger in New Guinea" (Larrabee 1978).
The Navy’s Plan Orange for a Pacific war anticipated an island-hopping campaign across the Central Pacific. MacArthur demanded that the cream of American resources be sent to the Southwest Pacific instead, for a campaign that would return him to the Philippines. The Philippines were not an unreasonable objective; capture of the islands and control of the surrounding waters would cut Japan’s lifeline to the oil fields of the Netherlands East Indies. But the Philippines are a long way from Tokyo, and returning to the Philippines from Australia implied a prolonged campaign in some of the worst jungle terrain on the face of the planet. MacArthur got his first taste of what this meant during the bloody siege of Buna, in which an Australian and two American divisions had the guts torn out of them in futile attempts to take strong Japanese field fortifications without adequate air, artillery, or tank support. Given leave at the Cairo conference to pursue an advance along the north coast of New Guinea, MacArthur adopted the leapfrog tactics pioneered by the Navy in the Aleutians and the Solomons, bypassing enemy strongholds and leaving them to wither on the vine. His New Guinea campaign of 1943 was strategically brilliant and put him on the threshold of the Philippines by mid-1944. What was not appreciated at the time was that MacArthur had considerably assistance from the code breakers, who were able to tell him which points on the New Guinea coast were defended and which were not.
However, MacArthur had split the Allied effort in the Pacific. The Navy was determined not to serve under MacArthur, and MacArthur was determined not to serve under the Navy, so the Southwest Pacific and Pacific commands were kept independent of each other. The Navy prepared for and executed its long-planned drive across the Central Pacific at the same time that MacArthur was driving up the coast of New Guinea. So great were the Allied resources by then that this seeming violation of the principle of mass was transformed into a one-two punch that prevented the Japanese from effectively concentrating their defenses against either drive.
Roosevelt's decision in July 1944 to allow MacArthur to liberate the Philippines, rather than approve King's plan to take Formosa, was probably driven by politics more than military strategy. MacArthur told Eichelberger in 1947 and former President Herbert Hoover in 1946 that he had made a deal with Roosevelt to land in the Philippines before November, so that Roosevelt could claim progress in the Pacific in his reelection campaign. And, indeed, MacArthur's communiques took a sudden upbeat tone, describing the wonderful cooperation on all levels up to Washington. One of his press officers told reporters skeptical of a claim that the fighting was all but over at Leyte that "the elections are coming up in a few days and the Philippines must be kept on the front pages back home" (Schaller 1989). Following the elections, MacArthur's communiques returned to the pattern of criticizing Washington.
With the liberation of the Philippines, MacArthur faced the problem of how to deal with rival guerrilla forces and with prominent Filipinos who had worked with the Japanese. MacArthur was disinclined to treat collaborators harshly, taking the position that most were simply working to improve the lot of Filipinos under the Japanese occupation. There was likely an element of truth to this. The Philippines were granted "independence" by the Japanese in October 1943 under the puppet government of Jose Laurel. Laurel nonetheless resisted pressure that his government declare war on the United States, not relenting until 1944. Laurel has since been defended by former Filipino resistance leaders for trying to do his best for the nation. He was initially charged with treason but the charges were dropped in a general amnesty in 1948.
Although the Roosevelt administration took the
position that all collaborators should be removed from power, no firm
policy on what would or would not be considered collaboration was ever
enunciated to MacArthur. MacArthur shifted the responsibility to
Osmena, the weak Philippine provisional president, while exercising
influence to ensure that even Manuel Roxas, who had served on
MacArthur's prewar staff but eventually joined the puppet cabinet, was
MacArthur also shut the OSS out of the Philippines so that his headquarters could determine which guerrilla groups would receive official sanction, including payment, supplies, and a place in the postwar political structure. In particular, the Hukbalahap were complete shut out, which had the effect of leaving the movement in the hands of its most pro-Communist, anti-American elements.
MacArthur all but abandoned the Philippines after
he was appointed Supreme Commander of the occupation forces in Japan
following her surrender. He left behind "a political void and a bankrupt regime" (Schaller 1989).
Personality and character. There is perhaps no better portrait of the man that the one penned by a British liaison officer, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Wilkinson, who reported to Churchill that (Schaller 1989):
He is shrewd, selfish, proud, remote, highly strung and vastly vain. He has imagination, self-confidence, physical courage and charm, but no humor about himself, no regard for truth, and is unaware of these defects. He mistakes his emotions and ambitions for principles. With moral depth he would be a great man; as it is he is a near miss which may be worse than mile.... His main ambition would be to end the war as pan-American hero in the form of generalissimo of all Pacific theaters.... he hates Roosevelt and dislikes Winston's control of Roosevelt's strategy. He is not basically anti British, just pro-MacArthur.
Brendan Bracken, minister of information and a close friend
of Churchill, replied to Wilkinson that MacArthur's only importance was
as a threat to the "Germany First" policy, Larrabee (1987) has argued
that the attitudes of MacArthur and King helped ensure British
agreement to the Normandy invasion, since this was the only way to
guarantee the preservation of the "Germany First" strategy.
One of MacArthur’s blind
spots was his relations with his
allies. He treated Australian
Zealand troops with wholly
undeserved contempt, assigning them mopping-up duties and almost never
acknowledging their contributions in his
communiques. Part of the problem may
have been that MacArthur took pride in being a lifelong professional
son of a professional soldier, while most Australian commanders were
between the world wars. Another part of the problem may have
been that 8
Australian Division had failed to hold Singapore for as
long as MacArthur’s Philippine
troops had held Bataan, a comparison from which MacArthur drew
unwarranted generalizations. MacArthur did not seem to understand at
first how terrible the terrain in New Guinea was, and he was biting in
his criticism of Australian militia
who fought at Kokoda and Milne Bay, telling Marshall that "The enemy's defeat at
Milne Bay must not be accepted as a measure of relative fighting
capacity of the troops involved."
When Eichelberger arrived at Rockhampton, MacArthur advised him to "pay
[his] respects to the Australians and then have nothing further to do
with them" (Larrabee 1987).
Another of MacArthur’s blind spots was his attitude towards the Navy. Though he got along well with Halsey and with his own Southwest Pacific naval commander, Thomas Kinkaid, MacArthur never forgave the Navy for not taking greater risks to relieve the Philippines. He constantly tried to undercut Nimitz, the top naval commander in the Pacific. In June 1942, MacArthur even claimed to Marshall that, while serving as Chief of Staff, he had uncovered a Navy conspiracy to take complete control of the national defense. His supporters claimed that MacArthur’s strategy saved American lives by leapfrogging Japanese strongholds, while the Navy’s campaign in the Central Pacific was throwing away American lives in unnecessary frontal attacks on small islands where there was no room for maneuver. This ungenerous attitude ignored the extremely heavy casualties suffered by MacArthur’s forces at Buna and during the second Philippines campaign, and it minimized the vital contribution of the Central Pacific campaign to cracking the inner Japanese defenses.
MacArthur was incredibly egotistical
and an erratic if
sometimes brilliant strategist. He frequently ignored signals intelligence in favor of his own
intuition, and on several occasions badly underestimated enemy
strength. Hastings (2007) says of him that "He
made no jokes and possessed no
small talk, though he would occasionally talk baseball to enlisted men,
in attempts to deceive them that he was human." His monumental tomb at
describes him as the “Defender of Australia, Liberator of the
Conqueror of Japan,” which is taking rather a lot of credit
to himself. Though
usually thought of as a political conservative, a close examination of
record reveals an opportunist lacking in any real political
reputation as a conservative may be a consequence of his intense
successive Democratic presidents as well as his unsuccessful postwar
for the Republican nomination for president.
MacArthur also displayed a paranoia that at times bordered on mental illness. He rejected explanations of the "Germany First" policy as cover for a conspiracy by enemies in Washington to deny him vital resources (Schaller 1989):
MacArthur interpreted Marshall's leadership and Eisenhower's operations in North Africa as slights against himself. General Robert Eichelberger, a corps commander and later head of the Eighth Army, recalled that throughout the war MacArthur raged "about his dislike for FDR and his statements about General Marshall and General Eisenhower were rich, rare, and racy." MacArthur "had a fetish" that Marshall was "working against him at all times" and still accused Ike of having sabotaged the work of the military adviser in Manila by "stealing publicity."
One wonders then why Roosevelt tolerated MacArthur and even
built him up, by ordering him out of the Philippines, giving him the
Medal of Honor, and supporting the invasion of Luzon instead of
Formosa. Larrabee (1987) has speculated that Roosevelt found MacArthur
too useful as a political foil to get rid of him. Much of the domestic
political opposition to Roosevelt rallied around MacArthur, who was
hopeless outclassed as a politician, and so long as MacArthur could be
confined to his military role in the Southwest Pacific, Roosevelt used
him to defuse the political opposition. Cutler
(1994) likewise suggests that, in addition to mistaking MacArthur for a
military genius, Roosevelt believed that keeping MacArthur within his
own political camp by advancing MacArthur's interest was the best way
to neutralize him as a political rival.
MacArthur's insistence that no local surrenders be
accepted until after the main surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay likely
prolonged the suffering of prisoners of war and internees in southeast
Asia. His attitude is particularly inexplicable given the emphasis MacArthur put on rescuing POWs in the Philippines and Japan.
MacArthur’s egotism and grandiloquence played surprisingly well with the Japanese during the postwar Allied occupation. He was able to maintain order, and he forced democratic reforms on Japan that would transform Japanese society. On the other hand, he decided very early on that the Emperor was much too useful to be tried as a war criminal, and as a result the Tokyo war crimes trials were highly flawed in comparison with the Nuremberg proceedings. MacArthur's policies during the occupation often reflected a desire to play to voters in the United States, but the result was a surprisingly successful balance between the "stumble" views of former ambassador Joseph Grew, who believed the ultranationalism of the war years was an aberration driven by the Depression, and the "root" views of Dean Acheson, who regarded Japanese ultranationalism as deeply rooted in Japanese culture.
Postwar. MacArthur claimed after the war that he had opposed Russian
intervention against Japan but was pressured into accepting it by
Washington, a claim that is demonstrably untrue in both particulars.
However, MacArthur did take the initiative to
respond to the Communist invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1950.
Although the North Korean forces initially swept aside all opposition,
MacArthur's forces were able to hold a perimeter at Pusan, and MacArthur's amphibious assault at Inchon was a brilliant stroke that reversed all the Communist successes. However, MacArthur ignored warnings that the Chinese
would intervene if his forces approached the Yalu River, and the
Chinese intervention drove the U.N. forces back to the 38th parallel.
MacArthur's interference with efforts by the Truman administration to find a diplomatic
settlement, combined with a letter critical of the administration that
was written by MacArthur and read to the House of Representatives, led
Truman to dismiss MacArthur. His dismissal created a mild uproar in the
United States, but Truman easily weathered the political storm, and
MacArthur was forced into retirement.
|Born in Little Rock, Arkansas
|Graduates from West Point as an engineering officer, standing first
in a class of 93. Assigned to Philippines.
|Far East tour
|Company commander, Fort Leavenworth
|Aide to Army Chief of Staff
|Chief of staff, 42 Division
|Commander, 84 Brigade
|Commander, 42 Division
|Superintendent, West Point
|Commander, Philippine Military
|Commander, 23 Brigade
|Commander, Philippine Division
|Commander, 4 Corps Area
|Commander, 3 Corps Area
|Commander, Philippine Department
|Chief of staff, U.S. Army
|Recalled; Commander, USAFFE
|General of the
|Commander, U.S. Army Forces in
|Commander, Allied Forces of
|Commander, U.S. Forces Far East
|Commander, U.N. Forces, Korea
|Dies at Walter Reed Hospital
Dupuy et al. (1992)
Generals.dk (accessed 2007-11-26)
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