General Douglas MacArthur

by Daniel Russ on August 15, 2014

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General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)

John Gunther wrote, “General MacArthur took more territory, with less loss of life, than any military commander since Darius the Great.”

MacArthur was raised in august military tradition, the son and grandson of US Army officers, many who shined while doing battle on both sides of the American Civil War and in the old West.  MacArthur impressed people. During his career in almost everything he did, he won acclaim, not the least of which were seven Distinguish Service Crosses. He received a military education in the West Texas Military Academy and impressed enough commanders to get blandishments the likes of which were rarely heard about upcoming young officers. Eventually he received a presidential appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. MacArthur’s effect on US military expeditions was amplified by the upgraded core work ethos he instituted at the military academy, which included the notion that the entire person, ‘the whole man’ in effect received an education. To him, officers were not just brave tacticians, they were strategic thinkers, scholars and adventurers and gentlemen, most certainly.  

MacArthur was the only American that rose to the position of Field Marshall of the Philippine Army, earning also the Medal of Honor for his military service in the Philippine Campaigns. MacArthur was one of only five Americans promoted to General of the Army.

MacArthur was at times a vainglorious self-promoter and a tough political infighter. One has to remember though that at times in his life he was incredibly brave. During the occupation of Veracruz, ordered by Woodrow Wilson, MacArthur went in as a member of the Army Corps of Engineers. He noted that they desperately needed train engines. He set off with a group of men and located the engines. They were chased away by rebels and in two gunfights, he killed pursuers or drove them off. Once you have been in a fire fight, you enter a hallowed brotherhood of shooter and shot at. MacArthur was wounded slightly by gunfire in Veracruz, and he was gassed in the Marne offensive. MacArthur was wounded confirming a reconnaissance photograph that showed a gap in the German line during that campaign.

By 1915, MacArthur was promoted to a Major at the War Department, now busy planning their roles in the First World War. MacArthur distinguished himself in combat in the Marne offense and helped to overrun and capture Germans in the characteristic and deadly trench warfare. He helped plan an attack in the Chalôns-en-Champagne lines on the Germans alongside the French Fourth Army. He received not only a Distinguished Service Cross, but a Croix-De-Guerre and a Legion d’Honneur badge from our French allies.

Back in the United State he was appointed Superintendent of West Point. There he turned it into a world class officer training facility and as such probably had a larger cascading influence on two or three whole generations of US Army leadership. As a commander of the forces in the Philippines he was a surprisingly astute politician and while he had to put down some rebellions, he was happy to befriend Philippine leaders and ignore the old style Colonial proclivities of previous precepts.

In 1941, America’s perfect soldier showed some cracks and when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, MacArthur made few changes to his garrison’s configurations. A few days later the 11th Ar Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy struck suddenly at Clark Sir Force Base and destroyed 241 aircraft in a few minutes. MacArthur was caught unprepared and people grumbled. He was forced to move his forces back to Bataan and his staff to Australia.

The ensuing bloody battles for the Philippines, MacArthur did fairly well, and working with a depleted and often poorly resupplied armies of US, Australian and New Zealander forces, he took back the Philippines inch by inch from motivated and ferocious Japanese defenders. He used PR and other communication channels wisely to restore confidence that progress was being made even when it was very slow. The end of 1944 found MacArthur in a meeting with the Allied Supreme Command staff to determine the next Allied targets. Some suggested that Japanese garrisons at Formosa be hit next. MacArthur reminded them that the liberation of the Philippines had to continue as it was a moral obligation as well. That said, Bull Halsey thought Leyte should be the next target. Hew on the round and thusly, when MacArthur’s landing craft beached in shallow waters, and no landing craft were available, he waded in, cameras running, and made this speech to the people of the Philippines.

“I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil—soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.”

When the Second World War ended, MacArthur was given purview over the actual occupation and political administration of Japan. Again he demonstrated a smart progressive way, instituting democratic principles that shaped even modern day Japan. He did preside over the war crimes trials of 43000 Japanese commanders and collaborators. 1,000 were hanged and many more received life in prison. These crimes included the Bataan Death March, and the Rape of Nanking.

In Korea he found himself engaged in a bloody, fast moving ground war and he is remembered for his famous flanking maneuver, the invasion of Inchon. While he won the battle, but the war turned badly on him when he and the CIA misjudged the number of Chinese infantry present by about 150,000. Having taken back Seoul in 1951 and having pushed troops back to the 38th parallel, MacArthur spruiked his disaffection with Communist forces as players in global politics. He suggested a move further north into Chinese Communist areas of power.

In an extremely unpopular decision, Truman removed MacArthur from his office.

In a farewell speech to Congress he was given multiple standing ovations.

“The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country. Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps. I bid you farewell.”

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