Born January 26, 1880
Little Rock, Arkansas
Died April 5, 1964
American military leader
Most people who came into contact with General Douglas MacArthur during his long career as a military commander were taken aback by the power of his personality. He was described as "larger than life" by many, with a remarkable gift for making compelling speeches and bringing drama and high passion to battlefields and military command offices world wide. His military accomplishments from World War I (1914–18) and II (1939–45) and on through the Korean War (1950–53) were numerous and significant, and his courage in the face of grave danger became a matter of legend. With his corncob pipe and sunglasses and his well-kept uniforms, he cut a very impressive figure, and the press kept busy photographing him walking fearlessly in the face of flying bullets. Yet, despite his near perfect American hero image, MacArthur became the most controversial military figure of the Korean War and was relieved of his command. Some of his admirers remember him as a strong and appealing military hero, while others remember him for his arrogance and disdain for the chain of command.
A general's son
Douglas MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was the son of a very distinguished military leader, Arthur MacArthur, who had won the Congres sional Medal of Honor during the Civil War (1860–65). In 1898, as a brigadier general, Arthur MacArthur led troops as they shattered Filipino resistance to the American takeover of the Philippines. He then became military governor of the Philippines. By the time he retired in 1909, Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur had become commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Douglas MacArthur was the third son in his family. His brother, Arthur II, was a navy captain whose career was marked by outstanding service in the Spanish-American War (1898) and World War I. His paternal grandfather was a lieutenant governor (and briefly governor) of Wisconsin and a federal judge. MacArthur often attributed his inspiration and success to his family heritage.
Douglas took an early liking to the military. He was born at a military station, and for much of his early life his family moved from post to post. He spent three early years, from age four to six, at Fort Selden near the Mexican border, watching the drills and parades of the fifty soldiers stationed there. He remembered learning to ride and shoot at Fort Selden even before he could read or write.
Probably the strongest influence on the young MacArthur was his mother, Mary Pinkney ("Pinkie") Hardy, the ambitious, strong-willed daughter of an aristocratic family from Norfolk, Virginia. Pinkie MacArthur spent much of her time persuading her son Douglas that he was special and destined for greatness. A very dominating parent, she nagged and pushed him to do great things, and also pushed the people around him to appreciate him. As a result, Douglas was, from an early age, a leader and an achiever. He earned high grades and found time to be active in sports but never participated much in the social activities at school. An acquaintance later said he was arrogant, or overly proud, from the age of eight.
The illustrious military career begins
In 1899, at the age of nineteen, MacArthur entered the military academy at West Point. His mother rented a room at a hotel overlooking her son's room at the academy. She is said to have watched over him very closely, making sure that he worked hard. He did. He earned top grades while playing baseball and managing the football team. In his senior year, he also served as president of the student body of West Point. MacArthur graduated in 1903 with a grade average of 98.14 percent, first in his class. He held the third best academic record in the history of the academy. On top of this, he clearly had an active social life, for he is said to have been engaged to eight women at the same time while still in school.
MacArthur rose rapidly in the service. His first assignment was in Leyte in the Philippines as an aide to his father. In 1906 and 1907, he attended the Engineer School of Application in Washington, D.C., receiving a degree in 1908, and he worked in the Office of the Chief of Engineers. By 1911, he had risen to the rank of captain. In 1913, after serving as an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), MacArthur found himself in Vera Cruz, Mexico, with the Corps of Engineers. The next year, he was promoted to the rank of major, at first supervising the State Department Building in Washington and then joining the general staff of the army. He was on the general staff in 1917 when the United States entered World War I.
World War I
Still only a major, MacArthur was lower in rank than most of the army staff. Yet he now began to show the arrogance and determination that would mark his military career. The wartime army needed more men to fight in Europe. To remedy this, MacArthur was strongly in favor of enlisting the National Guard into the regular army, but most generals on the staff were against it, believing that the part-time volunteer guard was not properly prepared. MacArthur argued so violently on the issue that one superior officer threatened to block any more promotions for him. Eventually, though, President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) came to hear of the young officer's proposal of forming a single battalion from National Guard volunteers of every state, a Rainbow Battalion. Wilson liked the idea, and soon MacArthur found himself a colonel helping to form the Rainbow Battalion and then a brigadier general leading the battalion into battle.
Even as a general, MacArthur was defiant of army ways, particularly in regard to his dress. Once he climbed out of the trenches in France to lead his men into combat wearing a West Point letter sweater with no helmet or gas-mask, armed only with a riding crop. He continually exposed himself to enemy fire. Winning many medals for his bravery and leadership, MacArthur was wounded twice and disabled by a gas attack once during World War I.
After the war, MacArthur was appointed superintendent of West Point. He was the youngest commandant of the academy ever to serve. He stayed in that position for three years until, in 1923, he followed in his father's footsteps on assignment to the Philippines. Back in the United States a year later, he took command posts of several army corps before returning to the island nation in 1928. He had married Henrietta Louise Cromwell Brooks, a wealthy divorcee, on February 14, 1922; they had no children. Seven years later they were divorced.
President Herbert Hoover (1874–1964) appointed MacArthur army chief of staff in November 1930, with the temporary rank of general. Because of the worsening Great Depression (a worldwide economic downturn prompted by the U.S. stock market crash of 1929 that lasted throughout the 1930s), much of his time and energy went toward preserving the army's already meager manpower and equipment. MacArthur served the army well as its directing officer. His work was so impressive that President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) asked him to stay in the position until 1935—one year beyond the normal tour for a chief of staff. From 1935 to 1937, MacArthur headed the U.S. military mission to the Philippine Commonwealth, given the task of developing Philippine self-defense in preparation for independence in 1946.
In 1935, MacArthur suffered a very difficult loss when his mother died. Two years later, in 1937, he wed Jean Marie Faircloth. This second marriage endured and the couple had one son, Arthur MacArthur III. Also in 1937, MacArthur retired from the U.S. Army. His old friend Manuel Quezon (1878–1944), then president of the Philippines, had asked him to serve as a military adviser. He became a field marshall in the Philippine army, with an assistant appointed by the U.S. Army, a young major named Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; see entry). (The United States at this point in Philippine history was in charge of the island nation's defense and so could make such appointments.)
When it appeared that the United States would soon be involved in World War II, MacArthur was recalled to serve in the U.S. Army. In 1941, President Roosevelt appointed him a major general, and one day later promoted him to lieutenant general in charge of the U.S. forces in the Pacific.
For some reason, MacArthur felt that the Philippines were not threatened by the war. He told John Hersey of Time magazine in May 1941 that "if Japan entered the war, the Americans, the British and the Dutch could handle her with about half the forces they now have deployed in the Far East." He held to this idea even after, on December 7, 1941, Japanese airplanes struck Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Ten hours later, the Japanese struck Clark Field in the Philippines, destroying most of MacArthur's planes.
A Japanese invasion and takeover of the Philippines followed, with forces far beyond the numbers the U.S. leaders thought possible. Once the fighting on the island began, MacArthur spread his poorly equipped forces far too thin and greatly exaggerated Japanese strength. MacArthur and his troops were penned up in the jungles with little possibility of escape or reinforcement. Still, MacArthur took personal command of his army's defenses, and to his credit he saved the city of Luzon from immediate destruction. He concentrated his forces on the Bataan peninsula and established his headquarters on the island of Corregidor. By moving food supplies away from the troops at Bataan and over to Corregidor, he created hardships for the soldiers. At this time, too, he accepted a personal gift of $500,000 from Philippines president Quezon, which violated army rules. Although MacArthur was known throughout his career for exposing himself, sometimes recklessly, to enemy fire, he did not visit the exhausted troops at Bataan even once.
It became clear that the U.S. forces in Bataan faced defeat, but MacArthur refused to leave the desperate situation until he was commanded to do so by President Roosevelt. In March 1942, he left the Philippines for Australia, taking with him a few of his men who could not become Japanese prisoners because they knew key military secrets. Typically, MacArthur revised his last message to the Japanese and Filipinos. In the message, he used the words "I shall return" instead of the army's recommendation, "We shall return."
In early April, the Filipino and American troops on Bataan surrendered; a month later Corregidor fell to the Japanese. Meanwhile, MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor, and to most of the public in the United States he emerged as the first American hero of the war.
A hero again in the Southwest Pacific
In mid-April 1942, MacArthur took command of the Southwest Pacific Area, a newly formed theater in which the principal forces for many months would be Australian. In the Papuan (New Guinea) campaign of July 1942 through January 1943, MacArthur's forces stopped a Japanese thrust and then counterattacked, annihilating the enemy army in several battles. The Papuan victory, though, was very costly, with nearly nine thousand combat casualties (and even more felled by diseases) out of thirty-three thousand troops engaged.
After Papua, MacArthur was determined to avoid frontal assaults and to bypass enemy strongholds. From this victory, he went on to a series of brilliant amphibious (land, water, and air) assaults throughout the Southwest Pacific, securing important harbors and air and land bases. His ground actions spanned fourteen hundred miles: his forces suffered some sixteen hundred combat casualties while killing more than twenty-six thousand enemy troops. A master of publicity, MacArthur obtained great press coverage. His popularity was rapidly increasing in the United States, and in 1944 he threw in his name as a presidential candidate in the primaries. The bid was unsuccessful and was quickly dropped.
Return to Bataan
On September 20, 1944, the chiefs of staff of the branches of the U.S. military (who advise the president and the secretary of defense on matters of war) ordered MacArthur back to the Philippines to attack Leyte, and on October 3 to invade the northern island of Luzon. MacArthur's orders limited him to Luzon, but he wanted to conquer the entire Philippines. Acting contrary to instructions from Washington, he foolishly divided his forces by sending the equivalent of five divisions to conquer one island after another in head-on strikes. The Japanese then engaged his troops in guerilla action, with ambushes and surprise attacks from mountain hideaways, and the campaign became one of the bloodiest operations of the Pacific. But MacArthur won back Bataan.
Adviser to Japan
The dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan ended the war, calling for major decisions by the Allies (the United States, the British Commonwealth, the Soviet Union, and other European nations) as to what should be done about the government of Japan. As commander of the U.S. forces and of the Allied forces in the Pacific, MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender. He was then charged with building a new government in Japan.
The Japanese government had been based on a belief in an emperor chosen by heaven and a government dominated by the military. MacArthur, as usual, was prepared. He had planned to turn Japan into a democracy. His arrogant ways in this instance proving useful, he marched into the Japanese capital of Tokyo with a handful of aides, all without weapons, and established his office there. The emperor was allowed to continue as the symbol of unity for the Japanese but without any power to govern. MacArthur directed the emperor and his officials in a change toward elected government.
For five years, MacArthur held several positions: commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, commander of the Allied and then the United Nations forces, and military commander of Japan. He worked seven days a week long into the night to form a Japanese constitution and a form of government much like that of the United States. Although MacArthur was one of the most conservative figures in American public life, during his administration of Japan many reforms were put into place, in such diverse areas as women's rights, trade unions, education and police systems, and land redistribution. MacArthur was particularly proud of his hand in the drafting of the Japanese constitution of 1947. Provisions included universal adult suffrage (the right to vote), a bill of rights, a clause outlawing discrimination, and the renunciation of war.
In fact, MacArthur's job in Japan was to carry out the policies dictated by the heads of the branches of the U.S. military, who served as advisors to the president and secretary of defense in matters of war, and a council of the Allied powers. But by most accounts, he ruled as if he were a prince. MacArthur's personality and distinctive style of leadership so dominated his headquarters that the Japanese people generally came to view the occupation as personified in his image. To some, he seemed to provide strong, inspiring leadership at a time when they had despaired of their old leaders, who had brought the country to ruin. His imperious and dignified manner, dramatic flair, dedication to his mission, and empathy for the war-ravaged nation were esteemed by many Japanese, particularly during the early phase of the occupation (1945–47).
The Korean War
After 1946, MacArthur was also head of the Far East Command, which consisted of all American ground, air, and sea forces in Japan, the Ryukyus, Korea (to 1948), the Philippines, the Marianas, and the Bonins. Trouble had been brewing in Korea—the country had come to be divided between the communist North (supported by the Soviet Union) and the nationalist South (allied with the United States) after World War II, and both sides sought to reunify the country with its own government ruling—but MacArthur was not prepared for what was to come. By 1950, the new nation of North Korea had built an army of 135,000 soldiers, trained by Soviet advisers. The force was well armed, with 120 tanks supplied by the Soviets along with 40 fighter aircraft and 70 bombers. Battles had been going on at the border for over a year, some of them resulting in hundreds of casualties, and many started by the South Koreans. But on June 25, neither the South Koreans nor the Americans were aware that the North Koreans were gathering their forces along the border. North Korea had 90,000 soldiers prepared to attack across the border. They faced 10,000 unprepared South Korean troops. The attack was so sudden and so unsuspected that within a few days the capital city of Seoul collapsed.
At first, from his headquarters in Japan MacArthur believed that the South Koreans were strong enough to repel
the invasion. When Seoul fell, however, he called the media and told them to prepare for a very dangerous trip to Korea. He was photographed at the battlefront, undaunted by the bullets flying everywhere. On the flight back to Hawaii, he told a reporter that with two U.S. divisions, he could stop the communist forces. Within a couple of days, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; see entry) authorized two U.S. divisions to go to Korea at once. Soon after, the United Nations agreed to enter the conflict. But stopping the North Koreans proved much more difficult than anyone imagined. As the U.S. troops went in and took up positions with the South Korean army in an attempt to delay the North Koreans' south ward advances, they were shattered over and over again, incurring heavy losses. By late August 1950, they had taken up a defensive position at the southern end of the Korean peninsula, called the Pusan Perimeter. By September even this line was being threatened.
MacArthur defends South Korea
MacArthur had been caught unprepared, but he now planned a counterattack. Inchon was a port city near Seoul in the area captured by the communists. Rather than fight back from the base at Pusan, MacArthur led a landing at Inchon, cutting off the North Korean army from its supplies in the north. So effective was MacArthur's plan that the North Korean forces were soon in retreat. Supported by a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for the reunification of Korea, MacArthur sent the UN forces in an advance toward the Yalu River at the northern border of North Korea. On October 15, he and Truman conferred at Wake Island, mainly about plans for the postwar rehabilitation of Korea, so near did victory seem.
Two weeks later, however, UN troops near the Yalu were severely attacked by Communist Chinese forces. Then, mysteriously, the Chinese withdrew and disappeared after ten days of combat. MacArthur chose to ignore their warning and launched his "end-the-war" offensive at the end of November. Much to the concern of many military leaders, MacArthur divided his army in two, weakening it. Although his orders were to send only South Korean troops to fight near the border with China (to avoid an American conflict with China, which would certainly lead to expanded warfare), MacArthur ordered U.S. troops to advance to the Yalu. Within two days, a massive Chinese offensive routed his forces in the worst defeat ever suffered by an American army.
By January 1951, General Matthew B. Ridgway (1895–1993), had halted the communist advance. MacArthur was soon complaining that the U.S. government had tied his hands. On March 7, he accused the Truman administration of preventing him from directly bombing China's war-making potential. A week later, he called for the unification of Korea, a goal abandoned by the Truman administration. On March 24, knowing that Truman was in the process of trying to start peace talks with the communists, MacArthur called upon the Chinese commander in chief to negotiate directly with him or face U.S. strikes on mainland China. On April 5, House Minority leader Joseph E. Martin released a letter MacArthur had written about the usefulness of enlisting Nationalist Chinese troops supplied by Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) against the
Chinese Communists. (Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong [Mao Tse-tung; 1893–1976; see entries] had driven the American-backed Chinese Nationalist forces, led by Chiang, to the island of Taiwan [formerly Formosa] in October 1949 following a bloody civil war.) Engaging the Chinese Nationalists had long since been considered and vetoed by the Truman administration; MacArthur's letter could only be read as a weapon against the U.S. president and his administration.
MacArthur had more than once taken action without the approval of his superiors or of the president. Now he was publicly speaking out against the president's actions. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (the president's military advisors) and the Departments of State and Defense met to consider whether he could be trusted to carry out the orders he received. The majority felt that he could not. Truman listened to all of his advisers and then stated his decision. On April 11, 1951, the president fired his most famous and popular general, replacing him with General Ridgway.
MacArthur had served in the military for fifty-two years. He had won nearly every medal for valor and courage awarded by the United States. He had been the highest-ranking officer in the military forces of another nation and had earned great respect for the defense of the Philippines and the peace in Japan. He served his nation so continuously that he had been out of the United States for sixteen years. When the news was brought to him, his only response was to his wife, "Jeanie, we're going home at last," as quoted in Joseph C. Goulden's Korea: The Untold Story of the War.
A career change
MacArthur returned to Washington, D.C. Though he arrived after midnight, twenty thousand admirers were on hand to welcome him. He was invited to speak to Congress, where he denied that he had acted in opposition to the president's directives. He became a popular speaker throughout the country. Public clamor against Truman's action subsided during the Senate hearings in May and June on the general's dismissal, especially after the Joint Chiefs testified that MacArthur's proposals for winning the war had been strategically unsound and might have resulted in a greatly expanded conflict.
In 1944, 1948, and 1952, conservative Republican factions tried to have MacArthur chosen as the party's presidential candidate, but these plans never went very far. After failing to get the nomination in 1952, MacArthur became the chairman of the board of Remington Rand (later Sperry-Rand). One of his final visitors was President Lyndon B. Johnson. MacArthur advised Johnson, as he had John F. Kennedy, not to send ground forces to Vietnam or anywhere else in mainland Asia.
MacArthur died in Washington, D.C., on April 5, 1964, at the age of eighty-four. For his funeral, in keeping with his own request, his body was dressed in one of his old tropical uniforms decorated with only the U.S. and five-star general insignias. He once said that if history a hundred years in the future remembered him only briefly for contributing to the advance of peace, he would gladly yield every honor which has been accorded by war.
Where to Learn More
Darby, Jean. Douglas MacArthur. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner, 1989.
Finkelstein, Norman H. The Emperor General: A Biography of Douglas MacArthur. Minneapolis, MN: Dillon Press, 1989.
Goulden, Joseph C. Korea: The Untold Story of the War. New York: Times Books, 1982.
James, D. Clayton. The Years of MacArthur. Vol. 3. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Kawai, K. Japan's American Interlude. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.
Long, Gavin. MacArthur as Military Commander. New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1969.
MacArthur, Douglas. A Soldier Speaks. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1965.
Perret, Geoffrey. Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur. New York: Random House, 1996.
Petillo, Carol Morris. Douglas MacArthur: The Philippine Years. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.
Scott, Robert A. Douglas MacArthur and the Century of War. New York: Facts on File, 1997.
And the Oscar Goes to … Douglas MacArthur
Nearly everyone who came into contact with U.S. Army general Douglas MacArthur commented on his extraordinary presence. Everything from newspaper reports to official documents from the Korean War note the general's corncob pipe and sunglasses, his voice, his gestures, his range of expression, and the charismatic power of his speech. Here are a few out of many quotes describing the commander's remarkable acting skills:
- General Matthew B. Ridgway (1895–1993), who replaced MacArthur as the supreme commander of the UN Far East forces, described a meeting between MacArthur and him in December 1950: "I was again deeply impressed by the force of his personality. To confer with him was an experience that could happen with few others. He was a great actor too, with an actor's instinct for the dramatic—in tone and gesture. Yet so lucid [clear] and so penetrating were his explanations and his analyses that it was his mind rather than his manner or his bodily presence that dominated his listeners." (Source: Matthew B. Ridgway. The Korean War. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.)
- When Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969), army commander, president of the United States, and one-time assistant to MacArthur, was asked if he had ever met MacArthur. He replied: "Not only have I met him, ma'm; I studied dramatics under him for five years in Washington and four years in the Philippines." (Source: William Manchester. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880–1964. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.)
- At a meeting in Tokyo with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others, MacArthur defended his plans for an amphibious attack at Inchon. Army chief of staff J. Lawton Collins (1896–1987) described him as follows: "MacArthur was cool and poised as always. He spoke with confidence and élan as he paced back and forth in his customary fashion. He always gave the impression of addressing not just his immediate listeners but a large audience unseen." (Source: J. Lawton Collins. War in Peacetime: The History and Lessons of Korea. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.)
- Frank Pace (1912–1988), the secretary of the army who was chosen to deliver the news to MacArthur that he had been relieved of command, formed his own opinion about the purpose of some of the general's theatrics in the Korean War. His idea was not held by others: "I believe that General MacArthur really created the basis for his firing. I felt that the crowds around the Dai-Ichi Building [MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan] were getting to be very small; I felt that his period of glory there had passed; he was a great student of history; I felt he felt Mr. Truman would be easily defeated [in the next election for president] and that if he could be fired under dramatic circumstances he could return and get the Republican nomination for President and run for President against Mr. Truman. I felt he engineered his own dismissal. The kind of letters that he wrote, a man steeped in military and national tradition knew very well was out of order. I can't believe that he would undertake such an action without realizing what the consequences would have to be. (Source: "An Oral Interview with Frank Pace Jr., New York, N. Y., February 17, 1972, by Jerry N. Hess." Truman Presidential Museum and Library. [Online] http://www.trumanlibrary.org/oralhist/pacefj3.htm [accessed on August 14, 2001]).
- John J. Muccio (1900–1989), ambassador to the Republic of Korea during the first years of the Korean War, visited MacArthur in the fall of 1950 and described him thus: "I can still picture him 'posturing' with his corncob pipe. The two of us were alone at the time. MacArthur was a very theatrical personality.... I don't think MacArthur evenblinked his eyes without considering whether it was to his advantage to have his eye blink or not. Everything was thought through, but it became so [much] a part of his nature, and his personality, that it seemed to be automatic. (Source: John J. Muccio. "Oral History Interview Transcripts." Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri. [Online] http://www.trumanlibrary.org/oralhist/muccio.htm [accessed on August 14, 2001]).
Born January 26, 1880
Little Rock, Arkansas
Died April 5, 1964
Washington, D.C .
American general; commanded the Allied forces in
the Southwest Pacific and served as civilian
administrator of occupied Japan
One of the most memorable figures of the World War II period, Douglas MacArthur was a colorful character and an excellent self-promoter whose image frequently appeared in newspapers and newsreels (news films, often shown before movies). He was always seen wearing sunglasses and smoking an oversized corncob pipe, looking fearless as he commanded the Allied forces in the Pacific. He was known as a complicated person who could be charming and modest or vain and arrogant, and he often clashed with his superiors. In fact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945; see entry) once called MacArthur one of the "two most dangerous men in America" (the other was Louisiana senator Huey Long, another colorful character). However, his theatrics should not cloud MacArthur's real accomplishments, especially his campaign to liberate the Philippines from Japanese control and his term as civilian administrator of Japan after the war.
A boy bound for glory
Almost from birth, MacArthur seemed destined for greatness. He was the third child and second son of General Arthur MacArthur, who earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his courage during the Civil War and who was the U.S. Army's top-ranking officer by 1906. Coincidentally, the elder MacArthur also once served as military governor to the Philippines, which had been under American control since the Spanish American War (April to August 1898). Douglas MacArthur's mother, Mary Pinkney Hardy, was devoted to her son and would eventually use her many social connections to help him advance in his career. She encouraged all of her children to remember their duty to others and to be honest, but she paid special attention to Douglas, telling him that he was certain to achieve glory.
MacArthur spent his childhood living on a variety of army posts and was attracted to the military life at an early age; he claimed to have learned to ride horses and shoot before he learned to read and write. He was close to his older brother, Arthur, who died of appendicitis in 1926 in the midst of a promising career in the navy. In 1897 the family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and for the rest of his life MacArthur considered that city home. His father decided that MacArthur should attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Before he was accepted he had to take a competitive examination, and he later remembered how rigorously he had prepared for it: "I never worked harder in my life. It was a lesson I never forgot. Preparedness is the key to success and victory."
MacArthur passed the exam and entered West Point in 1899, when he was nineteen. During his years at the academy he had an excellent academic record; he also played baseball, managed the football team, and served as president of the student body during his senior year. At graduation in 1903 he won the rank of first captain, the school's highest military honor, and also was first in his class in academics.
The "Fighting Dude"
After graduation he was made second lieutenant of engineers, and he served briefly in the Philippines, then in San Francisco. In 1905 he was assigned to serve as an aide to his father, who had been appointed the U.S. Army's official observer of the war between Russia and Japan. The next year MacArthur returned to Washington to work as an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt, a friend of his father's. Over the next ten years, MacArthur served a number of different assignments. When the United States joined World War I (1914-18) in 1917, he was working in the office of the Army General Staff in Washington, D.C.
It was during World War I that MacArthur made his reputation—both for exceptional courage and for exceptional arrogance. In response to the military's need to recruit more men into the armed forces and to unite the country behind the war effort, MacArthur suggested the formation of a "Rainbow Division," which would be made up of National Guard volunteers from each state. MacArthur was assigned to lead this division and given the temporary rank of colonel.
In June 1918, when he was only thirty-eight years old, MacArthur was appointed brigadier general, and two months later he was given command of the Rainbow Division's 84th Infantry Brigade. He led his troops in several major battles in France, including those at St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and Sedan. MacArthur became famous both for his bravery (he earned seven Silver Stars as well as four other U.S. medals and nineteen honors from the other Allied countries) and for his "uniform," which went completely against army regulations. It consisted of riding breeches, a turtleneck sweater, a four-foot-long scarf, and a soft cap instead of a helmet. He also smoked his cigarettes in a long holder. Called the "Fighting Dude" by the troops, MacArthur was once taken prisoner by an American soldier who thought he must be a German because of his unusual uniform.
Between two wars
Returning to the United States in 1919, MacArthur was named superintendent of West Point— the youngest officer ever to hold that post. During his three years at the academy, he modernized the curriculum, reorganized the athletic program, and made other changes that allowed the school to double in size. In February 1922, he married a wealthy, divorced socialite named Henrietta Louise Cromwell Brooks, and in August of the same year he was assigned to serve in the Philippines.
After three years in the Philippines, MacArthur returned to the United States to command the army's 3rd Corps Area, stationed in Baltimore. In 1928, he was named president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and spent a summer in Amsterdam overseeing the games. Then he returned to the Philippines, but this time his wife did not accompany him; the following June, the two were divorced by mutual consent.
In the fall of 1930, MacArthur returned to Washington, D.C., and was named the army's chief of staff—the highest post in the U.S. military—by President Herbert Hoover. Only fifty years old, MacArthur attained the rank of four-star general. Only eight other generals in U.S. history had reached that rank. The country was in the midst of the Great Depression (1929-39; a period of sharp economic decline during which many businesses went bankrupt and many people were jobless) and there was not much extra money for military use; nevertheless, MacArthur managed to modernize and strengthen the army during his five years as chief of staff. The only controversy of his term occurred when he was accused of taking too personal a role in a troop action that ended the "Bonus March," a demonstration by impoverished World War I veterans demanding assistance from the government. MacArthur was accused of trying to make himself look good by personally appearing on the scene; in addition, it was said that the troops had used too much force against the veterans.
Advisor to the Philippines
MacArthur's next job was as a military advisor to the newly-formed Philippine Commonwealth, which was scheduled to become fully independent, but the United States would still be in charge of the country's defense. MacArthur's job was to create and train military forces for the Philippine government. One young officer who accompanied him on this assignment was Major Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969; see entry), who would later achieve his own measure of greatness as commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II.
In April 1937, MacArthur wed Jean Faircloth, a Tennessean he had met on the boat to the Philippines; he later described the marriage (which turned out to be long and happy) as "perhaps the smartest thing I have ever done." Later that year, MacArthur retired from the U.S. Army, remaining in the Philippines, and the couple's son, Arthur MacArthur III, was born in early 1938.
Trying to defend the Philippines
By the middle of 1941, Japan's aggressive actions in the Pacific region alarmed the American government. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled MacArthur from retirement and made him the head of all the U.S. Army forces in the Pacific area, including the entire army of the Philippines, which was immediately inducted into the U.S. Army. MacArthur quickly began preparing the forces in the Philippines, raising the number of soldiers from 22,000 to 180,000. These men, however, were mostly untrained troops.
On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, taking everyone by surprise and destroying much of the U.S. Navy's fleet. The United States declared war on Japan and three days later Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States. The United States joined the Allied powers that were working together to defeat Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Instead of making sure that the U.S. planes and other equipment at Clark Air Field in the Philippines were out of harm's way, MacArthur did nothing—apparently he believed that Japan would leave the Philippines alone. But nine days after Pearl Harbor, Japan struck the airfield, following their attack with a full-fledged invasion of the Philippines.
By Christmas, MacArthur and his friend Manuel Quezon, the president of the Philippines, were forced to abandon the country's capital, Manila. They took refuge at Corregidor, the island fortress at the entrance to Manila Bay. Meanwhile the combined U.S. and Filipino troops fought it out in the jungles of the Bataan peninsula. Soon it was clear that the Philippines could not be saved, and President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to leave. With his family and a few staff members and officers, MacArthur escaped to Australia, traveling 560 miles by PT boat (a coastal patrol vessel), followed by a flight in a B-17 Flying Fortress airplane with the Japanese in pursuit. Before leaving the Philippines, MacArthur proclaimed "I shall return" (even though the U.S. government had recommended that he say "We shall return").
Determined to return
MacArthur felt that the United States broke its promise to protect the Philippines, and he was determined to rescue the country from the Japanese. But first he had to convince the other Allied military commanders—who were inclined to focus first on the defeat of Germany—that conquering the Japanese should be a high priority. That done, he would have to convince those who thought American forces should bypass the Philippines on the way to attacking Japan.
Meanwhile, Australia was vulnerable to Japanese attack. Named Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area in April 1942, MacArthur prepared Australian and American troops for battle, and from October to December 1942 he led a campaign in New Guinea that kept the Japanese at bay. By 1943, the United States was sending more troops and airplanes to the Pacific. The War Department had divided the region into two theaters or areas of attack: Admiral Chester Nimitz (1885-1966; see sidebar on page 141) would lead the navy west across the central Pacific and toward Japan, while MacArthur and the army would move north from Australia.
"Leapfrogging" to victory
MacArthur used a unique "leapfrogging" strategy that proved highly successful. The strategy involved "hopping" from island to island, bypassing the places where enemy troops were waiting in large numbers, and attacking where they were least expected. In this way, MacArthur worked his way toward the Philippines—with Japan as the final goal— making eighty-seven amphibious landings (a joint action of land, sea, and air forces that invade from the seas) and minimizing casualties (deaths or wounding of his own soldiers).
Finally the Allies were ready to retake the Philippines, and MacArthur waded ashore with his troops at Leyte island in October 1944 and on the mainland at Luzon three months later. With his first landing he made a radio broadcast proclaiming, "People of the Philippines, I have returned," and he became an instant hero to his listeners. He was not such a hero, however, with some of his officers and soldiers. They felt that he wanted to keep all of the glory for himself.
To Japan for a new role
After the Allied forces cleared the Philippines of all remaining Japanese soldiers, they prepared to invade Japan. MacArthur was named commander of all U.S. ground troops in the Pacific, while Nimitz commanded the naval forces. The plans were made unnecessary, however, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 15, Japan surrendered to the Allies. MacArthur was promoted to Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers on August 15. He flew to Tokyo, where he received the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.
Immediately after the end of the war, MacArthur was made civilian administrator of occupied Japan. This important position involved helping the country recover from the devastating effects of war as well as encouraging a democratic form of government—instead of the type of government they had in place during the war, one headed by an emperor and dominated by the military. MacArthur arrived in Tokyo with no weapons but plenty of self-confidence. He set up his headquarters in the Dai Ichi Building in Tokyo. From there he issued various rules and regulations to disarm the country, restore the economy, begin land reform, and create and strengthen labor unions. Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989; see entry) was allowed to remain as a symbol of unity and tradition, but he was stripped of almost all of his power.
Although some viewed MacArthur as an almost dictatorial ruler who did not listen to criticism, most observers praised his evenhanded approach as well as the way he won the trust of the Japanese people. MacArthur himself felt that this was his most successful role and greatest accomplishment.
Back in the United States, MacArthur was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for the 1948 election. He did not discourage his supporters, and was said to be quite disappointed when Thomas Dewey beat him for the Republican nomination.
A showdown with President Truman
After World War II, the country of Korea was divided into two countries, Communist North Korea and South Korea, which had an authoritarian (where power is concentrated in an authority that is not responsible to the people) government. The North Koreans wanted to reunite Korea under Communist rule, and on June 25, 1950, North Korean forces attacked South Korea. The United States was concerned about the spread of communism throughout Asia. President Harry S. Truman (1884-1975; see entry) placed MacArthur in charge of the U.S. troops in the region, directing him to protect South Korea. Soon he was made commander of the United Nations forces sent to help South Korea.
MacArthur's personal determination to fight communism led him to go against the advice of other military leaders and launch a bold strike against North Korea with an amphibious landing at Inchon in September 1950. His troops succeeded in pushing the enemy back across the 38th parallel (the line dividing North and South Korea), and they continued driving the North Koreans toward the Yalu River, which formed the boundary between North Korea and China. MacArthur ignored warnings that the Chinese might join the North Koreans in their struggle. The Chinese did join the fight, and the American and United Nations troops had to withdraw.
MacArthur asserted that instead of retreating, the United States should bomb strategic sites in China; he thought that to crush communism in Asia, they would have to crush China, the largest Communist country. But Truman and other western leaders disagreed. They were not ready to start another big war. MacArthur was unwilling to accept this judgment, and he made public his conflict with Truman over U.S. policy in Korea. Truman firmly believed that a military officer must not question the civilian leader of the United States, and therefore he relieved MacArthur of his command on April 11, 1950.
A hero goes home
A week later, MacArthur returned to the United States for the first time in fifteen years. He received a hero's welcome, with about 20,000 admirers waiting to greet him when his airplane landed. He made a speech before Congress, quoting a line from an old ballad, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away": "And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away—an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty."
MacArthur spent his remaining years living at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City with his wife. With the death of General George C. Marshall (1880-1959; see entry).in 1959, MacArthur became the army's top-ranking officer (just as his father had been earlier in the century), with the rank of General of the Army. He remained on active duty—though without assignment—until his death. MacArthur was buried in one of the old uniforms he'd worn during his days in the Pacific, adorned only (from among all the many decorations he had earned) with the U.S. and five-star insignias.
Where to Learn More
Darby, Jean. Douglas MacArthur. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner, 1989.
Devaney, John. Douglas MacArthur: Something of a Hero. New York: Putnam's, 1979.
Finkelstein, Norman H. The Emperor General: A Biography of Douglas MacArthur. Minneapolis, MN: Dillon Press, 1989.
Perret, Geoffrey. Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur. New York: Random House, 1996.
Scott, Robert A. Douglas MacArthur and the Century of War. New York: Facts on File, 1997.
Wittner, Lawrence S., ed. MacArthur. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
"The Emperor: Douglas MacArthur." U.S. News & World Report (March 16,1998): 54.
Admiral Nimitz Leads in the Pacific
While General Douglas MacArthur led his troops to a "leapfrogging" victory in the South Pacific, the top officer in the U.S. Navy commanded Allied forces in the northern and eastern parts of the region. Admiral Chester Nimitz was a quiet, easygoing man with a big job.
Born in 1885 in Fredericksburg, Texas, Nimitz graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1905. He served in the Philippines, and later became an expert on submarines. During World War I Nimitz was chief of staff of the Atlantic Submarine Force.
By the time World War II began, Nimitz had been promoted to rear admiral and was serving as chief of the navy's Bureau of Navigation. About ten days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Nimitz took over command of the Pacific Fleet. He flew out to Hawaii and began rebuilding the fleet, which had been devastated by the attack. Nimitz was soon overseeing raids on the Marshall Islands, then on the Gilbert Islands. It seemed that despite the blow it had taken, the U.S. Navy was on the attack.
In an operation designed to protect Australia from possible Japanese invasion, Nimitz gathered together Allied forces for the Battle of the Coral Sea, which took place in early May 1942. This victory was followed by another one at Midway Island in June. During the next year, Nimitz's forces worked their way across the central Pacific, rooting out the Japanese from their island strongholds and pounding the Japanese navy. Finally the Allies achieved a decisive victory at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in February 1944.
In July, 1944 Nimitz met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882- 1945; see entry) and other military commanders to discuss MacArthur's wish to liberate the Philippines. Nimitz finally agreed with MacArthur that it was the right thing to do, and in October the Battle for Leyte Gulf took place. The Allies came out on top, and MacArthur was able to wade ashore as the returning victor.
Nimitz was promoted to five-star admiral in December 1944. The war ended with the Japanese surrender, which took place on September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri. Nimitz was among the Allied officers who signed the treaty agreement. He left his Pearl Harbor command in November and the next month became the commander in chief for the U.S. Fleet. Two years later Nimitz retired from the military. He died in 1966.
Born January 26, 1880
Little Rock, Arkansas
Died April 5, 1964
C onsidered a war hero in World War II (1939–45) as commander of the U.S. Army and Air Forces in the Pacific campaign against Japan, Douglas MacArthur played a crucial role in rebuilding Japan during the early years of the Cold War. The Cold War was an intense political and economic rivalry from 1945 to 1991 between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China with limited military conflict. MacArthur later led U.S. forces during the first year of the Korean War (1950–53). Holding very strong anticommunist views, he became the most controversial U.S. military figure of the Cold War. Promoting a military conquest of communist China and reunification of Korea, he was a major critic of U.S. foreign policy toward the Far East.
A military family
MacArthur was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on January 26, 1880, to Arthur MacArthur, a soldier and decorated Civil War veteran, and Mary Hardy, daughter of a wealthy family in Norfolk, Virginia. He was raised on various army posts in Texas and the American Southwest, as his father became one of the highest-ranking officers in the army. MacArthur's mother was an ambitious woman and strongly influenced his drive for high achievement. His brother would become a naval captain.
MacArthur received his secondary education at the West Texas Military Academy in San Antonio from 1883 to 1897. He then attended the military academy at West Point and graduated first in his class in 1903. He then served as a junior engineering officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at several army posts in the United States, the Philippines, and Panama. In 1913, MacArthur joined the general staff of the War Department and was often sent on field assignments. In World War I (1914–18), MacArthur switched to combat infantry units from the engineers and fought in France. Promoted to colonel, he held several field commands and showed unusual bravery and flair. He received a number of decorations and rose to the rank of brigadier general by 1918. He served as part of the occupation forces in Germany before returning to the United States in April 1919.
Following the war, MacArthur was appointed superintendent of West Point. He introduced major new reforms during his three years there from 1919 to 1922, including raising the school's academic standards. In 1922, he married a wealthy socialite widow, Louise Brooks. They would have no children and divorce after seven years of marriage. From 1922 to 1930, MacArthur held several positions that included two tours in the Philippines, and he eventually rose to a major general. During this period, he became very interested in Far Eastern international issues.
MacArthur was recognized for his high intelligence and extraordinary command abilities. However, he would be also considered egotistical and aloof except by his closest friends and associates. He worked hard to cultivate a strong public image of his military accomplishments. During his career, he would repeatedly question the civilian authority over the military as established in the U.S. Constitution. This trait would bring him into great controversy.
Leader of the army
In 1930, President Herbert Hoover (1874–1964; served 1929–33) appointed MacArthur U.S. Army chief of staff, the youngest to hold that position in U.S. history. MacArthur would serve in that position for five years, primarily attempting to maintain an effective military force during the economic hard times of the Great Depression (1929–41), the worst financial crisis in American history. In the summer of 1932, however, his image was strongly tarnished when he led a charge of army troops to remove several thousand World War I veterans from Washington, D.C. The veterans had been peacefully protesting to Congress for advanced pay of their promised benefits, owing to the high unemployment brought by the Depression. They had refused to leave when Congress turned them down. MacArthur was also unpopular for his fight against the prevailing pacifist mood of the nation. His stance was that the country needed to maintain a high level of military preparedness.
On a more constructive note, MacArthur played a key role in establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45). The CCC was a federal program for providing work for more than 250,000 unemployed young men. It proved to be one of the most successful economic relief programs during the Depression of the 1930s.
In 1935, MacArthur resigned the chief of staff position to become a military advisor to the newly established Philippine government. During his six years there, he strove to build a Filipino force capable of combating Japanese military expansion in the region. This experience would prepare him for the upcoming World War II campaign against Japan, as well as carrying out U.S. Cold War policies aimed at containing the spread of communism in the Far East. Communism is a system of government in which the nation's leaders are selected by a single political party that controls almost all aspects of society. Private ownership of property is eliminated and government directs all economic production. The goods produced and accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all.
In April 1937, MacArthur married Jean Faircloth. They would have one son. In December 1937, MacArthur retired from the U.S. Army and assumed the role of private military advisor to the Filipino leadership.
World War II in the Pacific
With the decline in relations between Japan and the United States in early 1941, MacArthur was reinstated in the
U.S. military as a lieutenant general with command of U.S. Army forces in the Far East. For the first several months, optimism ran high that the Japanese advances in the region could be turned back before long. However, the surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. military fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, quickly dashed optimistic hopes. Only hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces landed in the Philippines. The Japanese forces continually advanced, as MacArthur's troops used a series of delaying actions while in steady retreat. By March 1942, the U.S. troops were under siege, and Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to Australia to rebuild a larger force of American and Australian forces. MacArthur became commander of the Southwest Pacific Area Theater.
Shortly after MacArthur left for Australia, the U.S. forces on the Philippines surrendered to Japanese troops. Nonetheless, under public pressure, Roosevelt awarded MacArthur the Congressional Medal of Honor for his delaying tactics and promoted him to full general. The U.S. media reported MacArthur's techniques as a courageous defense against superior forces that bought time for the United States to begin regrouping for war. Roosevelt, though, privately believed MacArthur mishandled the logistical support badly, but gave in to the continuing public and congressional adoration of MacArthur.
For the next thirty months, MacArthur mounted a counteroffensive against the Japanese with the goal of eventually recapturing the Philippines. He began with an attack on New Guinea and then hopped from island to island. In the fall of 1944, MacArthur led a major invasion of the Philippines. However, progress proved much slower than expected, dragging into 1945 with high casualties. During this period in April 1945, MacArthur became commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific. The battle for the Philippines became largely irrelevant in August 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. The Japanese soon surrendered. As supreme commander of Allied forces in the Pacific, MacArthur formally accepted the surrender onboard the battleship USS Missouri on September 2.
Following the surrender, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53; see entry) appointed MacArthur the occupation commander of Japan. MacArthur would prove a very positive influence on the successful rebuilding of Japan's economy and society, and in containing the expansion of communism in the region. MacArthur brought major change in dismantling the Japanese military and war industry, and introducing democratic reforms. A new constitution was written under MacArthur's direct leadership, which guaranteed certain human rights, such as freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and greater rights for women. MacArthur also introduced a new educational system and sweeping economic reforms.
MacArthur was responsible as well for establishing a prowestern government in South Korea. Korea had been divided into Soviet and U.S. occupation zones at the conclusion of World War II, much like the division of Germany in Europe. MacArthur selected Syngman Rhee (1875–1965) as the new South Korean leader. However, Rhee imposed a harsh rule that quickly grew unpopular with U.S. political leaders in Washington. MacArthur's role ended in 1948, when the new South Korean government, known as the Republic of Korea, was formed.
By 1948, as communist victory in the civil war in China was growing more obvious, MacArthur switched his emphasis to the rebuilding of industry rather than social reform. He also became a leading critic of President Truman's decision to reduce foreign aid to the Chinese Nationalist government. Nationalism refers to the strong loyalty of a person or group to its own country. The Chinese Nationalists wanted to once again raise the world prominence of China. Truman believed there was little chance for the government to survive much longer against the communist revolutionary forces of Mao Zedong (1893–1976; see entry). In October 1949, Mao's forces finally gained control of the Chinese government, and Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975; see entry) fled to the island of Taiwan, where he established a new government. MacArthur immediately proposed to use Taiwan as a military base to retake Mainland China. He also strove to restrict the growth of any communist political activities in Japan, even creating a special police force of seventy-five thousand men to guard against any efforts to sabotage the newly forming Japanese economy.
Focus shifted quickly to Korea in June 1950, however, when the communist-controlled North Korea invaded U.S.supported South Korea. The United States responded within hours, gaining a United Nations (UN) resolution to condemn and repel the invasion. The UN is an international organization, composed of most of the nations of the world, created to preserve world peace and security. MacArthur was named commander of the UN forces dominated by U.S. forces. In 1951, the United States would sign a peace treaty with Japan, ending U.S. military occupation.
On September 15, 1950, MacArthur led a daring invasion on the coast of Korea behind enemy lines, splitting overextended North Korean forces. With the North Koreans in full retreat, MacArthur and Truman decided to pursue them through North Korea with thoughts of reunifying Korea. The UN forces met little resistance, eventually reaching the border of Chinese-controlled Manchuria. MacArthur basically ignored threats from communist China that they would commit troops to the war if U.S. forces approached the border. MacArthur even called for attacks on China itself that included an invasion from Taiwan. However, Truman wanted no part in expanding the war.
Nevertheless, Chinese communist leader Mao was becoming very nervous about U.S. intentions, given MacArthur's call for attack. Finally in late November 1950, communist China launched a massive offensive involving almost three hundred thousand Chinese troops. The UN forces hastily retreated back into South Korea. MacArthur blamed Truman for not attacking China first. By March 1951, the battlefront stabilized back to the original prewar boundary between North and South Korea at the thirty-eighth parallel. MacArthur persisted in his attacks on Truman, giving life to charges made by
U.S. senator Joseph R. McCarthy (1909–1957; see entry) of Wisconsin of communist subversion in the U.S. government. His aggressive position also undermined the president's efforts at seeking a cease-fire. Finally on April 11, 1951, Truman angrily relieved MacArthur of all his military commands.
A return to the United States
MacArthur returned to the United States and was welcomed by the public as a war hero, perhaps owing more to his World War II exploits than his Korean controversies. It was his first return to the United States since before World War II. MacArthur made a dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress on April 19, 1951, again harshly criticizing Truman's foreign policies. It was this speech in which MacArthur uttered the famous line, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." Though he was warmly received during his speech, congressional hearings that followed countered many
of MacArthur's charges. The public quickly began to lose interest in the general's perspectives. Other senior military leaders did not share his opinions, and his later speeches gained less public attention.
MacArthur also held political interests in running for president as the Republican candidate and began to focus on the 1952 presidential elections. He and his supporters had previously shown some interest in 1944 and 1948 as well, but little came from it. Although he delivered the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention in 1952, another popular military commander won the nomination instead, World War II general Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61; see entry). MacArthur was simply too controversial. Greatly disappointed, MacArthur left public life.
In 1952, MacArthur took the largely honorary position of board chairman of the Remington Rand Corporation, a computer company. He lived in New York City, making only occasional public speeches. He made one last farewell trip to the Philippines in 1961. During his later years, he wrote his autobiography, titled Reminiscences, which was published in 1964. He also advised President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69; see entry) to avoid a war in Vietnam, predicting it would be costly and highly unpopular with the American public. His prediction would come true. MacArthur died in Washington, D.C., in April 1964, and was buried in Norfolk, Virginia. His military career was one of the longest in U.S. history, as well as the most controversial.
For More Information
Blair, Clay. The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950–1953. New York: Time Books, 1987.
James, D. Clayton. The Years of MacArthur. 3 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970–1985.
MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1985.
Manchester, William. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880–1964. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.
McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.
Peret, Geoffrey. Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur. New York: Random House, 1996.
Schaller, Michael. Douglas MacArthur: The Far Eastern General. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
"Conflict and Consequence: The Korean War and its Unsettled Legacy." Truman Presidential Museum and Library.http://www.trumanlibrary.org (accessed on September 10, 2003).
Japan and the Cold War
Though Japan was stripped of all its military capability following its defeat in World War II, it still played a vital role in Cold War developments in the Far East. Following Japan's surrender in September 1945, the United States appointed General Douglas MacArthur as the supreme commander of Allied occupation forces.
Though appointed to simply carry out policies made by the Allies, MacArthur, through his strong-willed manner, operated relatively independently in setting the course of change in Japan. MacArthur was so dominant a figure that he became the sole symbol of postwar reconstruction to the Japanese public. His dignified manner, dramatic flair, dedication, firmness, and clear sympathy for the war-torn country won great esteem from the population and brought Japan under U.S. influence during the Cold War. MacArthur introduced democratic concepts, education reforms, and economic change. He broke up the major landholdings held by a few landlords and distributed the land into numerous peasant farms. He also broke up industries owned by a few wealthy families. In addition, MacArthur was responsible for attracting over two billion dollars' worth of relief goods for the Japanese people between 1945 and 1951. Through his efforts, Japan became a West-aligned nation, representing a first line of defense in containing communist expansion in the Far East.
Excerpt from "Old Soldiers Never Die; They Just Fade Away" Speech, April 19, 1951
Published in Congressional Record, 1951
"When I joined the Army even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished. But I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that—'Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.'"
B efore World War II (1939–45), Korea was a colony of Japan. With Japan's surrender ending World War II in August 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States divided Korea into two parts at the thirty-eighth parallel. The North was under Soviet communist influence; the South under the influence of the democratic United States. The North became the Democratic People's Republic of Korea under communist Kim Il Sung (1912–1994). The South became the Republic of Korea led by Syngman Rhee (1875–1965), who had lived in the United States for thirty years. In June 1949, both Soviet and U.S. forces pulled out of Korea. Military disturbances and skirmishes increased as both Kim and Rhee tried to claim leadership over the entire country.
On June 25, 1950, Kim launched a surprise military assault on South Korea, most likely with the knowledge and approval of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879–1953). If the United States had a presence in Japan, the Soviets wanted Korea.
would participate, but the United States was by far the major military contributor. On June 27, Truman authorized U.S. naval and air forces to move to Korea. On June 30, U.S. ground forces were sent. North Korea had already pushed down through South Korea. Truman made General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964), who had been serving as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Japan since the end of World War II, commander of all United Nations troops in Korea. General MacArthur brilliantly landed troops at Inchon behind North Korean lines, cutting the communist army in two. The North Koreans made a hasty retreat back to the thirty-eighth parallel. MacArthur led UN forces into North Korea and pushed them all the way to the China border. MacArthur did not take Chinese threats of invasion seriously, but China, with two to three hundred thousand troops, pushed MacArthur back to the thirty-eighth parallel. MacArthur insisted the United States should attack China, perhaps targeting specific areas with nuclear weapons. MacArthur said that the Soviets would not enter the conflict and the United States need not worry about them.
Appalled at MacArthur's severe demands, Truman fired MacArthur on April 11, 1951. It was a highly unpopular move with many Americans. When MacArthur arrived in San Francisco, half a million people turned out to meet him. MacArthur then proceeded across the country, greeted enthusiastically by thousands all along the way. He was invited to address a joint session of Congress.
MacArthur spoke to Congress on April 19, 1951. His main themes were anticommunism and the importance of Asia, a point journalist Isaac Don Levine (1892–1981) wrote in an article (see earlier excerpt) made in response to an analysis of the China situation, called the White Paper, written by U.S. secretary of state Dean Acheson (1893–1971), which suggested that the fate of China lay with the Chinese themselves. Several of MacArthur's statements became quite well known, especially, "In war, indeed, there can be no substitute for victory." This sentence seemed to smack at the policy of containment of communism. Apparently, MacArthur would rather see an all-out attack by the military instead of the maintenance of just a strong-enough presence to "contain" the enemy. Near the end of the speech, he quoted a line from an old ballad he had sung as a cadet at West Point: "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away."
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from the "Old Soldiers Never Die; They Just Fade Away" speech, April 19, 1951:
- General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded U.S. troops in the Pacific during World War II, was a larger-than-life, extremely popular war hero.
- President Harry Truman knew that the dismissal of MacArthur would likely cause a firestorm of protest in the United States.
- It was a very special occurrence for a U.S. general to address a joint session of Congress. The previous occasion was by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) at the end of World War II in 1945. The speech received maximum media coverage.
Excerpt from the "Old Soldiers Never Die; They Just Fade Away" speech, April 19, 1951
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, and distinguished Members of the Congress, I stand on this rostrum with a sense of deep humility and great pride—humility in the wake of those great American architects of our history who have stood here before me, pride in the reflection that this forum of legislative debate represents human liberty in the purest form yet devised. [Applause.] Here are centered the hopes, and aspirations, and faith of the entire human race.
I do not stand here as advocate for any partisan cause.… I trust, therefore, that you will do me the justice of receiving that which I have to say as solely expressing the considered viewpoint of a fellow American. I address you with neither rancor nor bitterness in the fading twilight of life with but one purpose in mind—to serve my country. [Applause.]
The issues are global and so interlocked that to consider the problems of one sector, oblivious to those of another, is but to court disaster for the whole.
While Asia is commonly referred to as the gateway to Europe, it is no less true that Europe is the gateway to Asia, and the broad influence of the one cannot fail to have its impact upon the other.
There are those who claim our strength is inadequate to protect on both fronts—that we cannot divide our effort. I can think of no greater expression of defeatism. [Applause.] If a potential enemy can divide his strength on two fronts, it is for us to counter his effort.
The Communist threat is a global one. Its successful advance in our sector threatens the destruction of every other sector. You cannot appease or otherwise surrender to communism in Asia without simultaneously undermining our efforts to halt its advance in Europe.… [Applause.]
Efforts have been made to distort my position. It has been said, in effect, that I am a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless
as a means of settling international disputes. Indeed, on the second day of September 1945, just following the surrender of the Japanese Nation on the battleship Missouri, I formally cautioned as follows:
"Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start, workable methods were found insofar as individualcitizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2,000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh." [Applause.]
But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to supply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War's very object is victory—not prolonged indecision. [Applause.] In war, indeed, there can be no substitute for victory. [Applause.]
There are some who for varying reasons would appease Red China. They are blind to history's clear lesson. For history teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier war. It points to no single instance where the end has justified that means—where appeasement has led to more than a sham peace. Like blackmail, it lays the basis for new and successively greater demands, until, as in blackmail, violence becomes the only other alternative. Why, my soldiers asked of me, surrender military advantages to an enemy in the field? I could not answer. [Applause.] Some may say to avoid spread of the conflict into an all-out war with China; others, to avoid Soviet intervention.… Like a cobra, any new enemy will more likely strike whenever it feels that the relativity in military or other potential is in its favor on a world-wide basis.
The tragedy of Korea is further heightened by the fact that as military action is confined to its territorial limits, it condemns that nation, which it is our purpose to save, to suffer the devastating impact of full naval and air bombardment, while the enemy's sanctuaries are fully protected from such attack and devastation. Of the nations of the world, Korea alone, up to now, is the sole one which has risked its all against communism. The magnificence of the courage and fortitude of the Korean people defies description. [Applause.] They have chosen to risk death rather than slavery. Their last words to me were "Don't scuttle the Pacific." [Applause.]
I have just left your fighting sons in Korea. They have met all tests there and I can report to you without reservation they are splendid in
every way. [Applause.] It was my constant effort to preserve them and end this savage conflict honorably and with the least loss of time and a minimum sacrifice of life. Its growing bloodshed has caused me the deepest anguish, and anxiety. Those gallant men will remain often in my thoughts and in my prayers always. [Applause.]
I am closing my 52 years of military service. [Applause.] When I joined the Army even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillmentof all my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished. But I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that—
"Old soldiers never die; they just fade away."
And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away—an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.
What happened next …
Popular protest at MacArthur's dismissal resulted in a U.S. Senate investigation. However, the investigation results did not help his cause. If MacArthur had moved on China, the results could have been devastating for the world. General Omar Bradley (1893–1981), who replaced MacArthur, said an all-out war with China would have been "The wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, wrong enemy." Nevertheless, conservatives believed MacArthur's aggression was just what was needed. Liberal thought was with President Truman—that an aging military man (MacArthur) had gotten out of hand and could have led the United States into a nuclear war if the Soviet Union had jumped in.
The Korean War dragged on until a cease-fire agreement was finally signed in June 1953. U.S. troops would remain in South Korea into the twenty-first century.
Did you know …
- General MacArthur graduated first in his class at West Point in 1903.
- Fifty-four thousand Americans and 3.6 million Koreans were killed in the Korean War.
- One million Chinese were killed or wounded in the Korean War, including the son of Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976).
- An official peace treaty was never signed between North and South Korea, only a cease-fire agreement. Korea remained an area of controversy throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.
Consider the following …
- Do you think MacArthur would have caused a nuclear war to be unleashed? Why or why not?
- MacArthur delivered his speech eloquently and raised issues about war that still are debated at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Choose a point that interests you and describe how it would be received in various American groups, liberal and conservative, in the twenty-first century.
For More Information
Blair, Clay. The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950–1953. New York: Time Books, 1987.
Congressional Record, 1951. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1951.
MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.
Manchester, William. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880–1964. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.
Peret, Geoffrey. Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur. New York: Random House, 1996.
United States of America Korean War Commemoration.http://korea50.army.mil (accessed on September 10, 2003).
Born: January 26, 1880
Little Rock, Arkansas
Died: April 5, 1964
American general Douglas MacArthur attained widespread fame through his military activities in the Pacific region during World War II (1939–45) and the Korean War (1950–53). His military conquests were sometimes inspiring and other times highly criticized. Regardless, MacArthur remains the key figure in the American victory in the Pacific during World War II.
Student to soldier
Douglas MacArthur was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on January 26, 1880, the descendant of a long line of military men. His father, Arthur MacArthur, was a well-known general. Educated in a random fashion on the rugged Western frontier posts, Douglas MacArthur recalled, "I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write."
An average student, MacArthur began to excel upon entering the military academy at West Point, New York, in 1899. Proud and convinced of his destiny as a military leader, MacArthur graduated first in his class in 1903 with the highest scholastic average at the academy in twenty-five years. After graduation from the academy, MacArthur sailed to the Philippines for his first military assignment. In 1904 he was promoted to first lieutenant, and that October was ordered to become his father's aide-de-camp (secretary) in Japan. Shortly thereafter he embarked upon a tour of the Far East, which he later called the "most important preparation of my entire life."
Rising military career
Returning to the United States, MacArthur began his fast rise through the military ranks. In 1906 he was appointed aidede-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and in 1913 became a member of the general staff. He was appointed colonel of the Rainbow Division during World War I (1914–18), or the Great War, in which European powers, along with America and Russia, waged war over control of Europe. MacArthur emerged as a talented and colorful military leader. He returned from combat with many military honors.
Following the war, he became a brigadier general and superintendent of West Point, where he remained until 1922. After another assignment in the Philippines, MacArthur was appointed chief of staff of the U.S. Army in 1930, a post he held through 1935.
In between wars
The years between World War I and World War II were frustrating ones for professional soldiers, and MacArthur was no exception. In 1922 he married Louise Cromwell Brooks and divorced her in 1929. Soon afterward, the national economy bottomed out during the 1930s, as the Great Depression (a period from 1929 to 1939 during which nearly half the industrial workers in the country lost their jobs) consumed America. Gloomy about the social unrest of the 1930s, he warned a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, audience in 1932 about the presence of Communists (people who believed in communism, a political system in which goods and property are owned by the government). At a time of great uncertainty, MacArthur was able to stir fears that Communists were living in America.
In June 1932 thousands of ragged veterans of World War I marched on Washington, D.C., to petition Congress for early payment of their war service bonuses. Camped with their wives and children, they were set upon by tanks, four troops of cavalry with drawn swords, and steel-helmeted infantry with fixed bayonets—all led by MacArthur. He argued that his actions narrowly prevented a Communist revolution. This would not be the last time MacArthur would favor extreme measures of force.
World War II
In 1935 MacArthur went back to military service when President Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945) sent him to the Philippines to develop a defensive strategy for the islands. Only two years later, he married Jean Marie Faircloth and retired from the U.S. Army in 1937. His retirement would not last, though. With the heightening crisis in Asia, he was recalled to active duty as a lieutenant general and commander of U.S. forces in the Far East in July 1941.
Despite advance warning, the Japanese invasion of December 1941 badly defeated MacArthur's forces in the Philippines. MacArthur was determined to hold the Philippines but the situation was hopeless. He was ordered to withdraw to Australia to take command of Pacific operations. Reluctantly, MacArthur agreed, and accompanied by his wife and child he set out on a daring escape by patrol torpedo (PT) boat, a small, lightweight craft. Discouraged by the American defeat, he announced upon arrival, "I came through and I shall return."
Success in the Pacific
After the Philippine defeat, MacArthur began the long campaign to smash Japanese military power in the Pacific during World War II. Slowed in the early months by shortages of men and supplies, MacArthur's forces eventually won major victories. Although his personal responsibility for the battles was exaggerated by the skillful news management of his staff, there can be little question of the general's success in New Guinea and in the Philippines.
In 1944 MacArthur convinced President Roosevelt that an invasion of the Philippines was necessary to ensure victory in the Pacific. In October 1944 MacArthur waded onto the invasion beach at Leyte and delivered his prepared address into a waiting microphone: "People of the Philippines: I have returned.… Rally to me." For MacArthur, as for millions of Americans, it was an inspiring moment, possibly even more inspiring than his acceptance of the Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
With the end of World War II, President Harry Truman (1884–1972) appointed MacArthur supreme commander of the Allied powers in Japan. During this appointment, MacArthur successfully reduced Japan's military, helped restore the Japanese economy, and advanced religious freedoms and civil liberties in postwar Japan.
A new war
The outbreak of the Korean War, in which American-led forces aided South Korea in their fight against Communist North Korea, resulted in MacArthur's appointment as commander of the United Nations (UN) forces. In the first months of combat, MacArthur launched a brilliant attack at Inchon that severely hurt the North Korean armies.
MacArthur then advanced his troops to the Yalu River, the boundary between North Korea and China. Failing to consider the possibility of a Chinese attack, he assured his troops that they would be home in time for Christmas dinner. In November, however, massive Chinese armies sent the UN forces into retreat. Angered and embarassed, MacArthur publicly called for the extension of the war to China. President Truman, who wanted to limit American involvement in the East, had repeatedly warned MacArthur not to express his own ideas of the war to the public. Truman finally relieved the general of his command in April 1951.
"Old Soldiers Never Die"
MacArthur's return to the United States was greeted by massive public expressions of support for the general and criticisms from the president. On April 19, 1951, he presented his case to a joint session of Congress, attracting a tremendous radio and television audience. His speech ended on a note that stirred millions of Americans: "I now close my military career and just fade away."
MacArthur became more active than he had predicted. He testified at great length before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. Then he traveled across the country criticizing the Truman administration, insisting they had sold out Asia to communism. In December 1952 President-elect Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) met with MacArthur to hear the general's views on ending the Korean War. MacArthur supported a peace conference that, if unsuccessful, would be followed by "the atomic bombing of enemy military concentrations and installations in North Korea." MacArthur also called for military action to overthrow Communist China. As a result, MacArthur was not consulted again.
MacArthur then retreated to a life of out of the public eye. A soldier to the end, he died in the army's Walter Reed Hospital on April 5, 1964. His wife, Jean, died on January 22, 2000, at the age of 101. Although controversial throughout much of his career, MacArthur is remembered as one of America's great military leaders.
For More Information
Finkelstein, Norman H. The Emperor General: A Biography of Douglas MacArthur. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1989.
MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.
Manchester, William. American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur, 1880–1964. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.
Perret, Geoffrey. Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life of Douglas MacArthur. New York: Random House, 1996.
Douglas MacArthur was born in Little Rock, Ark., on Jan. 26, 1880, the descendant of a long line of military men. His father, Arthur MacArthur, was a well-known general. Educated in a haphazard fashion on Western frontier posts, Douglas MacArthur recalled, "I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write." A poor-to-average student, MacArthur began to excel upon entering the military academy at West Point, N. Y., in 1899. Under the watchful eye of his mother, who followed her son to the military academy, he compiled an outstanding record. Proud, and convinced of his destiny as a military leader, MacArthur graduated first in his class in 1903, with the highest scholastic average at the academy in 25 years.
MacArthur sailed to the Philippines for his first military assignment. In 1904 he was promoted to first lieutenant and that October was ordered to become his father's aide-de-camp in Japan. Shortly thereafter he embarked upon a tour of the Far East, which he later termed the "most important preparation of my entire life."
Rising Military Career
Returning to the United States, MacArthur began his meteoric rise through the military ranks. In 1906 he was appointed aide-de-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt and in 1913 became a member of the general staff. As colonel of the "Rainbow Division" during World War I, MacArthur emerged as a talented and flamboyant military leader, returning from combat with a wide assortment of military decorations. Following the war, he became a brigadier general and superintendent of West Point, where he remained until 1922. After another sojourn in the Philippines, MacArthur was appointed chief of staff of the U.S. Army in 1930, a post he held through 1935.
The interwar years were frustrating ones for professional soldiers, and MacArthur led a troubled existence. In 1922 he married Louise Cromwell Brooks; in 1929 they were divorced. Gloomy about the social unrest of the 1930s, he warned a Pittsburgh, Pa., audience in 1932: "Pacifism and its bedfellow, Communism, are all about us…. Day by day this cancer eats deeper into the body politic." His uneasiness perhaps explains his savage assault in June 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, on the thousands of ragged veterans of World War I who had massed in Washington, D.C., to petition Congress for early payment of their war service bonuses. Camped with their wives and children in a miserable shantytown, they were set upon by tanks, four troops of cavalry withdrawn sabers, and a column of steel-helmeted infantry with fixed bayonets—all led by MacArthur. He sought to justify this action by contending that he had narrowly averted a Communist revolution.
MacArthur found a more appropriate field for his endeavors in 1935, when President Franklin Roosevelt dispatched him to the Philippines to develop a defensive strategy for the islands. In 1937 he married Jean Marie Faircloth. Retiring from the U.S. Army, he continued his work for the government of the Philippines. With the heightening crisis in Asia, he was recalled to active duty as a lieutenant general and commander of U.S. forces in the Far East in July 1941.
Despite advance warning, the Japanese invasion of December 1941 badly defeated MacArthur's forces in the Philippines. In part, this reflected Japanese military superiority, but it also followed from MacArthur's assessment of Japan's unwillingness to attack the Philippines. The American and Filipino forces were forced to retreat to Bataan. MacArthur was determined to hold the Philippines but the situation was hopeless, and he was ordered to withdraw to Australia to take command of Pacific operations. Reluctantly MacArthur agreed, and accompanied by his wife and child, he set out on a daring escape by PT boat. Dismayed by the bitter American defeat and by the apparent abandonment of the men at Bataan, he vowed upon arrival, "I came through and I shall return."
Success in the Pacific
After the Philippine debacle, MacArthur began the long campaign to smash Japanese military power in the Pacific. Hampered in the early months by shortages of men and supplies, MacArthur's forces eventually won substantial victories. Although his personal responsibility for the battles and the extent of the casualties inflicted by his command were inflated by the skillful news management of his staff, there can be little question of the general's success in New Guinea and in the Philippines. Despite the urgings of other military leaders to bypass the Philippines in the drive on Tokyo, MacArthur convinced President Roosevelt that an invasion was necessary. In October 1944 MacArthur waded onto the invasion beach at Leyte and delivered his prepared address into a waiting microphone: "People of the Philippines: I have returned…. Rally to me." For MacArthur, as for millions of Americans, it was an inspiring moment—one that even eclipsed in drama his acceptance of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
With the end of World War II, President Harry Truman appointed MacArthur supreme commander of the Allied Powers in Japan. MacArthur set out in the next 6 years to remold Japanese society. His rule proved unexpectedly benevolent. The Occupation successfully encouraged the creation of democratic institutions, religious freedom, civil liberties, land reform, emancipation of women, and formation of trade unions. It did little, however, to check the monopolistic control of Japanese industry.
The outbreak of fighting in Korea in 1950 resulted in MacArthur's appointment as commander of the United Nations forces in July. Engaged in a desperate holding action against North Korean forces in the first months of combat, MacArthur launched a brilliant counterattack at Inchon which routed the North Korean armies. Advancing his troops to the Yalu River, the boundary between North Korea and China, MacArthur inexplicably discounted the possibility of Chinese intervention and assured his troops that they would be home for Christmas dinner. In November, however, massive Chinese armies sent the UN forces reeling in retreat. Angered and humiliated, MacArthur publicly called for the extension of the war to China. President Truman, who wanted to limit American involvement in Korea and had repeatedly warned MacArthur to desist from issuing inflammatory statements on his own initiative, finally relieved the general of his command in April 1951.
"Old Soldiers Never Die"
MacArthur's return to the United States was greeted by massive public expressions of support for the general and condemnations of the President. On April 19, 1951, he presented his case to a joint session of Congress, attracting a tremendous radio and television audience. His speech ended on a sentimental note that stirred millions of Americans, "I now close my military career and just fade away…." But MacArthur became more active than he had predicted. After testifying at great length before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, he barnstormed across the country, lambasting the Truman administration and assuming the leadership of those Americans who believed that the President and his advisers had "sold out" Asia to communism.
In December 1952 president-elect Dwight Eisenhower met with MacArthur to hear the general's views on ending the Korean War. MacArthur advocated a peace conference which, if unsuccessful, would be followed by "the atomic bombing of enemy military concentrations and installations in North Korea and the sowing of fields of suitable radioactive materials," the bombing of China, and the landing of Chinese Nationalist troops in Manchuria to overthrow the Communist government. To his chagrin, MacArthur was not consulted again.
Perhaps aware that his political appeal was ebbing, MacArthur had accepted a job as chairman of the board of the Remington Rand Corporation in August 1952. Thereafter, shaken by illness, he retreated to a life of relative obscurity. A soldier to the end, he died in the Army's Walter Reed Hospital on April 5, 1964.
MacArthur's own evaluation of his life is in his Reminiscences (1964). For his speeches see A Soldier Speaks, edited by Vorin E. Whan, Jr. (1965). D. Clayton James, The Years of MacArthur, vol. 1: 1880-1941 (1970), is a scholarly portrait of the general. A penetrating study of MacArthur's career is Richard Rovere and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The MacArthur Controversy and American Foreign Policy (1965). An objective treatment of MacArthur's generalship is Gavin Long, MacArthur as Military Commander (1969). John Gunther, The Riddle of MacArthur: Japan, Korea and the Far East (1951), is helpful for understanding the general's personality, as are the adulatory books of Clark Gould Lee and Richard Henschel, Douglas MacArthur (1952); Charles Willoughby and John Chamberlàin, MacArthur, 1941-1951 (1954); and Courtney Whitney, MacArthur: His Rendezvous with History (1956). A useful collection of writings by and about the general is Lawrence S. Wittner, ed., MacArthur (1971). □
In July 1941, MacArthur was appointed to command all U.S. forces in East Asia, but when Japanese planes attacked American bases near Manila several hours after their attack on Pearl Harbor, they destroyed most of the American warplanes on the ground. For three months, Mac Arthur led the defense of the Philippines; but in March 1942, Roosevelt ordered him to Australia to command the Southwest Pacific Area theater. MacArthur vowed: “I shall return.”
While the U.S. Navy pushed through the Central Pacific, MacArthur, with American reinforcements, launched an offensive from Australia against Japanese forces on the coastline of New Guinea, using highly successful “leapfrogging” flanking envelopments with combined air, land, and sea forces. The high point of MacArthur's campaign came in October 1944, when despite the reluctance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), he convinced Roosevelt to allow him to liberate the Philippines rather than bypass the archipelago. The image of MacArthur with his crushed officer's hat, aviator sunglasses, and corncob pipe was familiar to Americans. Most famously, photographers showed him wading ashore at Leyte in the Philippines as he launched the liberation that continued through July 1945. In December 1944, he was promoted to the new rank of general of the army (five stars). He accepted the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.
Appointed by President Harry S. Truman as Supreme Allied Powers Commander, MacArthur directed the occupation of Japan (1945–50), implementing generally liberal economic, social, and political reforms, but delaying rebuilding of Japan's industrial economy until ordered by Truman in 1948. As a conservative Republican, MacArthur was seriously considered for the GOP presidential nomination in 1948, but he was defeated in the early primaries.
With the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, Truman also named MacArthur commander of the U.S. and United Nations forces there. The general persuaded the JCS to authorize an amphibious flanking envelopment at Inchon in September, and by October, South Korea had been liberated. Truman, with MacArthur's concurrence, then expanded the war aims to unify the peninsula. When UN forces crossed the 38th parallel and advanced toward the Yalu River, the border with China, despite warnings from Beijing, MacArthur met with Truman on Wake Island, dismissing the danger of Chinese intervention and predicting quick victory.
China intervened massively in late November, pushing the UN forces back to the 38th parallel and beyond. MacArthur then clashed with the JCS and the White House, blaming them for forcing him to fight a limited war. Arguing that there was “no substitute for victory,” MacArthur sought permission to expand the war to China by bombing bases in Manchuria, perhaps with nuclear weapons, and by assisting Chinese Nationalist troops from Taiwan to invade the mainland. However, as the JCS discovered early in 1951, MacArthur exaggerated the Communist Chinese threat to overrun South Korea. Battle lines stabilized in March 1951 when a new field commander, Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, rallied the U.S. and UN forces.
Truman proposed a cease‐fire that month, but MacArthur sabotaged the plan. When the press printed a letter from the general to Republican congressman Joseph Martin condemning Truman's policy in Korea as appeasement, an outraged president, supported by the JCS, removed MacArthur from all his commands on 11 April 1951. Two weeks later, after returning to a hero's welcome, MacArthur addressed a joint session of Congress and appealed for public support for his strategy. But although Americans were frustrated with the stalemated war, Senate hearings into MacArthur's accusations revealed that most military and diplomatic experts opposed his plan at a time when the Soviet Union in Europe was seen as the main threat to U.S. interests. Few Americans wanted an expanded war with China.
After fifty‐two years of active service, the general with his flare for the dramatic gesture and his penchant for political controversy retired from the army and became an officer of a large business corporation. Another effort to nominate him for president failed in 1952 when the GOP chose a far more genial and less controversial general, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
[See also Inchon Landing; Korean War; Korean War: U.S. Naval Operations in; Philippines, U.S. Involvement in the; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The Pacific.]
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Douglas MacArthur, son of Arthur MacArthur (a Civil War hero), graduated from West Point in 1903, fought in World War I, and commanded American forces in the Pacific during World War II. As Supreme Allied Powers Commander in Japan from 1945 to 1950, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur remade that country. An Olympian figure, he forced the Japanese to accept such fundamental reforms as democratization, reduction of the emperor to a ceremonial role, and renunciation of force in international affairs (except in self-defense). MacArthur thus oversaw one of the most successful military transformations of an occupied country in history.
MacArthur's authority extended to the U.S. occupation of Korea south of the 38th parallel. On August 15, 1948, he proclaimed in Seoul the Republic of Korea (ROK) with Syngman Rhee as president. Despite the growing power and belligerence of the communist North Korean regime, MacArthur kept a tight leash on the ROK army and publicly hinted that South Korea was of only peripheral interest to the United States. He also allowed his occupation troops in Japan to lose their combat edge.
Thus, when North Korean forces struck south on June 25, 1950, they initially found easy going. After some hesitation, MacArthur ordered, without authorization from Washington, U.S. Air Force strikes at North Korean airfields. In a sharp reversal of his earlier stance, he recommended that the Truman administration commit U.S. ground troops under the aegis of the United Nations. Truman named MacArthur commander of the U.S. and U.N. forces.
Despite dispiriting defeats early in the conflict, MacArthur husbanded reinforcements for an amphibious landing at Inchon well behind enemy lines. Considering the severe natural obstacles, the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed serious reservations, but MacArthur, in a masterful display of showmanship, sold his plan by arguing that the difficulties would make the surprise all the greater.
Operation Chromite proved to be a remarkable success, although MacArthur's determination to regain Seoul at the earliest opportunity cost him the chance to cut off the North Korean army now fleeing homeward.
MacArthur compounded this mistake by driving across the 38th parallel. He assured President Harry S. Truman at Wake Island on October 15 that Mao Tse-tung's China would not intervene and predicted an end to the war by Christmas.
His extemporized offensive proved ill-cast. Two widely separated columns moved up the east and west coasts after the fleeing North Korean troops. MacArthur ignored intelligence reports of a Chinese buildup and directly countermanded President Truman's orders that only South Korean troops approach the Yalu River border between North Korea and communist China. So sure was MacArthur of an early victory that he failed to requisition winter clothing for his men.
Once Beijing intervened, MacArthur swung from the heights of optimism to the darkest depression. Proclaiming "an entirely new war," he predicted the "final destruction" of his command unless he received large reinforcements. The Truman administration, fearing that the Korean conflict was part of a larger communist scheme to divert U.S. resources and attention from the more crucial European sphere, refused MacArthur's increasingly shrill pleas and ordered that he clear all public statements. Regardless, MacArthur criticized (to the press) restrictions on his command as "without precedent in military history." Believing broader war with the communist camp inevitable, MacArthur on December 24 secretly submitted a list of twenty-six "retaliation targets" for atomic weapons in China and North Korea.
Six days later, he proposed to Washington a set of much wider measures against communist China, to include its blockade and strikes by naval and air forces against its industry. Essentially endorsing a "Europe First" strategy, Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall and the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged the president in the strongest terms not to become involved in a general war with China.
MacArthur then moved to undercut the strategic priorities of his superiors. On March 24, 1951, he publicly offered face-to-face meetings with the enemy commanders, failing which he threatened war against China. Truman calculated that such a course might well lead to war with the Soviet Union. Next, MacArthur issued, through Republican congressman Joseph W. Martin, a clarion call for the defeat of communism in Asia and a condemnation of Truman's policy as appeasement. In his memorable words, "There is no substitute for victory."
Faced with such rank insubordination, Truman, with the unanimous backing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and of Secretary Marshall, decided to relieve MacArthur, effective on April 11, 1951. MacArthur returned to a tumultuous public welcome and standing ovations in Congress. A storm of denunciation fell on Truman's head; unquestionably MacArthur's dismissal hurt the Democratic party badly in the 1952 elections. From the longer perspective afforded by history, it was clearly time for MacArthur to go. His fifty-two years of service in uniform could not counterbalance his egotism and sabotage of national policy. The MacArthur-Truman conflict tested the policy of civilian control of the military that George Washington had established by example when he surrendered his command of the Continental Army to Congress in 1783. Despite the political cost of dismissing the popular MacArthur, Truman sustained that policy.
Futrell, Robert F. The United States Air Force in Korea 1950–1953, revised edition. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983.
James, D. Clayton. The Years of MacArthur, vol. 3. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Schnabel, James F. Policy and Direction: The First Year. In the series United States Army in the Korean War. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1988.
Stueck, William. The Korean War: An International History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Malcolm Muir, Jr.
Douglas MacArthur is one of the most famous military generals in American history. He gained notoriety for his actions throughout World War II (1939–45) and during the first half of the Cold War (1945–91).
MacArthur was born into a military family on January 26, 1880, in Arkansas . A poor-to-average student, MacArthur claimed he could ride and shoot before he could read or write. He entered West Point military academy in 1899 and began to excel at his studies. MacArthur graduated at the top of his class in 1903 and boasted the highest scholastic average at the school in twenty-five years.
Rises through the ranks
After completing assignments in the Philippines and the Far East, during which he was promoted to first lieutenant, MacArthur returned to the states. He emerged as a remarkable talent and eccentric leader during World War I (1914–18), and his success earned him numerous military decorations. He became brigadier general and superintendent of West Point shortly after the war and held that position until 1922, the same year he married (he divorced seven years later). He held various positions until 1930, when President Herbert Hoover (1874–1964; served 1929–33) appointed him chief of staff of the U.S. Army , a position he held until 1935.
In the 1920s and 1930s, many Americans were worried about the threat of communism. MacArthur shared the concern. Communism is an economic and political theory in which the government owns and controls
the production and distribution of all goods and services. This concept was threatening to noncommunist countries because it ignored personal liberties and relied on harsh, often totalitarian, governments. The Great Depression (1929–41) had descended upon America in the 1930s. More than twenty thousand hungry war veterans and their families camped in shacks while waiting payment of their war services bonuses. Veterans of World War I were promised a monetary bonus that could initially be redeemed in 1945; because of economic hardships, some members of Congress recommended veterans be allowed to redeem them in 1933. The Depression was putting a serious strain on the nation's finances, however, so this matter was being furiously debated in the legislature. So these desperate veterans and their families decided to march on Washington, D.C. , to protest having to wait for their bonus money. When MacArthur learned of the protest, he led four troops of cavalry and numerous tanks and destroyed the makeshift camps that housed these peaceful protestors. No weapons were fired, but the cavalry used gas and swords, and blood was shed. A baby died from the gas attack, and before the event was over, fire broke out. No one was ever able to determine with absolute certainty how the fire started or which side was responsible. Although there was no basis for MacArthur's belief that this was a communist-led march, he claimed that by intervening, he had narrowly averted a communist revolution. MacArthur initially had approval to quell the protest from President Hoover. But when it became clear that the general was using such harsh measures on a peaceful crowd, Hoover twice ordered MacArthur not to pursue the marchers. MacArthur's reputation was hurt by his actions in what has become known as the Bonus March.
MacArthur returned to the Philippines in 1935 to develop a defensive strategy for the islands, which were under the control of America. He married again in 1937 and retired from the Army, although he continued his work with the government in the Philippines. MacArthur was recalled to active duty in 1941 as a lieutenant general and commander of U.S. forces in the Far East.
The Japanese successfully invaded the Philippines in 1941 and defeated the Philippine army. It was a difficult defeat for the general since he supervised the creation and training of these troops, and he was ordered to withdraw and take command of Pacific operations during World War II.
Victory in the Pacific
MacArthur began the Pacific campaign with a shortage of both soldiers and supplies, but his forces soon achieved one victory after another. Thanks to a savvy press corps, MacArthur became a much-loved leader during the war, and he delivered more than one enthusiastic, if not melodramatic, speech that only further endeared him to the American public.
President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) appointed MacArthur supreme commander of the Allied Powers in Japan once the war was over. The commander used the next six years to reshape Japanese society, and he encouraged religious freedom, land reform, the emancipation of women, and other societal reforms.
The Korean War
In July 1950, President Truman appointed MacArthur commander of the United Nations (UN) forces in the Korean War (1950–53). Again, his brilliant leadership led to a major victory at the Battle of Inchon. MacArthur made an error, however, when he assured his troops that they would be home with their families in time for Christmas. He had not counted on the intervention of Chinese armies, who forced the UN troops to retreat in November 1950. President Truman, aware of MacArthur's tendencies to create conflict by taking matters into his own hands—as he had during the Great Depression—as well as by making inflammatory comments, had already warned him not to say things he should not. As a result of making promises to the troops that could not be kept, the president relieved MacArthur of his command in April 1951.
MacArthur returned to the states not with shame, but with pride. A supportive public greeted him and hailed him as a military hero. He eventually accepted a position as chairman of the board of the Remington Rand Corporation in August 1952. He died on April 5, 1964, at the age of eighty-four.