The American general Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) attained widespread fame through his military activities in the Pacific during World War II and the cold war.
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.
Further Reading on Douglas MacArthur
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).