General Douglas MacArthur

United States - Scott #1424 (1971)
United States – Scott #1424 (1971)

Douglas MacArthur was born January 26, 1880, at Little Rock Barracks, Little Rock, Arkansas, to Arthur MacArthur, Jr., a U.S. Army captain, and his wife, Mary Pinkney Hardy MacArthur (nicknamed “Pinky”). Arthur, Jr. was the son of Scottish-born jurist and politician Arthur MacArthur, Sr., Arthur would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions with the Union Army in the Battle of Missionary Ridge during the American Civil War, and be promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. Pinkney came from a prominent Norfolk, Virginia, family. Two of her brothers had fought for the South in the Civil War, and refused to attend her wedding. Arthur and Pinky had three sons, of whom Douglas was the youngest, following Arthur III, born on August 1, 1876, and Malcolm, born on October 17, 1878.

The family lived on a succession of Army posts in the American Old West. Conditions were primitive, and Malcolm died of measles in 1883. In his memoir, Reminiscences, MacArthur wrote “I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write — indeed, almost before I could walk and talk.”

Douglas MacArthur as a cadet at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, circa 1900.
Douglas MacArthur as a cadet at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, circa 1900.

MacArthur was valedictorian at the West Texas Military Academy, and entered West Point on June 12, 1899. He was a corporal in Company B in his second year there, a first sergeant in Company A in his third year and First Captain in his final year. He played left field for the baseball team, and academically earned 2424.12 merits out of a possible 2470.00 or 98.14, the third highest score ever recorded, graduating first in his 93-man class on June 11, 1903. At the time it was customary for the top-ranking cadets to be commissioned into the United States Army Corps of Engineers, so MacArthur was commissioned as a second lieutenant in that corps.

On April 21, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the occupation of Veracruz. MacArthur joined the headquarters staff that was sent to the area, arriving on May 1. He soon conducted a reconnaissance mission, for which he was nominated for the Medal of Honor. In 1917, he was promoted from major to colonel and became chief of staff of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division. In the fighting on the Western Front during World War I, he rose to the rank of brigadier general, was again nominated for a Medal of Honor, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice and the Silver Star seven times.

Douglas MacArthur, seen here as a brigadier general, cleaned up after the Germans left and restored what he could of the original splendor. He is seated in the original chair of the old lord of the chateau. St. Benoit Chateau, France. Photo taken on September 19, 1918.

From 1919 to 1922, MacArthur served as Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he attempted a series of reforms. His next assignment was in the Philippines, where in 1924 he was instrumental in quelling the Philippine Scout Mutiny. In 1925, he became the Army’s youngest major general. He served on the court martial of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell and was president of the American Olympic Committee during the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. In 1930, he became Chief of Staff of the United States Army. As such, he was involved in the expulsion of the Bonus Army protesters from Washington, D.C. in 1932, and the establishment and organization of the Civilian Conservation Corps. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1937 to become Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines.

On July 26, 1941, Roosevelt federalized the Philippine Army, recalled MacArthur to active duty in the U.S. Army as a major general, and named him commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). MacArthur was promoted to lieutenant general the following day. On July 31, the Philippine Department had 22,000 troops assigned, 12,000 of whom were Philippine Scouts. The main component was the Philippine Division, under the command of Major General Jonathan M. Wainwright. The initial American plan for the defense of the Philippines called for the main body of the troops to retreat to the Bataan peninsula in Manila Bay to hold out against the Japanese until a relief force could arrive. MacArthur changed this plan to one of attempting to hold all of Luzon and using B-17 Flying Fortresses to sink Japanese ships that approached the islands. MacArthur persuaded the decision-makers in Washington that his plans represented the best deterrent to prevent Japan from choosing war and of winning a war if worse did come to worse.

Between July and December 1941, the garrison received 8,500 reinforcements. After years of parsimony, much equipment was shipped. By November, a backlog of 1,100,000 shipping tons of equipment intended for the Philippines had accumulated in U.S. ports and depots awaiting vessels. In addition, the Navy intercept station in the islands, known as Station CAST, had an ultra secret Purple cipher machine, which decrypted Japanese diplomatic messages, and partial codebooks for the latest JN-25 naval code. Station CAST sent MacArthur its entire output, via MacArthur’s chief of staff Lieutenant Colonel Richard K. Sutherland, the only officer on his staff authorized to see it.

Ceremony at Camp Murphy, 15 August 1941, marking the induction of the Philippine Army Air Corps. Behind MacArthur, from left to right, are Lieutenant Colonel Richard K. Sutherland, Colonel Harold H. George, Lieutenant Colonel William F. Marquat and Major LeGrande A. Diller.
Ceremony at Camp Murphy, Rizal, Philippines, August 15, 1941, marking the induction of the Philippine Army Air Corps. Behind MacArthur, from left to right, are Lieutenant Colonel Richard K. Sutherland, Colonel Harold H. George, Lieutenant Colonel William F. Marquat and Major LeGrande A. Diller.

At 03:30 local time on December 8, 1941 (about 09:00 on December 7 in Hawaii), Sutherland learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor and informed MacArthur. At 05:30, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General George Marshall, ordered MacArthur to execute the existing war plan, Rainbow Five. MacArthur did nothing. On three occasions, the commander of the Far East Air Force, Major General Lewis H. Brereton, requested permission to attack Japanese bases in Formosa, in accordance with prewar intentions, but was denied by Sutherland. Not until 11:00 did Brereton speak with MacArthur about it, and obtained permission. MacArthur later denied having the conversation. At 12:30, nine hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, aircraft of Japan’s 11th Air Fleet achieved complete tactical surprise when they attacked Clark Field and the nearby fighter base at Iba Field, and destroyed or disabled 18 of Far East Air Force’s 35 B-17s, 53 of its 107 P-40s, three P-35s, and more than 25 other aircraft. Most were destroyed on the ground. Substantial damage was done to the bases, and casualties totaled 80 killed and 150 wounded. What was left of the Far East Air Force was all but destroyed over the next few days.

MacArthur attempted to slow the Japanese advance with an initial defense against the Japanese landings. MacArthur’s plan for holding all of Luzon against the Japanese collapsed as it spread out the American-Filipino forces too thin. However, he reconsidered his confidence in the ability of his Filipino troops after the Japanese landing force made a rapid advance after landing at Lingayen Gulf on December 21, and ordered a retreat to Bataan. Within two days of the Japanese landing at Lingayen Gulf, MacArthur had reverted to pre-July 1941 plan of attempting to hold only Bataan while waiting for a relief force to come. Most of the American and some of the Filipino troops were able to retreat back to Baatan, but without most of their supplies, which were abandoned in the confusion. Manila was declared an open city at midnight on December 24, without any consultation with Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commanding the Asiatic Fleet, forcing the Navy to destroy considerable amounts of valuable materiel.

MacArthur (center) with his Chief of Staff, Major General Richard K. Sutherland, in the Headquarters tunnel on Corregidor, Philippines, on March 1, 1942. Photo taken by U.S. Army Signal Corps.
MacArthur (center) with his Chief of Staff, Major General Richard K. Sutherland, in the Headquarters tunnel on Corregidor, Philippines, on March 1, 1942. Photo taken by U.S. Army Signal Corps.

On the evening of December 24, MacArthur moved his headquarters to the island fortress of Corregidor in Manila Bay arriving at 21:30, with his headquarters reporting to Washington as being open on the 25th. A series of air raids by the Japanese destroyed all the exposed structures on the island and USAFFE headquarters was moved into the Malinta Tunnel. Later, most of the headquarters moved to Bataan, leaving only the nucleus with MacArthur. The troops on Bataan knew that they had been written off but continued to fight. Some blamed Roosevelt and MacArthur for their predicament. A ballad sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” called him “Dugout Doug”. However, most clung to the belief that somehow MacArthur “would reach down and pull something out of his hat”.

In February 1942, as Japanese forces tightened their grip on the Philippines, MacArthur was ordered by President Roosevelt to relocate to Australia. On the night of March 12, MacArthur and a select group that included his wife Jean, son Arthur, and Arthur’s Cantonese amah, Ah Cheu, fled Corregidor in PT boats. MacArthur and his party reached Del Monte Airfield on Mindanao, where B-17s picked them up, and flew them to Australia. His famous speech, in which he said, “I came through and I shall return”, was first made on Terowie railway station in South Australia, on March 20. Washington asked MacArthur to amend his promise to “We shall return”. He ignored the request.

Bataan surrendered on April 9, 1942, and Corregidor on May 6. George Marshall decided that MacArthur would be awarded the Medal of Honor, a decoration for which he had twice previously been nominated, “to offset any propaganda by the enemy directed at his leaving his command”. Eisenhower pointed out that MacArthur had not actually performed any acts of valor as required by law, but Marshall cited the 1927 award of the medal to Charles Lindbergh as a precedent. Special legislation had been passed to authorize Lindbergh’s medal, but while similar legislation was introduced authorizing the medal for MacArthur by Congressmen J. Parnell Thomas and James E. Van Zandt, Marshall felt strongly that a serving general should receive the medal from the President and the War Department, expressing that the recognition “would mean more” if the gallantry criteria were not waived by a bill of relief.

Senior Allied commanders at Seven Mile Drome at Port Moresby, New Guinea, in October 1942. Left to right: Mr Frank Forde (Australian Minister for the Army); MacArthur; General Sir Thomas Blamey, Allied Land Forces; Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, Allied Air Forces; Lieutenant General Edmund Herring, New Guinea Force; Brigadier General Kenneth Walker, V Bomber Command.
Senior Allied commanders at Seven Mile Drome at Port Moresby, New Guinea, in October 1942. Left to right: Mr Frank Forde (Australian Minister for the Army); MacArthur; General Sir Thomas Blamey, Allied Land Forces; Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, Allied Air Forces; Lieutenant General Edmund Herring, New Guinea Force; Brigadier General Kenneth Walker, V Bomber Command.

MacArthur, who had been nominated for the award twice before, understood that it was for leadership and not gallantry, and expressed the sentiment that “this award was intended not so much for me personally as it is a recognition of the indomitable courage of the gallant army which it was my honor to command”. Arthur and Douglas MacArthur thus became the first father and son to be awarded the Medal of Honor. They remained the only pair until 2001, when Theodore Roosevelt was awarded posthumously for his service during the Spanish–American War, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. having received one posthumously for his service during World War II. MacArthur’s citation, written by Marshall, read:

For conspicuous leadership in preparing the Philippine Islands to resist conquest, for gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against invading Japanese forces, and for the heroic conduct of defensive and offensive operations on the Bataan Peninsula. He mobilized, trained, and led an army which has received world acclaim for its gallant defense against a tremendous superiority of enemy forces in men and arms. His utter disregard of personal danger under heavy fire and aerial bombardment, his calm judgment in each crisis, inspired his troops, galvanized the spirit of resistance of the Filipino people, and confirmed the faith of the American people in their Armed Forces.

June 13, 1942, was decreed
June 13, 1942, was decreed “National Douglas MacArthur Day”

As the symbol of the forces resisting the Japanese, MacArthur received many other accolades. The Native American tribes of the Southwest chose him as a “Chief of Chiefs”, which he acknowledged as from “my oldest friends, the companions of my boyhood days on the Western frontier”. He was touched when he was named Father of the Year for 1942, and wrote to the National Father’s Day Committee that:

By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact, but I am prouder, infinitely prouder to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentialities of death; the other embodies creation and life. And while the hordes of death are mighty, the battalions of life are mightier still. It is my hope that my son when I am gone will remember me, not from battle, but in the home, repeating with him our simple daily prayer, “Our father, Who art in Heaven.”

Australian Prime Minister John Curtin and U.S, General Douglas MacArthur meet at Parliament House on March 26, 1942, source: NAA A1200, L36449.
Australian Prime Minister John Curtin and U.S, General Douglas MacArthur meet at Parliament House on March 26, 1942, source: NAA A1200, L36449.

On April 18, 1942, MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). MacArthur established a close relationship with the Prime Minister of Australia, John Curtin, and was probably the second most-powerful person in the country after the prime minister, although many Australians resented MacArthur as a foreign general who had been imposed upon them. In August 1942, he selected Major General George C. Kenney as commander of Allied Air Forces. Kenney’s application of air power in support of Blamey’s troops would prove crucial.

MacArthur had one of the most powerful PR machines of any Allied general during the war, which made him into an extremely popular war hero with the American people. In late 1943–early 1944, there was a serious effort by the conservative faction in the Republican Party centered in the Midwest to have MacArthur seek the Republican nomination to be the candidate for the presidency in the 1944 election, as they regarded the two men most likely to win the Republican nomination, namely Wendell Willkie and Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, as too liberal. For a time, MacArthur, who had long seen himself as a potential president, was in the words of the U.S. historian Gerhard Weinberg “very interested” in running as the Republican candidate in 1944. However, MacArthur’s vow to “return” to the Philippines had not been fulfilled in early 1944 and he decided not to run for president until he had liberated the Philippines.

In July 1944, President Roosevelt summoned MacArthur to meet with him in Hawaii “to determine the phase of action against Japan”. Nimitz made the case for attacking Formosa. MacArthur stressed America’s moral obligation to liberate the Philippines. In September, Admiral William Halsey, Jr.’s carriers made a series of air strikes on the Philippines. Opposition was feeble and Halsey concluded, incorrectly, that Leyte was “wide open” and possibly undefended, and recommended that projected operations be skipped in favor of an assault on Leyte.

U.S. General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, Philippine Islands, on October 20, 1944. Photo taken by U.S. Army Signal Corps officer Gaetano Faillace.
U.S. General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, Philippine Islands, on October 20, 1944. Philippine President Sergio Osmeña is to MacArthur’s right, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Romulo at his rear, and Sutherland on his left. Photo taken by U.S. Army Signal Corps officer Gaetano Faillace.

On October 20, 1944, troops of Krueger’s Sixth Army landed on Leyte, while MacArthur watched from the light cruiser USS Nashville. That afternoon he arrived off the beach. The advance had not progressed far; snipers were still active and the area was under sporadic mortar fire. When his whaleboat grounded in knee-deep water, MacArthur requested a landing craft, but the beachmaster was too busy to grant his request. MacArthur was compelled to wade ashore. In his prepared speech, he said:

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

General Douglas MacArthur (center), accompanied by Lieutenant Generals George C. Kenney and Richard K. Sutherland and Major General Verne D. Mudge (Commanding General, First Cavalry Division), inspecting the beachhead on Leyte Island on October 20, 1944, with a crowd of onlookers.
General Douglas MacArthur (center), accompanied by Lieutenant Generals George C. Kenney and Richard K. Sutherland and Major General Verne D. Mudge (Commanding General, First Cavalry Division), inspecting the beachhead on Leyte Island on October 20, 1944, with a crowd of onlookers.

Since Leyte was out of range of Kenney’s land-based aircraft, MacArthur was dependent on carrier aircraft. Japanese air activity soon increased, with raids on Tacloban, where MacArthur decided to establish his headquarters, and on the fleet offshore. MacArthur enjoyed staying on Nashville‘s bridge during air raids, although several bombs landed close by, and two nearby cruisers were hit. Over the next few days, the Japanese counterattacked in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, resulting in a near-disaster that MacArthur attributed to the command being divided between himself and Nimitz. Nor did the campaign ashore proceed smoothly. Heavy monsoonal rains disrupted the airbase construction program. Carrier aircraft proved to be no substitute for land-based aircraft, and the lack of air cover permitted the Japanese to pour troops into Leyte. Adverse weather and tough Japanese resistance slowed the American advance, resulting in a protracted campaign.

By the end of December, Krueger’s headquarters estimated that 5,000 Japanese remained on Leyte, and on December 26 MacArthur issued a communiqué announcing that “the campaign can now be regarded as closed except for minor mopping up”. Yet Eichelberger’s Eighth Army killed another 27,000 Japanese on Leyte before the campaign ended in May 1945.

On December 18, 1944, MacArthur was promoted to the new five-star rank of General of the Army, placing him in the company of Marshall, Eisenhower, Henry “Hap” Arnold, the only four men to achieve the rank in World War II. Including Omar Bradley, MacArthur was one of only five men to achieve the title of General of the Army since the August 5, 1888, death of Philip Sheridan, and he was one of only five American officers to hold the rank as a five-star general. MacArthur was senior to all but Marshall.

Vice Admiral Kinkaid and General MacArthur on board USS_Phoenix (CL-46) on February 28, 1944 SC 188839-700x554
Vice Admiral Kinkaid and General MacArthur on board USS_Phoenix (CL-46) on February 28, 1944 SC 188839-700×554

MacArthur’s next move was the invasion of Mindoro, where there were good potential airfield sites. Willoughby estimated, correctly as it turned out, that the island had only about 1,000 Japanese defenders. The problem this time was getting there. Kinkaid balked at sending escort carriers into the restricted waters of the Sulu Sea, and Kenney could not guarantee land based air cover. The operation was clearly hazardous, and MacArthur’s staff talked him out of accompanying the invasion on Nashville. As the invasion force entered the Sulu Sea, a kamikaze struck Nashville, killing 133 people and wounding 190 more.

Australian and American engineers had three airstrips in operation within two weeks, but the resupply convoys were repeatedly attacked by kamikazes. The way was now clear for the invasion of Luzon. This time, based on different interpretations of the same intelligence data, Willoughby estimated the strength of General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s forces on Luzon at 137,000, while Sixth Army estimated it at 234,000. MacArthur’s response was “Bunk!”. He felt that even Willoughby’s estimate was too high. “Audacity, calculated risk, and a clear strategic aim were MacArthur’s attributes”, and he disregarded the estimates. In fact, they were too low; Yamashita had more than 287,000 troops on Luzon. This time, MacArthur traveled aboard the light cruiser USS Boise, watching as the ship was nearly hit by a bomb and torpedoes fired by midget submarines. His communiqué read: “The decisive battle for the liberation of the Philippines and the control of the Southwest Pacific is at hand. General MacArthur is in personal command at the front and landed with his assault troops.”

MacArthur’s primary concern was the capture of the port of Manila and the airbase at Clark Field, which were required to support future operations. He urged his commanders on. On January 25, 1945, he moved his advanced headquarters forward to Hacienda Luisita, closer to the front than Krueger’s. He ordered the 1st Cavalry Division to conduct a rapid advance on Manila. It reached the northern outskirts of Manila on February 3, but, unknown to the Americans, Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi had decided to defend Manila to the death.

Citizens of Manila run for safety from suburbs burned by Japanese soldiers, February 10, 1945.

The Battle of Manila raged for the next three weeks. To spare the civilian population, MacArthur prohibited the use of air strikes, but thousands of civilians died in the crossfire or Japanese massacres. He also refused to restrict the traffic of civilians who clogged the roads in and out of Manila, placing humanitarian concerns above military ones except in emergencies. For his part in the capture of Manila, MacArthur was awarded his third Distinguished Service Cross.

After taking Manila, MacArthur installed one of his Filipino friends, Manuel Roxas into a position of power that ensured Roxas was to become the next Filipino president. Roxas had been a leading Japanese collaborator serving in the puppet government of José Laurel, but MacArthur claimed that Roxas had secretly been an American agent all the long. About MacArthur’s claim that Roxas was really part of the resistance, the American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote that “…evidence to this effect has yet to surface”, and that by favoring the Japanese collaborator Roxas, MacArthur ensured there was no serious effort to address the issue of Filipino collaboration with the Japanese after the war.

Destruction at the Walled City (Intramuros district) of old Manila after the Battle of Manila. Photo taken in May 1945.
Destruction at the Walled City (Intramuros district) of old Manila after the Battle of Manila. Photo taken in May 1945.

After the Battle of Manila, MacArthur turned his attention to Yamashita, who had retreated into the mountains of central and northern Luzon. Yamashita chose to fight a defensive campaign, being pushed back slowly by Krueger, and was still holding out at the time the war ended, much to MacArthur’s intense annoyance as he had wished to liberate the entire Philippines before the war ended. On September 2, 1945, Yamashita (who had a hard time believing that the Emperor had ordered Japan to sign an armistice) came down from the mountains to surrender with some 100,000 of his men.

Although MacArthur had no specific directive to do so, and the fighting on Luzon was far from over, he committed his forces to liberate the remainder of the Philippines. In the GHQ communiqué on July 5, he announced that the Philippines had been liberated and all operations ended, although Yamashita still held out in northern Luzon. Starting in May 1945, MacArthur used his Australian troops in the invasion of Borneo. He accompanied the assault on Labuan, and visited the troops ashore. While returning to GHQ in Manila, he visited Davao, where he told Eichelberger that no more than 4,000 Japanese remained alive on Mindanao. A few months later, six times that number surrendered. In July 1945, he was awarded his fourth Distinguished Service Medal.

As part of preparations for Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan, MacArthur became commander in chief U.S. Army Forces Pacific (AFPAC) in April 1945, assuming command of all Army and Army Air Force units in the Pacific except the Twentieth Air Force. At the same time, Nimitz became commander of all naval forces. Command in the Pacific therefore remained divided. During his planning of the invasion of Japan, MacArthur stressed to the decision-makers in Washington that it was essential to have the Soviet Union enter the war as he argued it was crucial to have the Red Army tie down the Kwantung army in Manchuria. The invasion was pre-empted by the surrender of Japan in August 1945.

General Douglas MacArthur signs Japanese surrender instrument as Supreme Allied Commander during formal surrender ceremonies on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Behind General MacArthur are U.S. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright and British Lieutenant General Arthur E. Percival.
General Douglas MacArthur signs Japanese surrender instrument as Supreme Allied Commander during formal surrender ceremonies on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Behind General MacArthur are U.S. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright and British Lieutenant General Arthur E. Percival.

On September 2, 1945, MacArthur accepted the formal Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay, thus ending hostilities in World War II. In recognition of his role as a maritime strategist, the U.S. Navy awarded him the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

He oversaw the Allied occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951. Unlike Germany, there was a certain partnership between the occupiers and occupied as MacArthur decided to rule Japan via the Emperor and most of the rest of the Japanese elite. The Emperor was a living god to the Japanese people, and MacArthur found that ruling via the Emperor made his job in running Japan much easier than it otherwise would have been. At the same time, MacArthur undermined the imperial mystique when his staff released the famous picture of his first meeting with the Emperor, the impact of which on the Japanese public was electric as the Japanese people for the first time saw the Emperor as a mere man overshadowed by the much taller MacArthur instead of the living god he had always been portrayed as. Up to 1945, the Emperor had been a remote, mysterious figure to his people, rarely seen in public and always silent, whose photographs were always taken from a certain angle to make him look taller and more impressive than he really was. The Japanese government immediately banned the photo of the Emperor with MacArthur on the grounds that it damaged the imperial mystique, but MacArthur rescinded the ban and ordered all of the Japanese newspapers to print it. The photo was intended as a message to the Emperor about who was going to be the senior partner in their relationship.

Japanese Emperor Hirohito and U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, at their first meeting, at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, September 27, 1945. Photo taken by U.S. Army photographer Lt. Gaetano Faillace.
Japanese Emperor Hirohito and U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, at their first meeting, at the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, September 27, 1945. Photo taken by U.S. Army photographer Lt. Gaetano Faillace.

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in Japan, MacArthur and his staff helped Japan rebuild itself, eradicate militarism and ultra-nationalism, promote political civil liberties, institute democratic government, and chart a new course that ultimately made Japan one of the world’s leading industrial powers. The U.S. was firmly in control of Japan to oversee its reconstruction. In 1946, MacArthur’s staff drafted a new constitution that renounced war and stripped the Emperor of his military authority. The constitution — which became effective on May 3, 1947 — instituted a parliamentary system of government, under which the Emperor acted only on the advice of his ministers. It included the famous Article 9, which outlawed belligerency as an instrument of state policy and the maintenance of a standing army. The constitution also enfranchised women, guaranteed fundamental human rights, outlawed racial discrimination, strengthened the powers of Parliament and the Cabinet, and decentralized the police and local government.

Philippines - Scott #519 (1948)
Philippines – Scott #519 (1948)

In 1948, MacArthur made a bid to win the Republican nomination to be the GOP candidate for president, which was the most serious of several efforts he made over the years. MacArthur’s status as one of America’s most popular war heroes together with his reputation as the statesman who had “transformed” Japan gave him a strong basis for running for president, but his lack of connections within the GOP were a major handicap. MacArthur declined to campaign for the presidency himself, but he privately encouraged his supporters to put his name on the ballot. MacArthur had always stated he would retire when a peace treaty was signed with Japan, and his push in the fall of 1947 to have the U.S. sign a peace treaty with Japan was intended to allow him to retire on a high note, and thus campaign for the presidency. For the same reasons, Truman subverted MacArthur’s efforts to have peace treaty signed in 1947, saying that more time was needed before the United States could formally make peace with Japan.

MacArthur handed over power to the Japanese government in 1949 but remained in Japan. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, starting the Korean War. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 82, which authorized a United Nations (UN) force to assist South Korea. The UN empowered the American government to select a commander, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously recommended MacArthur. He therefore became Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command (UNCOM), while remaining SCAP in Japan and Commander of the USAFFE. All South Korean forces were also placed under his command. As they retreated before the North Korean onslaught, MacArthur received permission to commit U.S. ground forces.

Brigadier General Courtney Whitney; General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief of U.N. Forces; and Major General Edward M. Almond observe the shelling of Inchon from the USS. Mt. McKinley, September 15, 1950. Nutter (Army).NARA FILE #: 111-
Brigadier General Courtney Whitney; General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief of U.N. Forces; and Major General Edward M. Almond observe the shelling of Inchon from the USS. Mt. McKinley, September 15, 1950. Nutter (Army).NARA FILE #: 111-SC-348438.WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1374

In late October, the Battle of Unsan demonstrated the presence of Chinese soldiers in Korea and rendered significant losses to the American and other UN troops. On November 25, 1950, Lieutenant General Walton Walker’s Eighth Army was attacked by the Chinese Army and soon the UN forces were in retreat. Within weeks of the Chinese attack, MacArthur was forced to retreat from North Korea. Seoul fell in January 1951, and both Truman and MacArthur were forced to contemplate the prospect of abandoning Korea entirely. European countries did not share MacArthur’s world view, distrusted his judgment, and were afraid that he might use his stature and influence with the American public to re-focus American policy away from Europe and towards Asia. They were concerned that this might lead to a major war with China, possibly involving nuclear weapons. In February 1950, the Soviet Union and China had signed a defensive alliance committing each to go to war if the other party was attacked. The possibility that an American attack on China would cause World War III was considered to be very real at the time.

Under command of Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway following Walker’s death in December, the Eighth Army pressed north again in January. They inflicted heavy casualties on the Chinese, recaptured Seoul in March 1951, and pushed on to the 38th Parallel. With the improved military situation, Truman now saw the opportunity to offer a negotiated peace but, on March 24, MacArthur called upon China to admit that it had been defeated, simultaneously challenging both the Chinese and his own superiors. Truman’s proposed announcement was shelved.

On April 5, Representative Joseph William Martin, Jr., the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, read aloud on the floor of the House a letter from MacArthur critical of Truman’s Europe-first policy and limited-war strategy. The letter concluded with:

It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia is where the communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest, and that we have joined the issue thus raised on the battlefield; that here we fight Europe’s war with arms while the diplomats there still fight it with words; that if we lose the war to communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable, win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom. As you pointed out, we must win. There is no substitute for victory.

US Army General Douglas MacArthur Lands at Atsugi Airfield and talks to reporters.
US Army General Douglas MacArthur Lands at Atsugi Airfield and talks to reporters.

In March 1951, secret United States intercepts of diplomatic dispatches disclosed clandestine conversations in which General MacArthur expressed confidence to the Tokyo embassies of Spain and Portugal that he would succeed in expanding the Korean War into a full-scale conflict with the Chinese Communists. When the intercepts came to the attention of President Truman, he was enraged to learn that MacArthur was not only trying to increase public support for his position on conducting the war, but had secretly informed foreign governments that he planned to initiate actions that were counter to United States policy. The President was unable to act immediately since he could not afford to reveal the existence of the intercepts and because of MacArthur’s popularity with the public and political support in Congress. However, following the release on April 5 by Representative Martin of MacArthur’s letter, Truman concluded he could relieve MacArthur of his commands without incurring unacceptable political damage.

Truman summoned Secretary of Defense George Marshall, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Omar Bradley, Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Averell Harriman to discuss what to do about MacArthur. They concurred MacArthur should be relieved of his command, but made no recommendation to do so. Although they felt that it was correct “from a purely military point of view”, they were aware that there were important political considerations as well. Truman and Acheson agreed that MacArthur was insubordinate, but the Joint Chiefs avoided any suggestion of this. Insubordination was a military offense, and MacArthur could have requested a public court martial similar to that of Billy Mitchell. The outcome of such a trial was uncertain, and it might well have found him not guilty and ordered his reinstatement. The Joint Chiefs agreed that there was “little evidence that General MacArthur had ever failed to carry out a direct order of the Joint Chiefs, or acted in opposition to an order”. “In point of fact”, Bradley insisted, “MacArthur had stretched but not legally violated any JCS directives. He had violated the President’s December 6 directive [not to make public statements on policy matters], relayed to him by the JCS, but this did not constitute violation of a JCS order.” Truman ordered MacArthur’s relief by Ridgway, and the order went out on April 10 with Bradley’s signature.

In a December 3, 1973, article in Time magazine, Truman was quoted as saying in the early 1960s:

I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.

General Douglas MacArthur addressing an audience of 50,000 at Soldier's Field, Chicago, on his first visit to the United States in 14 years, April 25,1951. NARA FILE #: 306-PS-51-6988.WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1377
General Douglas MacArthur addressing an audience of 50,000 at Soldier’s Field, Chicago, on his first visit to the United States in 14 years, April 25,1951. NARA FILE #: 306-PS-51-6988.WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1377

The relief of the famous general by the unpopular politician for communicating with Congress led to a constitutional crisis, and a storm of public controversy. Polls showed that the majority of the public disapproved of the decision to relieve MacArthur. By February 1952, almost nine months later, Truman’s approval rating had fallen to 22 percent. As the increasingly unpopular war in Korea dragged on, Truman’s administration was beset with a series of corruption scandals, and he eventually decided not to run for re-election. Beginning on May 3, 1951, a Joint Senate Committee — chaired by Democrat Richard Russell, Jr. — investigated MacArthur’s removal. It concluded that “the removal of General MacArthur was within the constitutional powers of the President but the circumstances were a shock to national pride.

A day after his arrival in San Francisco from Korea on April 18, MacArthur flew with his family to Washington, D.C. where he was scheduled to address a joint session of Congress. It was his and Jean’s first visit to the continental United States since 1937, when they had been married; Arthur IV, now aged 13, had never been to the U.S. On April 19, MacArthur made his last official appearance in a farewell address to the U.S. Congress presenting and defending his side of his disagreement with Truman over the conduct of the Korean War. During his speech, he was interrupted by fifty ovations.

South Korea - Scott #477a (1965) imperforate souvenir sheet
South Korea – Scott #477a (1965) imperforate souvenir sheet

On the subject of Japan, MacArthur declared:

The Japanese people since the war have undergone the greatest reformation recorded in modern history. With a commendable will, eagerness to learn, and marked capacity to understand, they have from the ashes left in war’s wake erected in Japan an edifice dedicated to the supremacy of individual liberty and personal dignity, and in the ensuing process there has been created a truly representative government committed to the advance of political morality, freedom of economic enterprise, and social justice.

MacArthur ended the address saying:

I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of 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.

Good Bye.

Patriotic cover with cachet picturing General Douglas MacArthur. Postmarked at Scotchtown, Nova Scotia, on August 30, 1945.
Patriotic cover with cachet picturing General Douglas MacArthur. Postmarked at Scotchtown, Nova Scotia, on August 30, 1945.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed on September 8, 1951, marked the end of the Allied occupation, and when it went into effect on April 28, 1952, Japan was once again an independent state. The Japanese subsequently gave MacArthur the nickname Gaijin Shogun (“foreign military ruler”).

Douglas and Jean MacArthur spent their last years together in the penthouse of the Waldorf Towers, a part of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He was elected chairman of the board of Remington Rand. The Waldorf became the setting for an annual birthday party on January 26 thrown by the general’s former deputy chief engineer, Major General Leif J. Sverdrup. At the 1960 celebration for MacArthur’s 80th birthday, many of his friends were startled by the general’s obviously deteriorating health. The next day, he collapsed and was rushed into surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital to control a severely swollen prostate.

After his recovery, MacArthur methodically began to carry out the closing acts of his life. He visited the White House for a final reunion with Eisenhower. In 1961, he made a “sentimental journey” to the Philippines, where he was decorated by President Carlos P. Garcia with the Philippine Legion of Honor. MacArthur also accepted a $900,000 (equivalent to $7.25 million in 2016) advance from Henry Luce for the rights to his memoirs, and wrote the volume that would eventually be published as Reminiscences. Sections began to appear in serialized form in Life magazine in the months before his death.

U.S. General Douglas MacArthur visits U.S. President John F. Kennedy at the White House, Washington, D.C., on August 16, 1962.
U.S. General Douglas MacArthur visits U.S. President John F. Kennedy at the White House, Washington, D.C., on August 16, 1962.

President John F. Kennedy solicited MacArthur’s counsel in 1961. The first of two meetings was held shortly after the Bay of Pigs Invasion. MacArthur was extremely critical of the military advice given to Kennedy, and cautioned the young President to avoid a U.S. military build-up in Vietnam, pointing out that domestic problems should be given a much greater priority. Shortly before his death, MacArthur gave similar advice to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In 1962, West Point honored the increasingly frail MacArthur with the Sylvanus Thayer Award for outstanding service to the nation, which had gone to Eisenhower the year before. MacArthur’s speech to the cadets in accepting the award had as its theme “Duty, Honor, Country”:

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

United States - Scott #3560 (2002) first day cover, Fleetwood cachet
United States – Scott #3560 (2002) first day cover, Fleetwood cachet

In 1963, President Kennedy asked MacArthur to help mediate a dispute between the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Amateur Athletic Union over control of amateur sports in the country. The dispute threatened to derail the participation of the United States in the 1964 Summer Olympics. His presence helped to broker a deal, and participation in the games went on as planned.

Douglas MacArthur died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on April 5, 1964, of biliary cirrhosis. Kennedy had authorized a state funeral before his own death in 1963, and Johnson confirmed the directive, ordering that MacArthur be buried “with all the honor a grateful nation can bestow on a departed hero”. On April 7, his body was taken to New York City, where it lay in an open casket at the Seventh Regiment Armory for about 12 hours. That night it was taken on a funeral train to Union Station and transported by a funeral procession to the Capitol, where it lay in state at the United States Capitol rotunda. An estimated 150,000 people filed by the bier.

MacArthur had requested to be buried in Norfolk, Virginia, where his mother had been born and where his parents had married. Accordingly, on April 11, his funeral service was held in St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk and his body was finally laid to rest in the rotunda of the Douglas MacArthur Memorial (the former Norfolk City Hall and later courthouse).

Douglas MacArthur's grave in Norfolk, Virginia. Photo taken on November 2, 2005.
Douglas MacArthur’s grave in Norfolk, Virginia. Photo taken on November 2, 2005.

In 1960, the mayor of Norfolk had proposed using funds raised by public contribution to remodel the old Norfolk City Hall as a memorial to General MacArthur and as a repository for his papers, decorations, and mementos he had accepted. Restored and remodeled, the MacArthur Memorial contains nine museum galleries whose contents reflect the general’s 50 years of military service. At the heart of the memorial is a rotunda. In its center lies a sunken circular crypt with two marble sarcophagi, one for MacArthur, the other for Jean, who continued to live in the Waldorf Towers until her own death in 2000.

MacArthur has a contested legacy. In the Philippines in 1942, he suffered a defeat that Gavin Long described as “the greatest in the history of American foreign wars”. Despite this, “in a fragile period of the American psyche when the general American public, still stunned by the shock of Pearl Harbor and uncertain what lay ahead in Europe, desperately needed a hero, they wholeheartedly embraced Douglas MacArthur — good press copy that he was. There simply were no other choices that came close to matching his mystique, not to mention his evocative lone-wolf stand — something that has always resonated with Americans.”

Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. The statue is a duplicate of the one at West Point. The base houses a time capsule which contains various MacArthur, Norfolk and MacArthur Foundation memorabilia. Photo taken on November 2, 2005.
Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. The statue is a duplicate of the one at West Point. The base houses a time capsule which contains various MacArthur, Norfolk and MacArthur Foundation memorabilia. Photo taken on November 2, 2005.

MacArthur’s concept of the role of the soldier as encompassing a broad spectrum of roles that included civil affairs, quelling riots and low-level conflict, was dismissed by the majority of officers who had fought in Europe during World War II, and afterwards saw the Army’s role as fighting the Soviet Union. Unlike them, in his victories in New Guinea in 1944, the Philippines in 1945 and Korea in 1950, he fought outnumbered, and relied on maneuver and surprise for success. The American Sinologist John Fairbank called MacArthur “our greatest soldier”.

On the other hand, Truman once remarked that he did not understand how the U.S. Army could “produce men such as Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, Eisenhower and Bradley and at the same time produce Custers, Pattons and MacArthur”. His relief of MacArthur cast a long shadow over American civil-military relations for decades. When Lyndon Johnson met with William Westmoreland in Honolulu in 1966, he told him: “General, I have a lot riding on you. I hope you don’t pull a MacArthur on me.” MacArthur’s relief “left a lasting current of popular sentiment that in matters of war and peace, the military really knows best”, a philosophy which became known as “MacArthurism”.

The MacArthur Leyte Landing Memorial National Park (also known as the Leyte Landing Memorial Park and MacArthur Park) is a protected area of the Philippines that commemorates the historic landing of General Douglas MacArthur in Leyte Gulf at the start of the campaign to recapture and liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation on October 20, 1944. The war memorial is located in the municipality of Palo on Leyte island in Eastern Visayas and is one of the region's major tourist attractions. It was declared a national park on July 12, 1977. Photo taken on May 20, 2012.
The MacArthur Leyte Landing Memorial National Park (also known as the Leyte Landing Memorial Park and MacArthur Park) is a protected area of the Philippines that commemorates the historic landing of General Douglas MacArthur in Leyte Gulf at the start of the campaign to recapture and liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation on October 20, 1944. The war memorial is located in the municipality of Palo on Leyte island in Eastern Visayas and is one of the region’s major tourist attractions. It was declared a national park on July 12, 1977. Photo taken on May 20, 2012.

MacArthur remains a controversial and enigmatic figure. He has been portrayed as a reactionary, although he was in many respects ahead of his time. He championed a progressive approach to the reconstruction of Japanese society, arguing that all occupations ultimately ended badly for the occupier and the occupied. He was often out of step with his contemporaries, such as in 1941 when he contended that Nazi Germany could not defeat the Soviet Union, when he argued that North Korea and China were no mere Soviet puppets, and throughout his career in his insistence that the future lay in the Far East. As such, MacArthur implicitly rejected White American contemporary notions of their own racial superiority. He always treated Filipino and Japanese leaders with respect as equals. At the same time, his Victorian sensibilities recoiled at leveling Manila with aerial bombing, an attitude the hardened World War II generation regarded as old fashioned. When asked about MacArthur, Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey once said, “The best and the worst things you hear about him are both true.”

United States - Scott #1424 (1971) first day cover, ArtCraft cachet
United States – Scott #1424 (1971) first day cover, ArtCraft cachet

Scott #1424 was released on what would have been Douglas MacArthur’s 91st birthday January 24, 1971, and was first placed on sale in Norfolk, Virginia. The 6-cent stamp was designed by Paul Calle. It was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the Giori press in black, red and dark blue in panes of fifty, perforated 11, with an printing of 134,840,000. In additional, stamps have been issued to honor MacArthur by the Philippines (the first was in 1948), South Korea, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Mali, Antigua & Barbuda, Grenada, Tonga, and Sierra Leone. Also, many patriotic covers were produced during the World War II era depicting the general.

 

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