The military career of Douglas MacArthur spanned bows and arrows at the start and finished with thermonuclear weapons. He lived in a fort in the Southwestern United States with his soldier father when Apaches attacked with bows and arrows and left the army in the atomic age.
Most of the things this know-it-all thought he knew about Douglas MacArthur turn out to be false, the product of unscrupulous journalism, red-baiting politicians, or dithering Secretaries of State re-writing history.
1. He did not exceed his mandate Korea.
2. He did not propose nuking China or anyone else while in Korea.
3. He did not provoke Chinese entry into the Korean War.
4. He did not defy civilian authority during that war or before.
5. He did not cower in fear from combat in World War II as in the disparaging phrase 'Dugout Doug.'
6. He did not abuse his role in post war Japan to please himself.
7. He did not underestimate the Japanese before, during, or after World War II.
8. He did not indulge in personal luxuries in Manila before the Japanese invasion.
9. He did not indulge in personal luxuries in Manila upon his return.
The list could go on.
How did he get so vilified? Two major reason emerge.
First, in the politically charged environment of Washington D. C. he never did not fit any the conventional moulds, so he was denigrated at times by conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats, and all stations between with their obliging hacks in the press. At other times one or another of these combatants embraced him and that riled the others even more.
Second, he was aloof in person and did not court any journalist. With personal shyness, lifelong paranoia, and a propensity to magniloquence on many occasions he made an easy target for those seeking a cheap shot. (I always think of Bill Bryson when I think of taking cheap shots which just shows that it works because he has made a career out of it.) MacArthur was always good for copy.
Perhaps more important than those two points is the fact that there was the studied reluctance in his superiors to give him clear, concise, and unequivocal orders in crises. That master of multiple meanings President Franklin Roosevelt was the Grand Vizer of ambiguity during the siege of Bataan, allowing MacArthur to infer from his radio messages that support and relief were on the way when none was contemplated, let alone on the way. MacArthur passed these reassurances on to his embattled army and the desperate Filipinos. Accordingly he felt betrayed when no help came and that he had been tricked into betraying the trust of his command and the Filipino people. In this context it made sense for him to say ‘I shall return’ because it was a personal pledge since he no longer trusted Washington D. C. and neither did anyone else in the Philippines at the time.
It is a similar story in Korea but with a larger cast and with even more at stake in the age of atomic bombs. President Harry Truman, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Omar Bradley, and Secretary of Defense George Marshall all individually communicated directly with MacArthur, as well as in combinations. Then there was the United Nations, and the twenty-three (23) allies to consider. The energetic Secretary of State was capable of sending twelve (12) signals in a single day. Moreover, each correspondent chopped and changed from one day to the next. And each of them was conscious of the impending judgement of history and so at times wrote for that future audience as much, perhaps more so, than for MacArthur, who also was aware of posterity and replied in kind.
The most haunting memorial in that city of memorials, Washington, D. C.
On occasion their communications were phrased as orders, at other times as suggestions. Some communiques were laid out as alternatives, implicitly leaving the choice to MacArthur and when he chose he was then castigated for the choice. Often the messages were short, so short that the point was not always clear. Others were long-winded and contradictory. He asked once for a clarification of a short message and got back sixteen pages (16), written by a committee (the Joint Chiefs), which lent itself to any number of interpretations.
To return to that list of points above.
1. His mandate from the United Nations originally charged him to ‘unify Korea.’ He had had explicit instructions to drive 'the enemy' out of Korea from Truman. When it seemed he was about to succeed in those aims, the ambiguity went into overdrive because China stirred. One confusing, contradictory message after another came from his many Washington superiors who would urge him to do ‘anything necessary’ but ‘do not take any risks.’ Doing what was necessary had inherent risks. It was like walking a zig-zagging tight rope in the wind. Yes, Washington D.C. did change that mission but did not want to broadcast it so it was phrased obliquely. But MacArthur was never a man to take the hint. Once engaged he fought to win.
2. In desperation in 1951 he did propose using radioactive nuclear waste as a barrier to stop border crossing by Chinese armies. Crazy, to be sure and immediately rejected with clarity for once but he did not propose nuking Red China as routinely claimed since.
3. We now know that the Soviets and Chinese had planned the incursion long in advance. To organise and equip such a force took months of preparation. MacArthur's provocation was to defeat the North Koreans comprehensively which was the mission at the time.
4. Whenever he had orders he could understand, he obeyed even if he protested and sometimes told the press so, which he should not have done, very annoying to Washington but not a fatal offense. The exception is Roosevelt's order to him to leave Corregidor, abandoning the 20,000 Americans and 80,000 Filipinos of his army. He stalled, he temporized, he proposed alternatives, he pressed for reinforcements and supplies, he asked about evacuating the entire force, etc. The third time he was ordered to leave the message said a great relief force aimed at the Philippines awaited him in Australia. He took the bait only to find 300 American soldiers in Australia!
5. 'Dugout Doug' exposed himself to enemy fire repeatedly. In Korea on day four before he was assigned command he went to the front lines for an inspection. To see he stood erect with binoculars amid the huddled ROK soldiers who were reeling from one crushing defeat after another. In the South Pacific he joined patrols more than once risking his life and those of his aides and he watched kamikaze planes attack the ship he stood upon. In World War I he, a general, was awarded five (5) Silver Stars for personal and conspicuous bravery. What more could he have done but be killed. (By the way Manchester quotes more than one armchair psychologist who sees in MacArthur’s cavalier disregard for his personal safety a shade of Thanatos. The only way to live up to his father’s standard, they speculate, would be to be killed in battle.)
6. He was indeed a Caesar, an autocrat, who ensured that Japanese women got the vote, and every women who won an elected office while he was there got a letter from him with congratulations. This is one of his many enlightened measures of which we never hear. He redistributed land in Japan far quicker and more decisively than Mao ever did in China. He brought in John L. Lewis to create trade unions. Free public education came next. None of these measures represented the administration in Washington; it was his program.
7. Prior to Pearl Harbor, he asked for air power for Manila in anticipation of a Japanese attack. He also re-organized his command in anticipation. In battle he was cautious and careful. During his time in Tokyo he assumed the best of the Japanese. The effort to conciliate Japan, Manchester attributes to MacArthur personally, not the State Department, not the President.
8. and 9. He did use furnishings and trappings to impress others, but he had no interest in creature comforts of any kind, still less personal luxuries. He did not drink alcohol though he often held a glass at receptions he did not drink from it. Though he would deny nothing to his wife,
Jean, but she asked little. They both spoiled their son without stint.
It is also true that the frustrations of the restraint, vacillating orders, massive Chinese manpower, decaying ROK army, half-hearted allies, and unremittng Eurocentrism produced outbursts from him in 1951, and then he started making wild proposals, too often public, for bombing Manchuria, for transporting Chiang Kai-Shek back to the mainland, for blockading Russian ports in Asia... Over the edge, indeed. (Mind you he was 71 years old at the time.) Truman bit the bullet and relieved him of command in a way, unfortunately, calculated to be insulting and demeaning. But MacArthur remained so calm, dignified, and unchanged that his humiliation was invisible to everyone, except Jean who knew the man as no one else ever did.
MacArthur was now much more free to speak, and he spoke. Though he did not attack the Truman Administration head-on when invited to do so at a Senate hearing. He did refer to conspiracies, which good hearted liberals then and since dismissed as delusions....until the Moscow archives were read to show that virtually his every Korean message to and reply from Washington D.C. was transmitted verbatim to Moscow and onto Peking thanks to Messers McLean, Burgess, and Philby. If MacArthur’s tactics were less successful in 1951 than in 1950 or earlier it was partly because the Chinese and North Koreans knew what was coming. There are people who still praise in my hearing Kim Philby and his associates. There is no doubt that this intelligence led to many, many deaths that might otherwise not have occurred in the Korean War, and at the highest level it allowed the Chinese to out-wait the United States because they knew how divided, confused, and paralyzed Washington D.C. was.
But then he did become in 1952 what he had despised in others, a general who did not know when to shut up. He travelled the length and breadth of the United States and said, dressed in full uniform ranks of medals agleam, all manner of things to anyone who would listen. He became ever more inconsistent, volatile, intemperate, illogical, and shrill. He craved audiences and loved the applause and grew ever more extreme to get the former and to bask the latter, becoming briefly an incandescent Cold Warrior. Soon enough he destroyed his own credibility, but not before ensuring that Truman would not be re-elected. Indeed this last act of MacArthur’s life is pathos - his thirst for adulation led him to say anything to get the applause. He advocated bigger and more weapons, a swollen standing army, while cutting all taxes to the bone. But no more crazy than any Tea Party Republican today.
The conflict over command between MacArthur and Truman has a parallel in that between Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan, though Truman was no Lincoln, but then McClellan was no MacArthur. The giants in this quadrangle are MacArthur and Lincoln.
There were moments in the 1952 Republican convention when his name was bruited and then faded quickly but, much to MacArthur’s chagrin, Eisenhower was the people’s choice then and later. While MacArthur did not actively undermine Eisenhower, he disregarded him.
It is also true that MacArthur was an egomaniac, thinking most of the world revolved around him. Any hesitation, any demure, any criticism was taken personally and never forgotten. He was driven to live up to the Olympic grandeur of his father (as told to him by his widowed mother) all of his life. Perhaps that also explains the battlefield risk-taking. That comparison may also explain his eloquence for his father was a prolix autodidact.
MacArthur did not have the common touch of Dwight Eisenhower nor the love of the warrior that George Patton had, nor the humility of Omar Bradley, nor the modesty of Joe Stilwell. He was awkward in social settings, shy and reserved which made him seem icy. He did not visit hospitals to speak to his wounded like Eisenhower. He did not cry on the battlefield at the deaths of his men, as Patton did. He did not carry a rifle like Omar Bradley. He did not speak of 'we' when referring to his army as Joe Stilwell did, but always 'I.'
He restored the corrupt Filipino oligarchy in Manila at the end of the war, absent any of the reforming zeal that he showed in Japan. Most of these oligarchs had been happy collaborators with the Japanese who abused their fellow citizens. There was no land reform, no vote for women, no organized labor introduced by MacArthur here.
He saw to it that Japanese Generals Masaharu Homma and Tomoyuki Yamashita were convicted and executed when their crime was to have fought MacArthur to a standstill.
The book is superb, representing years of research, facts have been tripled-checked and cross referenced. It pulls no punches about MacArthur's many failures and faults. Failures and faults that seem intrinsic to the man who was Caesar out of time. Yet it also leaves the impression that he was a giant. In reading this book at times I thought of him as Achilles, mercurial, audacious, preternatural, sulking, personally loyal, and altogether difficult to deal with. MacArthur had no Patrocalous to act as a trusted buffer. He had subordinates but he, unlike, Achilles recognized no equal.
It is also superbly well written, finely judged, subtle, insightful, penetrating. The highest praise I can give it is that it stands on the same level as Robert Caro’s monumental studies of the years of Lyndon Johnson.