Why Douglas MacArthur Was Truly the Worst

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Looking back, we can see that Douglas MacArthur was a terrible persona and a total moron to boot.

Douglas MacArthur is a very bad man, and a moron to boot. Born the son of Arthur MacArthur, the hero of Chattanooga's Missionary Ridge, Douglas was one of those people who seemed destined to follow in his father's great footsteps. After a childhood on the vanishing frontier, MacArthur entered West Point in 1899.

Early Career

An American Caesar. MacArthur in France in 1918. Source: Wikipedia
An American Caesar. MacArthur in France in 1918. Source: Wikipedia

Despite, or because of, several controversies, including the death of a fellow cadet in a hazing incident and the constant reassuring presence of his mother who moved just off campus, MacArthur graduated first in his class in 1903. Before World War I, MacArthur toured the far east as an aid to his aging father. In 1914, after Woodrow Wilson ordered the army into Veracruz, MacArthur joined the expeditionary force. While in Mexico, the young officer was nearly captured by a band of Mexican soldiers while on an unauthorized patrol and was only able to escape after a harrowing train-based chase through the hills.

For this MacArthur was nominated for, but failed to win, the Medal of Honor. In 1917, now Colonel MacArthur was sent to France as a staff officer for the 42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division. Once deployed, the Army quickly promoted him to the Brigadier General of its 84th Infantry Brigade, where he served with distinction. MacArthur spent most of 1918 in the trenches, sharing the hardships of his men, and leading his soldiers from the front in aggressive infantry assaults. By the November armistice, MacArthur had made good on his father's legacy, earning himself seven Silver Stars in the process, and was widely recognized as the rising star of the US Army. This was also, in hindsight, the highpoint of his illustrious career. From this point onward, it was all downhill.

After World War I, MacArthur shot up through the ranks, serving a tour in the Philippines before becoming the youngest Major General in the Army in 1925 at the age of 44. From here, his career began to shift decidedly from that of a 'Soldier's'-general towards that of the 'Playboy'-general. Married to Louise Brooks, a rich social climber widely regarded as the most affluent and beautiful woman in Washington, MacArthur increasingly looked to build his career on the back of his fame and popularity.

It was at this point that he also first hired to public relations firm to help him manage his image. After serving on the court-martial for radical aviation theorist Billy Mitchell, MacArthur joined the American Olympic Committee's board and helped shepherd the team through the 1928 games. It was also around this point that MacArthur began to cultivate many of his signature traits as, including a love of Asian culture and his distinctly imperial and nationalistic political identity. By 1930 all this image work had paid off, MacArthur became, at the age of 50, the youngest Chief of Staff of the US Army, a position usually reserved for a general at the zenith of his career.

Controversial Appointment

It is perhaps appropriate that MacArthur's tenure as Chief of Staff was the most controversial of any in the Twentieth Century. As Army Chief during the worst parts of the Depression, MacArthur oversaw deep cuts to the institution's size and budget. Worse yet, MacArthur routinely engaged in public debates and national politics. In a defining moment in 1932, MacArthur led the Army in the repression of a group of protestors known as the Bonus Marchers.

MacArthur directing actions against the Bonus Army. Source: The Washington Post
MacArthur directing actions against the Bonus Army. Source: The Washington Post

This protest, composed almost exclusively of homeless veterans, was crushed on the orders of Congress and MacArthur by soldiers, tanks, and tear gas. After the Bonus March, MacArthur's tenure as Chief of Staff was contentious. When Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, he proposed a series of budget cuts which were extremely unpopular with MacArthur and the Army. In 1935 MacArthur was replaced as Chief of Staff and, thanks to his previous experience in the east, was invited by to become Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. For the next six years, MacArthur held an odd hybrid position as both the official military representative of the US in the Philippines as well as superintendent and father of the country's armed forces. MacArthur would remain in Manilla preparing the islands for a war with Japan for six years.

On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked the US Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, starting a war between the US and Japan which would span most of the Pacific. In Manilla, MacArthur had been reinforced by US assets throughout 1941, including a squadron of B-17 bombers. At nearly the same time as the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese invasion force was bearing down on the Philippines, a fact which certainly wasn't lost on anybody in Manilla or in Washington.

 MacArthur and Sutherland in their tunnel headquarters on Corregidor. Source: Wikipedia
MacArthur and Sutherland in their tunnel headquarters on Corregidor. Source: Wikipedia

Anyone except Douglas MacArthur who, despite the suggestions of his air marshal, his own chief of staff Richard Southerland, and a direct order from George C. Marshall, did nothing for hours after receiving word of the attack. The planes of the Far East Air Force, which were supposed to be the bulwark of the defense of the Philippines, were caught on the ground on December 8th and savaged. Then the landings came, and the army MacArthur built was put to the test. It failed miserably, although MacArthur's indecisive and incoherent battle plans did little to help the situation.

After three weeks of fighting, he ordered the remnants of his force to withdraw to Bataan according to the prewar plans he had already abandoned. There the army found no supplies, no ammunition, and precious little water. MacArthur himself retreated to the island of Corregidor in Manilla Bay, cut off from his own command. While his command was annihilated in the jungles, and by the subsequent Japanese death marches, MacArthur made good his escape. After all, the Field Marshal could not be allowed to fall into enemy hands. On his departure, Sutherland was given command of the Philippine Army with the inglorious duty of surrendering to the Japanese army. For this action, MacArthur finally received his Medal of Honor.

I Came Through and I Shall Return

On landing in Australia in 1942, MacArthur promised to his troops, and the American people, that "I came through and I shall return." However, for the next two years in Australia MacArthur lived in a kind of military wilderness. The major campaign which faced the joint US, Australian, and British armies were the liberation of the island Papua New Guinea, which had been invaded by Japan and whose loss would open the way to an invasion of Australia. But the island was remote, underdeveloped, and thickly jungled. Both Allied forces and the Japanese quickly became bogged down fighting over each and every position through the rain and mud, constantly plagued by mosquitos and disease. Meanwhile, MacArthur remained in Australia penning press releases about his successes in the South Pacific.

The fact of the matter was that the New Guinean front only opened up when the Navy showed up and transported a chunk of MacArthur's army around the Japanese lines to capture the island's largest Japanese controlled port. After this point, the Japanese forces were isolated, virtually besieged by the Allies. And yet MacArthur himself never successfully accomplished his objective and destroyed their forces and the threat to Australia completely. For this triumphant victory, MacArthur considered running for the 1944 Republican primary.

MacArthur lands returns to Leyte. Source: Wikipedia
MacArthur lands returns to Leyte. Source: Wikipedia

MacArthur's singularly greatest moment was in late 1944 when, as a part of a general Allied offensive in the Western Pacific, he was given command of the liberation of the Philippines. After a major naval engagement, the last of the war, elements of the US Sixth Army hit the beaches in Leyte and quickly made it ashore. In what is one of the most famous photographs of World War II, MacArthur waded ashore alongside his follow on troops fulfilling his promise to return, his face filled with determination to liberate the islands and anger at the Japanese.

In reality, MacArthur's anger was reserved solely for the beachmaster who refused to make room for the general and instead forced the American Caesar to wade ashore. But once his forces made it ashore, they found an enemy that was still tenacious, but nevertheless in the process of disintegration. Two years of occupation duty and insurrection on the island had whittled away the best of the garrison, while the advance of American airpower had cut the Philippines off from the Japanese mainland. In early 1945 MacArthur decided that the time was ripe for the invasion of the main island, Luzon, and in February helped spearhead the assault on the Manilla region. He left behind his fighting on Leyte, which he described as simply a "mopping up" operation.

Fighting would rage until May 1945, when 25,000 Japanese soldiers surrendered to American forces. Similarly, once the capital city of Manilla was liberated after a series of tough battles, MacArthur set his sights on chasing the Japanese across the Pacific, and left his armies to complete the liberation of the rest of Luzon. Another 100,000 Japanese soldiers would surrender here in September. As a reward for this success, MacArthur was given command of the abortive Operation Downfall and was the American signatory to the Japanese surrender.

Following these victories, MacArthur was given command of the military occupation of Japan, a position which he quickly adapted to suit his needs. Over the next five years, MacArthur became Shogun in everything except name and was instrumental in the early reconstruction of Japan. The success and failures of MacArthur's administration in Japan have been the fodder for dozens of books and feature-length films. It would be perhaps interesting to compare his policies and style with those employed in the Allied Zones in Germany, especially as it pertains to war criminals.

What is irrefutable is that while MacArthur enjoyed the all the comforts his new position had to offer, the security situation in East Asia deteriorated. Not that you would know any of that by looking at the reporting and press releases released from MacArthur's office, which remained heavily edited and were often written by the general himself. MacArthur furthermore surrounded himself with a group of officers known as the 'Bataan Boys,' men who had participated in one or another of MacArthur's Philippine campaigns and who were fiercely loyal to the man. They made sure that MacArthur was insulated from the hard choices of occupation and Asian security, while also spinning every development to favor the general.

The Korean War Begins

But there was one event which was impossible to spin. On June 25nd, 1950, North Korean troops crossed the 38th Parallel in a bid to dominate the whole peninsula. Despite Korea's proximity to Japan, the invasion had caught the US and MacArthur in the middle of a major drawdown, and both the South Koreans, as well as American reinforcements, were completely overrun. It wasn’t until August when UN reinforcements were able to finally stem the Korean tide and stop their advance just outside the port city of Pusan.

For the next two months, the Korean and UN armies duked it out over the mountains of southern Korea. But rather than reinforce the beleaguered defenders and prepare for a breakout of Pusan, MacArthur had dreams of greatness, dreams of righting past wrongs. His vision, which has now gone down in the annals of military history as one of the greatest operations of the 20th century, was to do an end-run around the Koreans, land troops at Inchon just outside the capital of Seoul and cut the Korean Peninsula in two. Meanwhile, the newly formed 8th Army would hold the line around Pusan and tie the Northerners down. It was a repeat of the Bataan strategy all over again, but this time MacArthur was determined to win.

Douglas MacArthur observing the Inchon Landings. Source: Smithsonian Magazine
Douglas MacArthur observing the Inchon Landings. Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Regardless of your opinion on the genius of the Inchon landings, or the success of the subsequent operation to retake Seoul, MacArthur's handling of the situation was plagued with errors. First, by the time the Marines went in in mid-September, the battle of Pusan had been won, and the forces which faced 8th Army were already in an advanced state of destruction thanks to the intervention of Allied carrier aircraft. While MacArthur took the short road to Seoul through Inchon, he bagged few Korean troops because there were simply very few units still organized enough to fight, especially after 8th Army's counter-attack. This situation left MacArthur in near complete control over the Korean Peninsula, seemingly at the head of his greatest accomplishment yet.

Then he made his second mistake, the drive north to the Yalu river. What was supposed to be a 'mopping up' operation turned into a full-scale retreat in the winter of 1950 as forces of the People's Republic of China intervened and threw UN forces back south. And yet this all could have been avoided had MacArthur done even a basic reconnaissance in front of his armies. Even without it, China had sent clear signals that it would intervene to keep a hostile UN force off its border. Air Force reconnaissance south of the Yalu even detected signs of an enemy buildup on the northern side of the river. And yet somehow when the crisis came, MacArthur found himself and his soldiers caught completely off guard. Nine years after the fall of Manilla, the American Caesar still found himself caught in a trap of his own construction.

What followed was perhaps the most embarrassing moment in a long line of mistakes and embarrassments. Rather than take the blame for his mistakes, or work diligently and quietly to rescue the situation in the country, MacArthur did what he did best. He struck back against Harry Truman publically, accusing him of abandoning Asia to rebuild Europe. Perhaps MacArthur felt that his flight from Korea, just as dramatic as from Corregidor, deserved a second Medal of Honor.

Aftermath

While the situation in Korea stabilized largely thanks to the decisive efforts of Matthew Ridgeway, MacArthur's career was broken by the feud with Truman. In hindsight, MacArthur's decision to argue with his direct boss was, as with many of his decisions, quite shortsighted. But that describes much of his career after World War I.

Once he got a taste for fame, MacArthur could never give it up. Unlike other celebrity generals like Dwight Eisenhower or George Patton, MacArthur lived to be in the spotlight, to build up his reputation, and to convince the world he was the greatest American general and statesmen since Washington.

As a salesman, MacArthur was first-rate. But as a general, he often let his own personal concerns override good battlefield sense, the needs of his troops, and any sense of caution or care for securing any objective he did not define. Douglas MacArthur fought only for Douglas MacArthur, and he rarely did anything unless it somehow built his brand. For that reason, more than any other, he is a very bad man and a moron to boot.

Contributing Editor

B.T. Graves lives far from the sea amidst the trees and the hills. He spends every night at home with his two cats in a soft leather chair reading about great captains and legendary battles while he dreams of the salty sting of the ocean air.