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Douglas MacArthur
1880 - 1964

The American general Douglas MacArthur 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 sabres, 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 endeavours 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, Gen Douglas (1880-1964). MacArthur began his career in the US army with an enviable military pedigree. His father retired as the army's senior general and had won a Congressional Medal of Honour during the American civil war. Commissioned from West Point as top of his year (1903) into the prestigious Engineers, he served on the staff in the Philippines, where his father had been civil and military C-in-C during the Philippines insurrection, and was later appointed ADC to Pres Theodore Roosevelt. He came to prominence as the commander of the 42nd (National Guard) Division during the closing months of WW I, having also served as the Rainbow Division's COS and a brigade commander. A brigadier general in 1918, he was an extremely influential commandant of West Point in the 1920s and by 1930 he was a full general and US army COS. That he was an extremely bright and zealous officer there is no doubt, but the key to his accelerated promotion in the inter-war years was his supreme self-confidence, spilling over into arrogance. He collected around him bright young staff officers (including Eisenhower), and courted media attention. In 1935 he returned to the Philippines and notionally retired from the US army in order to accept the post of field marshal and director of national defence in the newly created commonwealth.

With war threatening, MacArthur formally returned to US service in July 1941, but like everyone else he was caught by surprise by Pearl Harbor and simultaneous, crippling air attacks in the Philippines. In the Japanese invasion that followed, he was hampered by the inadequate spending of the 1930s on the local defence force, and the best he could manage was a delaying action while withdrawing to the Bataan peninsula. On being appointed Supreme Allied Commander South-West Pacific in February 1942, MacArthur was ordered to escape to Australia by Franklin Roosevelt and made his famous ‘I shall return’ pledge. He felt sidelined by the ‘Germany first’ priority in WW II, but employed his distinct blend of charm, flamboyance, insubordination, and contemptuous manipulation on politicians, the media, and superior officers to get his way.

It must be borne in mind that during the Pacific campaign he was not only competing for resources with the European theatre, but also with the US navy's drive across the central Pacific. From his HQ in Brisbane, MacArthur first launched a counter-offensive in New Guinea, and then embarked on an economical ‘island-hopping’ advance that bypassed areas of strong Japanese concentration such as Rabaul, leaving them to wither on the vine. In this he made good use of intelligence deriving from the blind faith of the Japanese in their Enigma machine enciphering systems. It may at first have been dictated by a shortage of troops and amphibious craft, but it was a bold strategy that paid off handsomely not only in terms of objectives achieved with minimal casualties, but also in making sure his theatre and the army in the Pacific did not become relegated to backwater consideration.

Both Nimitz and the Joint Chiefs of Staff argued, correctly, that the Philippine island chain had no strategic value and should be bypassed. But MacArthur had a promise to redeem, a humiliation to avenge, and a paternal legacy to live up to, and his essentially political arguments trumped the military concentration of forces argument. Preceded by a swarm of photographers, he waded ashore at Leyte in October 1944 and scored a great publicity and morale victory in the USA, while the US navy was less photogenically pounding the Japanese fleet into scrap when it tried to ambush the landing. Roosevelt, who never liked him, nonetheless went with the flow and made him a five-star general of the army along with Eisenhower two months later.

Nominated Supreme Commander Allied Powers for the invasion of Japan, revenge was sweet on 2 September 1945, when he received the Japanese capitulation on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. But there was nothing petty or vindictive about his role in the resettlement and reconstruction of Japan as Allied commander of the occupation during 1945-51, when he became shogun in all but name, a role to which his autocratic nature and imperial bearing were particularly well suited.

The last, unexpected chapter in his military career came with the Korean war when, long past retirement age, he was called upon to take command of UN forces to repel the invasion of the South by the Russian and Chinese-backed North Koreans. He fought a holding action while building up forces around Pusan, then struck at the overextended North Korean lines of communication with the daring landing at Inchon. The North Korean army dissolved and he drove north, under orders to create the conditions for a unified Korea after democratic elections. He was not alone in discounting Chinese warnings, but bears the main responsibility for the fact that they managed to insert a very large army between the two prongs of his advance and send them both reeling. This time his cavalier attitude towards the concentration of forces had been severely punished, and although the troops under his command rallied to hold South Korea, he did not take it well.

He also overplayed his hand with his C-in-C, Pres Truman, thinking that he could obey the orders that suited him and, as always, use the media to get the ones he disliked changed. Among the latter was a prohibition on the public discussion of extending the war to China and the mention of nuclear weapons, both of which MacArthur broached in a press conference not long after returning from meeting the president in Guam, where he patronized him abominably. Truman had no doubts about his authority and summarily sacked him. His last public act was a shamelessly tear-jerking speech at a joint session of Congress where he promised to ‘fade away’. This he did, mainly because his political ambitions found no resonance in the Republican party, which had the far more popularly appealing Eisenhower in its sights.

MacArthur was a towering figure in the US army, in the Pacific theatre of WW II, in post-war Japan, and in the Korean war. That the manner in which he departed public life was somewhat undignified does not diminish his stature nor detract from his many achievements.


Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and raised on army posts by his father, Gen. Arthur MacArthur, and mother, Mary, Douglas Mac Arthur graduated from West Point in 1903. An engineering officer, he served in the Philippines and Panama. In 1913–17, he was assigned to the army's General Staff. During World War I, he was chief of staff of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division in France and subsequently commanded the 84th Infantry Brigade as a brigadier general. In 1919–22, he was superintendent of West Point, then served two tours of duty in the Philippines. As army chief of staff (1930–35), MacArthur evoked much criticism by using military force in 1932 to disperse encampments in Washington, D.C., of unemployed veterans, “Bonus Marchers,” seeking their pensions. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed MacArthur military adviser to the U.S. colony of the Philippines, and the general spent the next six years training the Filipino Army.

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.










This web page was last updated on: 15 December, 2008