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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: Douglas MacArthur: An ‘American Caesar’

By Tom Morrow

He was one of the world’s greatest military leaders, yet among the most controversial: U.S. five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

This thumb-nail sketch is but an overview of an action-packed and controversial life, which can only be appreciated by delving into his extensive background. MacArthur was a brilliant tactician, yet one of the most-vain, conceited American leaders every known. He usually rejected any strategic ideas other than his own.

I took four years of acting lessons from MacArthur,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said of his former boss.

“Ike” served as MacArthur’s chief of staff in the Philippines during the 1930s. (After the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. became a protectorate of the Philippines).

MacArthur was born Jan. 26, 1880. His father, Arthur MacArthur, Jr., rose to the rank of brigadier general (one star) after distinguishing himself for the Union Army during the Civil War. Following in his father’s footsteps, Douglas MacArthur became the youngest brigadier during World War I. Later, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippines Campaign, which made him and Arthur the first father and son to be awarded the highest military medal the nation can award.

During World War II, Douglas was one of only five “Army” officers to receive five-star status (General of the Army), (George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and the Army Air Corps’ Hap Arnold.

Before WWII, Gen. John J. Pershing was granted six-star status as “General of the Armies” after World War I but died before Congress could make the official appointment.

Raised as a military brat in the American Old West, Douglas MacArthur was high school valedictorian at the West Texas Military Academy, and First Captain at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated top of the class of 1903.

In 1917, MacArthur 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 was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice and the Silver Star seven times.

U.S. five-star Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Hirohito

From 1919 to 1922, MacArthur served as Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. 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 (two-stars). He later served on the infamous court martial of Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell.

In 1930, MacArthur became Chief of Staff of the United States Army. As such, in 1932, he was involved in the expulsion of the Bonus Army protesters from Washington, D.C. Also, he led the establishment and organization of the Civilian Conservation Corps. MacArthur retired from the U.S. Army in 1937 to become government.

MacArthur was recalled to active duty in 1941, as commander of U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East. A series of disasters followed, starting Dec. 8, 1941, (Dec. 7 in Hawaii), with the destruction of his air forces by Japanese invaders, MacArthur’s forces were compelled to withdraw to Bataan peninsula, where they held out until May 1942.

In March 1942, MacArthur, his family and his staff left nearby Corregidor Island in small, swift PT boats, escaping to Australia where MacArthur became Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area. In Melbourne, MacArthur gave a speech famously promising “I shall return” to the Philippines.

After more than two years of fighting in the Pacific, he fulfilled that promise. For his defense of the Philippines, MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor. He officially accepted Japan’s surrender on Sept. 2, 1945 aboard the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. He then oversaw the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951.

As the effective ruler of Japan, he oversaw sweeping economic, political and social changes, but left Emperor Hirohito on the throne.

MacArthur led the United Nations Command in the Korean War with initial success; however, his controversial invasion of North Korea provoked Chinese intervention. Following a series of major defeats he was removed from command by President Harry S. Truman on April 11, 1951.

Truman later explained, “I fired him (MacArthur) 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.”

MacArthur returned to the U.S. for the first time in 14 years where he received a heroes’ welcome with ticker-tape parades and numerous proclamations. He was urged by some politicians to run for President, but a lack of delegates quashed that movement.

In civilian life, MacArthur became chairman of the board of Remington Rand. He died April 5, 1964.

The definitive biography on MacArthur was penned some years ago by William Manchester, “An American Caesar.”


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