at least one serious military blunder in the early days of the Philippine
Campaign in his disastrous attempt to meet Japanese thrusts everywhere,
a strategy based on his exaggerated estimate of the prowess of the Philippine
Army. In addition, his failure to transfer the vast food stocks that
had been earlier assembled for removal to the Bataan Peninsula resulted
in the largely unnecessary hunger that so debilitated its doomed defenders.
But MacArthur retrieved
his reputation by his aggressive defense at Bataan, a defense that seemed
all the more the work of a military genius when contrasted to the astonishingly
quick capitulation of the other colonial powers in the area, the Dutch
and British at Malaya and Singapore. Although he was criticized by some
of his troops for leaving the Philippines before the inevitable surrender,
his orders came directly from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and this
was one presidential order that MacArthur chose to obey.
MacArthur was evacuated
by patrol torpedo (PT) boat to Australia in March where he was named
supreme commander of the Southwest Pacific and began his plans to launch
an attack on Japanese power in the Pacific.
After five months
of preparation, MacArthur began a daring counteroffensive against the
Imperial Japanese at New Guinea. Bypassing Japanese strongholds (such
as Rabaul) and cutting off supplies to the enemy from the Japanese home
islands to the north, MacArthur’s armies leapfrogged through the
Solomon, Bismarck, and Admiralty islands back toward their destination
of the Philippine Islands. With the support of Adm. William Halsey’s
forces in the South Pacific and Adm. Chester Nimitz’s forces advancing
across the Central Pacific, the Japanese were pushed back throughout
1943 and 1944. On October 20, 1944, MacArthur’s forces invaded
Leyte Island in the Philippines. In December, he was promoted to the
rank of five-star General of the Army. On December 15, MacArthur seized
Mindoro and, on January 9, 1945, landed in force on Luzon. Through February
and March, Allied forces gained control of a devastated Manila, and
soon thereafter completed their conquest of the islands.
MacArthur was to
lead American forces in the invasion of the Japanese home islands, and
he was in the process of preparing for that impending and horrific operation
when the atomic bomb brought an abrupt and decisive end to the war.
On August 15, MacArthur was named supreme commander for the Allied powers,
and in that capacity he accepted the surrender of Japan aboard the USS
Missouri September 2,1945.
From his role of
military leader in time of war, MacArthur moved on to a new chapter
in his life as the commander of the Allied occupation of postwar Japan.
He held that position until 1951, ruling Japan through a series of orders
from his headquarters in Tokyo. MacArthur is credited with restoring
Japan’s devastated economy, placing the defeated nation’s
political future on a sound footing, liberalizing the government, and
setting Japan on the road to democracy and postwar recovery. His rule
of Japan in this period (in the name of the Allied powers) is usually
considered both fair and progressive, and MacArthur claimed, a greater
source of satisfaction to him than his military successes.
the waters of politics in 1948 by allowing his name to be placed on
Republican Party primary ballots in a number of states in the spring
and summer prior to the 1948 election. However, after a disastrous primary
defeat in Wisconsin, MacArthur did not actively lend his name to any
additional political activities.
Still another chapter
in MacArthur’s life opened when the armies of North Korea attacked
South Korea June 25, 1950. On July 14, the general was named to direct
U.N. Forces in the defense of South Korea. With the few and poorly trained
troops that were then stationed in Japan, MacArthur fought a holding
action against a powerful North Korean army. His forces were pushed
down the Korean Peninsula until a defense perimeter was finally established
at the southeastern segment of the Peninsula around the vital port city
At the end of July,
MacArthur flew to Taiwan for two days of talks with Chiang Kai-shek.
At the end of these talks MacArthur made a vague announcement praising
Chiang’s anti-Communism, but further stated that “arrangements
have been completed for effective coordination between American forces
under my command and those of the Chinese government.” This sounded
suspiciously as though Chinese Nationalist troops were to be introduced
into the Korean fighting, which was definitely not U.S. government policy.
MacArthur cavalierly refused to give details of his supposed plan to
the State Department, and even waited four days to report to the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, nominally his superiors, on this important meeting.
In spite of his
embattled situation along the Pusan Perimeter, MacArthur nonetheless
found the time to excoriate administration policy in his message to
the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) August 20. He dismissed any threat
of the war’s expansion by arguing that as the most knowledgeable
expert on “oriental psychology” he knew that most Asians
admired his aggressive, resolute and dynamic leadership.” President
Harry S. Truman forced MacArthur to withdraw the statement, but mutual
ill-will continued to fester between the two leaders.
On September 15,
MacArthur, now age 70, directed the surprise amphibious landing behind
enemy lines at Inchon, just west of Seoul. His plan had been opposed
by most high military officers in Washington, but MacArthur was able
to convince the Joint Chiefs of Staff of its feasibility and the operation
succeeded famously. By the end of the month, the North Korean forces
began to collapse quickly and were rolled back across the 38th Parallel.
On October 8, U.N. troops pushed the enemy north into North Korea and
followed in hot pursuit. MacArthur was, of course, only following the
directives of the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The following
day, he issued an ultimatum to Pyongyang, calling on the North Korean
government “for the last time” to surrender immediately
and inviting its people to cooperate with the United Nations in creating
a “unified, independent, and democratic government of Korea.”
The Stalinist premier of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North
Korea), not surprisingly, ignored such overtures. Many North Koreans
collaborated with U.N. forces, for whatever reasons, and had to be evacuated
when those forces withdrew.
Elements of MacArthur’s
command actually reached the Yalu River marking the border between China
and Korea by late October. But these forces were divided into two commands,
X Corps and Eighth Army, which had practically no communication with
each other and which seemed to invite an enemy offensive to destroy
them piecemeal. MacArthur refused to believe that the Chinese, firm
allies of North Korea, would enter the war in any strength, and opened
his “end the war by Christmas” offensive. (Later, and very
improbably, he termed this offensive “a reconnaissance in force”
still later and even more improbably, he claimed to have “upset
the enemy’s timetable.”) Some writers have even contended
that MacArthur’s intelligence was good enough that he realized
that the Chinese were likely to intervene and welcomed this opportunity
for a showdown with Asian Communism. A more considered appraisal of
the general, however, would have to conclude that he was neither that
clever nor that stupid.
“intelligence failure” is more understandable, however,
when it is remembered that his staff was responsible for information
on the current enemy, that is North Korea. Determining what other nations,
such as the People's Republic of China, might do was up to the Central
Intelligence Agency and the State Department. The available records
indicate little intelligence sharing or coordination, and blame for
that failure can be apportioned all around.
On November 24,
Chinese forces struck hard, and MacArthur’s divided U.N. troops
were pushed back across the 38th Parallel in a matter of weeks. The
once ebullient U.N. commander now seemed sunk in gloom and alarmism,
which in numerous cases permeated the entire command by the end of the
year. U.N. Forces retreated to well below the 38th Parallel.
The two U.N. counteroffensives
of late winter and early spring 1951 were primarily the work of General
Matthew B. Ridgway, General Walton H. Walker’s successor as commander
of Eighth Army, although MacArthur gave Ridgway his blessing. But stiffening
enemy resistance as their lines of communication shortened brought Operations
Killer and Ripper to a halt near the 38th Parallel, but with the ruins
of Seoul once again in U.N. hands. MacArthur again called upon the enemy
commander, this time not to sign a surrender instrument but to meet
with him to negotiate a cease-fire and acceptance of U.N. objectives
for Korea. This move was probably designed to forestall peace proposals
about to be forwarded by the Truman administration. MacArthur may well
have wished to torpedo negotiations, and if so, he succeeded.
Rebuffed by the
Communists, MacArthur called for an extension of the war into China
that would pave the way to victory in Korea and an end to Communism
in Asia. He advocated the bombing of bases in Manchuria, the blockading
of the Chinese coast, and the introduction of Nationalist Chinese forces
into the war. This plan was, of course, completely contrary to the policies
of the Truman administration, and of the succeeding Eisenhower administration
as well, for that matter. Neither, whatever their differing public expressions,
had any desire to escalate the limited Korean conflict.
It should be noted
also that none of MacArthur’s plans for air or sea attacks stood
any chance of execution; they lacked any basis in logic or in logistics,
and it is surprising that so experienced a commander would forward them.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff were well aware of the deficiencies of MacArthur’s
ideas; only later, in their testimony before various Senate committees,
did they claim that his ideas ran the risk of igniting World War III.
Yet, despite the
perfervid rhetoric of some of MacArthur’s opponents, there is
no evidence that the general had any intention of overthrowing or even
challenging the American constitutional principles of civilian control
of the military. MacArthur was fired for public insubordination. He
also deserved at least to be quietly retired for incompetence. At any
rate, MacArthur was relieved of his commands by the president April
His brilliant military
career at an end, MacArthur returned to the United States for the first
time in 15 years. He received a hero's welcome at a number of cities
throughout the country as he made his way to Washington. On April 19,
MacArthur was invited by conservatives to address a joint session of
Congress. In a memorable speech he defended his plan for escalating
the war that had led to his dismissal, concluding with a line from an
old Army ballad that has since come to be associated with him: “Old
soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
With the exception
of a brief run for the presidency in 1952, (he delivered a listless
keynote address at the Republican National Convention that year) MacArthur
retired to a quiet private life. He died at Walter Reed Hospital in
Washington, D.C., April 5, 1964, at age 84.
History has treated
MacArthur as the consummate soldier, a leader of men, but a man who
could give orders better than he could take them. For most, he was the
genius behind America’s victory against Japan. In Korea, the legacy
of MacArthur is usually expressed as much in the controversy that led
to his firing as the brilliant landing at Inchon that changed for a
time the entire character of the war.