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MacArthur, Douglas 1880- 1964

Douglas MacArthur served for almost his whole life in the Armed Forces. He served in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. In Korea he was the commander of UN Forces in Korea from 1950-1951. A gifted and driven leader, MacArthur was a major figure in the Korean War. His ideas and goals conflicted with the Truman administration and eventually led to his dismissal.

First Lieutenant, US Army, 1904-1906; Brigadier General, US Army, 1918-1925; Chief of Staff, US Army, 1930-1935; Commander, US Forces in the Far East, 1941-1945; Commander, Allied Forces in Japan, 1945-1951; Commander, UN Forces in Korea, 1950-1951


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Flamboyant, egotistical, gifted and, above all, driven, Douglas MacArthur was one of the more controversial American military leaders of the 20th century. Douglas MacArthur was Born on January 26, 1880, in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Arthur MacArthur and Mary Hardy MacArthur. His father had been awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War for his exploits at Missionary Ridge. Arthur MacArthur also served in the Indian Wars, fought in the Philippines during and after the Spanish—American War, and was appointed military governor of the Philippines. When Arthur MacArthur retired in 1906 he was the senior ranking officer in the U.S. Army.

Douglas MacArthur graduated first in his class at West Point. In 1906, MacArthur was appointed aide-de-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt and, in 1913, he was appointed to the general staff under President Woodrow Wilson. The next year, MacArthur took part in the Veracruz, Mexico, expedition. By the time America entered the European war in 1917, the talented and flamboyant MacArthur had reached the rank of major.

During World War I, he served with great distinction as a brigade and division commander.

Following the war, MacArthur became the superintendent at West Point, the youngest officer to ever hold that post; he remained there until 1922. Following a second tour in the Philippines, he returned to the United States in January 1925, was named commander of the 3rd Corps, and then returned to the Philippines where he served as department commander.

In 1930, MacArthur returned to the United States and was named by President Herbert Hoover as chief of staff of the Army. At age 50, he was promoted to the rank of full general at a time when America was staunchly isolationist and military figures like MacArthur played a small part in the nation’s activities.

In 1932, MacArthur led a force of tanks, cavalry and infantry against a group of 15,000 unarmed World War I veterans who had camped in Washington to petition Congress for early payment of their service bonuses. In a violent clash precipitated by orders from MacArthur, the “Bonus Army” was dispersed. For many at that time, and for historians since, the harsh treatment of the “Bonus Army” has seemed to offer insight into the mind and character of Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur later justified his actions by improbably claiming that he had thwarted a “Communist revolution.”

In 1936, MacArthur was appointed military advisor to the Philippines, where he trained commonwealth military forces and prepared the Philippine government for its coming independence. In 1937, he retired from the Army, but remained in the Philippines as an advisor to its government with the rank of generalissimo and a lavish salary and perquisites.

MacArthur built up and trained Philippine forces between 1935 and 1937, but he trained them for a conventional war—an unrealistic goal. When war came, MacArthur’s Philippine Army was poorly prepared to meet the crack invading Japanese Army in the field, and lacked the training to conduct the only real option open to it: guerrilla warfare. About the only positive conclusions that could be validly made about the Philippine Army of 1941-1942, was that it remained loyal, fought bravely on occasion, and in distinct contrast to other Asian “colonial” armies, it could boast native officers up to the highest ranks.

In the summer of 1941, the entire Philippine Army was inducted into the Army of the United States, and MacArthur was recalled to active duty to head the new command: U.S. Forces in the Far East. The long-expected Japanese attack came at Clark Field, north of Manila, about eight hours after the initial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Most of MacArthur’s air force was destroyed on the ground by Japanese aircraft in “Pearl Harbor II.”

MacArthur committed 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. 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 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.

Another chapter in MacArthur’s life opened when the armies of North Korea attacked South Korea on 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 of Pusan.

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) on 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.

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. MacArthur was relieved of his commands by the President on April 11, 1951.

His brilliant military career at an end, MacArthur returned to the United States for the first time in fifteen 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.”

MacArthur retired to a quiet private life. He died at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., April 5, 1964, at age 84.