Gen. MacArthur


MacArthur, Douglas (1880-1964), was a leading American general of World War II and the Korean War. He also won distinction as Allied supreme commander of the occupation of Japan after World War II.

Early career. MacArthur was born in Little Rock, Ark., on Jan. 26, 1880. His father, Arthur MacArthur, had been a hero as an officer in the Civil War (1861-1865). The elder MacArthur became a prominent general during the Spanish-American War (1898) and a revolt against U.S. control of the Philippines from 1899 to 1901.

MacArthur graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1903. He achieved one of the highest academic records in the school's history. During the next 10 years, he served as an aide and junior engineering officer in the Philippines, Panama, and the United States. MacArthur was on the general staff of the War Department for four years. In 1914, he served with the American forces that seized the Mexican city of Veracruz (see WILSON, WOODROW [Crisis in Mexico]).

World War I. MacArthur held the rank of major when the United States entered World War I in April 1917. He became chief of staff of the 42nd Division, nicknamed the Rainbow Division, and served in France. MacArthur became known as an outstanding combat leader, especially in the St.-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. He was wounded twice and received many decorations for bravery. By June 1918, MacArthur had risen to the rank of brigadier general.

Between world wars. After occupation duty in Germany, MacArthur served as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy from 1919 to 1922. Later in the 1920's, he served in the Philippines and again in the United States.

In 1930, at the age of 50, MacArthur became chief of staff of the U.S. Army. The Great Depression, a worldwide economic slump, hampered his efforts to modernize and expand the Army during his five years in this office. From 1935 to 1941, MacArthur served as military adviser to the Commonwealth of the Philippines. The Philippines, which had been a U.S. possession since 1898, were being prepared for independence.

World War II. In July 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made MacArthur commander of the Army forces in the Far East. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and attacked American air bases in the Philippines. The United States entered World War II when it declared war on Japan on December 8. A major Japanese invasion of the Philippines began two weeks later.

MacArthur led the defense of the Philippines. He concentrated his Filipino and American troops on Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in Manila Bay. In March 1942, under orders from Roosevelt, MacArthur and his family left Corregidor. Soon afterward, MacArthur flew to Australia. Upon reaching Australia, he made a pledge that became famous: "I shall return." See BATAAN PENINSULA.

MacArthur received the Medal of Honor for his defense of the Philippines. His father had won this medal, the nation's highest military award, for his heroism in the Civil War. The MacArthurs are the only father and son who have both received it.

Roosevelt appointed MacArthur commander of the Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific, and the general began an offensive against Japan. Early in 1943, MacArthur's forces drove the Japanese from southeast New Guinea. His troops then seized northeast New Guinea, western New Britain, and the Admiralty Islands. These victories isolated the Japanese base at Rabaul, the chief port of New Britain. By September 1944, MacArthur had also recaptured western New Guinea and Morotai.

On Oct. 20, 1944, MacArthur and his forces landed on the Philippine island of Leyte, thus carrying out his pledge to return. His troops landed on Mindoro in the central Philippines in December. MacArthur became a five-star general that same month. His troops invaded Luzon in January 1945 and recaptured most of that island by the time the war ended in August. He also retook the southern Philippines and Borneo.

Japan surrendered in August 1945, and MacArthur was appointed Allied supreme commander. He presided over the surrender ceremony aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2 and then took over as commander of the Allied occupation forces in Japan.

The occupation of Japan. From 1945 to 1951, MacArthur headed the Allied occupation of Japan. The occupation had the basic goals of demilitarizing Japan and making it a democratic nation. MacArthur administered the occupation with great independence, and he introduced major reforms in Japan's political, economic, and social institutions. The Japanese respected MacArthur's capable, firm leadership. He used the Japanese emperor and government to help carry out the reforms.

The occupation programs removed from power supporters of military conquest and reduced the control that a small group of Japanese families had over the nation's industry. A land reform program enabled farmers to own their own land. Labor unions were recognized, the government improved public health and education, and women received the right to vote. A new Japanese constitution went into effect in 1947. MacArthur also headed the U.S. Far East Command from 1947 to 1951.

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel, the border between North and South Korea. President Harry S. Truman appointed MacArthur head of the military force that the United Nations (UN) sent to defend South Korea. MacArthur led a surprise landing behind enemy lines at the South Korean port of Inchon. This move changed the course of the war, enabling the UN forces to capture Seoul and causing an almost total collapse of the North Korean army. MacArthur then invaded North Korea.

Before MacArthur could win a total victory over North Korea, however, Communist Chinese forces entered the war on the side of the North Koreans. The Chinese drove the UN forces south of the 38th parallel. As a result, MacArthur wanted to extend the war into China. However, some members of the UN feared that attacking China would start a third world war. MacArthur strenuously disagreed with Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff about limiting the war to Korea.

By March 1951, MacArthur's forces held positions close to the 38th parallel. In the meantime, MacArthur issued statements setting out his criticisms of the government's policy and strategy on the war. He was defying Truman's orders not to release policy statements on his own initiative. MacArthur also sent an unauthorized message demanding the surrender of the Chinese. On April 5, Joseph W. Martin, Jr., a Republican congressman, made public a letter from MacArthur that criticized official policy. Because of these disagreements, on April 11 President Truman relieved MacArthur as head of the UN Command, U.S. Far East Command, and occupation of Japan.

The American public welcomed MacArthur as a hero on his return to the United States. It was his first time back in the country since 1937. After a Senate investigation of his dismissal, popular support for his position declined sharply.

Last years. Some conservative Republicans tried in vain to get their party to nominate MacArthur for the presidency in 1944, 1948, and 1952. In 1952, MacArthur became chairman of the board of Remington Rand, Incorporated (now part of Unisys Corporation). Except for board duties and a few speeches, he lived in seclusion in New York City. His memoirs, Reminiscences, were published shortly before he died on April 5, 1964. After a state funeral, he was buried in a crypt of the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Va.

Contributor: D. Clayton James, Ph.D., John Biggs Prof. of Military History, Virginia Military Institute; Author, The Years of MacArthur; A Time for Giants.