General of the Army|Field Marshal|Supreme Commander

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"Never give an order that can't be obeyed."

During the Korean War, General MacArthur, after years of service as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, was suddenly relieved from command by President Truman over public statements MacArthur made about their differences in military policy. MacArthur was a brilliant commander, but he was constantly clashing with authority.


Douglas grew up in a frontier military family. His father, Arthur MacArthur Jr., was a Army captain, and had fought for the Union in the Civil War. His mother was from a wealthy Virginia family, and two of her brothers had served on the Confederate side. They did not come to the wedding.
Growing up, MacArthur says his parents taught him two principles: "never to lie, never to tattle".

Young Douglas was a "military brat" and constantly moved around the US (Arkansas, Texas, Kansas, Washington DC). Arthur MacArthur Jr. encouraged his sons to join the military, so Douglas went to the West Texas Military Academy then West Point, and graduated as valedictorian there. When he was hazed as a freshman, he refused to tell the investigators who had done it, deciding that he "would be no tattletale". (He later went back and became superintendent.)

The Philippines played a major role in MacArthur's life. His first assignment was there, where Arthur MacArthur Jr. was heading the occupation after the Spanish War. He would later return there during WWII, and command in some of the most major Pacific battles. President McKinley's speech about the occupation, where he encouraged self-government and democracy for the Philippines, would shape MacArthur's policy in Japan.


MacArthur was nominated to be a possible Republican candidate in the election of 1948; however, he could not campaign because he was overseeing the occupation of Japan after WWII. While there, he reformed the government from an aggressive absolute monarchy into a constitutional one, with rights for citizens and freedom of speech and thought. Soon after, he would leave to command in Korea against the Communists.
A successful campaign today might focus less on his military record and more on his experience in helping establish and protect democracy in Asia, as well as the idea of the US as an "example" of democracy for those countries.
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"When at the time of the Japanese surrender, he marched his victorious men down the streets of Tokyo, the Japanese, breathing hate, turned their backs upon him. Six years later, when he went through the streets on his way home, the people bade him good-bye in tears." - Herbert Hoover

TRAILER: Reminiscences by Douglas MacArthur



After being dismissed by President Truman and returning to the US, General MacArthur gave this "good-bye" speech to Congress.


MacArthur, if he had been born a generation earlier, might have fought in the Civil War as his uncles and father did. He might even have played an important role in Reconstruction afterwards, helping to establish rights for newly freed slaves, similar to the role he played in Japan after WWII, where he guided the formation of a new government with civil rights, freedoms and democracy.

MacArthur's dismissal would be less controversial in an earlier time than it was in 1951. During the Civil War, Lincoln dismissed General George B. McClellan for a simple reason; he disagreed with Lincoln when ordered to go after Robert E. Lee after Antietam. Although MacArthur was dismissed for the opposite reason - he was too aggressive - there are clear parallels. However, Lincoln firing McClellan made nowhere near as many headlines, while MacArthur's relief caused national debate.

HISTORIOGRAPHY: "The Old Soldier Hasn't Died"

David Greenberg, a professor of history at Rutgers writing for Slate, draws parallels between General McChrystal's disagreements with President Obama about Afghanistan and MacArthur's statements on Korea. Greenberg is dismissive of the modern-day example, stating that McChrystal's statements are minor, as is Afghanistan compared to Korea; instead, he focuses on "MacArthurism". He defines MacArthurism as "popular sentiment that in matters of war and peace, the military really knows best". Greenberg sees MacArthurism as a problem and a challenge to Presidential authority, and defends Truman's choice to dismiss MacArthur in order to prevent an all-out war. In addition, he dismisses the national popularity of MacArthur as more hype and curiosity than actual enthusiasm. Overall, Greenberg is opposed to the idea, and calls for stronger support for civillian control over the military. In his eyes, Truman made the right choice by stopping MacArthur, a "brave and correct" decision.
Arguments can be made for both sides. Had Truman not removed MacArthur, the conflict could have expanded and the Cold War may have turned not so cold. On the other hand, had MacArthur continued to command in Korea (he was a strategic genius), it might be a united democracy today.
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In 1952, Congress presented this medal to General MacArthur as a sign of thanks. It reads:


MacArthur as a five-star General of the Army always felt more appreciated by foreign governments (Australia, Philippines, Japan) than by the US administration. He is misunderstood; throughout Reminiscences and in his farewell speech, he feels the need to clarify that he is "not a warmonger", as some have labeled him. Twice in his career, he was pulled out when he wanted to keep fighting: first in the Philippines ("I Shall Return") then in Korea. Personally, he was actually very popular with the public, and dozens of roads, schools and buildings around the US are named after him. However, his dismissal remains controversial.

Douglas MacArthur in his military life was constantly called upon to serve the country, and was overseas for much of his life. After his dismissal, he enjoyed being a civilian, taking time off and becoming Chairman at Remington Rand. Interestingly he only calls it "one of the larger manufacturing companies" in Reminiscences. This shows that he felt his life after leaving the military was less important, that he was still a soldier at heart.