Douglas MacArthur was a US soldier, born in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. The son of a Union army hero during the Civil War (they are the only father and son to win the Congressional Medal of Honor) and a mother ambitious for his success, he trained at West Point (1903), rose steadily in the army, and demonstrated his bravado on a secret mission to Mexico (1914). In World War 1 he commanded a brigade in combat in France (1918), where he earned a reputation for bravery (wounded three times) as well as foppery – he carried a muffler and a riding crop into the line, but not a helmet or a gas mask. After serving as the superintendent of West Point (1919-22), he completed his second tour of duty in the Philippines.
Appointed army chief-of-staff in 1930 (the youngest ever), he offended liberal-minded people by characterizing as ‘communists’ the Bonus Army veterans he evicted from Washington in 1932. In 1935-41 he served as the military adviser to the Philippine government. In July 1941 he was named commander of US forces in the Far East but, overwhelmed by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, he was ordered to leave his forces on Bataan peninsula (with his promise ‘I shall return!’ ) and go to Australia. In 1942-5, as commander of the Southwest Pacific area (1942-5), he organized an island-hopping offensive that resulted in the return of US forces to the Philippines (Oct 1944). Supreme commander of the Allied powers, he presided over the Japanese surrender (2 Sep 1945).
As military governor of Japan (1945-50), he was a benevolent dictator in forcing Japan to purge itself of its militarism and to adopt more democratic ways. On the outbreak of the Korean War (Jul 1950), he became commander of United Nations forces in Korea, in which capacity he directed the Inchon offensive that forced the invading North Koreans to surrender most of their gains. When Chinese forces began fighting alongside the North Koreans in November 1950, he forcefully advocated an extension of the war into China. This led to conflict with President Truman, who relieved MacArthur from command (11 Apr 1951). This caused great controversy; MacArthur returned home to the hero’s welcome he had not yet enjoyed; and concluded his address to Congress with his citation of an old military song, ‘Old soldiers never die, they just fade away’. Talk of his running for president came to nothing, and after serving as chairman of the board of Remington Rand, Inc, he lived out his final years as a much-honoured hero.
Flamboyant, vain (some would say pompous) and bold, he ranks as an imaginative, sometimes brilliant military commander; his troops generally respected him for the care he took with their lives. But most observers agree that his political instincts were stillborn and his ambitions, perhaps fortunately, were kept in check by his superiors.