General MacArthur;leader and legend by William Manchester Born to the call of the bugle, fiercely grandiose and spectacularly brave, Douglas MacArthur has been dubbed the ‘American Caesar.’as a soldier-statesman—a general in three major wars, the architect of the Japanese constitution—he was a heroic and often controversial figure whose merciless ambition and overbearing pride eventually brought about his military downfall.
Here, William Manchester gives a forthright account of the man many regard as the greatest commander in American history.
E was a great thundering para‑dox of a man, noble and ignoble, inspiring and outrageous, arrogant and shy, the best of men and the worst of men. Flamboyant and imperious, he could not acknowledge errors and tried to cover up his mistakes with sly, childish tricks. Yet he was also endowed with great personal charm, a will of iron and a soaring intellect. Unquestionably he was the most gifted man-at-arms the United States has produced. He was also extraordinarily brave. He seemed to seek death on battlefields, first as a lieutenant in the Philippines, then as a captain in Mexico, and finally as a general in three major wars.
Tall, lean, athletic, gentlemanly but firm, calm in crises, with tremendous reserves of physical and nervous energy, he became the apotheosis of leadership. Those closest to him venerated him, some of them comparing him to Alexander the Great—with Alexander a poor second—or saying, as General George Stratemeyer did, that he was “the greatest leader, the greatest commander, the greatest hero in American history.”
On the other side were those, far from his headquarters, who disparaged everything about him : his religion, his rhetoric, even his cap. Nothing detrimental to him was too absurd to be believed. He used rouge, they said; he dyed his hair, he wore corsets and a wig. The catalogue of myths about him is endless.
One of his difficulties was that he wasn’t a modern man. Like Churchill and Roosevelt, both distant cousins of his, he was a Victorian, a nineteenth century figure who spoke in the elevated manner but who, unlike them, never learned to mask his zeal with wit and grace.
Veterans of the First World War saw MacArthur very differently from veterans of the Second World War. Doughboys were proud to have fought under the General. Second World War GIs weren’t; by the 194os anti-authoritarianism had become dominant. MacArthur’s turgid communiqués, and his love of braid and ceremony, evoked malicious laughter all across the Pacific. His contemporaries then were far more impressed by his former aide Eisenhower, with his friendly nickname and his infectious grin.
But judgement of him cannot end there. There was more to him than soldiering. On the level of folklore he had shown Americans how a champion’s life should be lived, and had invested new meanings in the concepts of honour, intrepidity and idealism. At his best, which is how he deserves to be remembered, he provided a legend which spans more than a century, for it germinated on an embattled Tennessee slope in 1863, 17 years before Douglas MacArthur began his 84-year journey under the colours.
Reveille Douglas’s father, Arthur MacArthur, fought heroically in the American Civil War. Beneath Missionary Ridge, overlooking Chattanooga, the federal troops, including the 24th Wisconsin regiment, in which 18-year-old MacArthur was adjutant, were under siege. The ridge itself was in possession of the Confederate Army. On November 25, 1863, General Ulysses Grant ordered a feint at the rifle pits at the base of the ridge to divert some of the enemy.
After the pits had been taken at bayonet point there occurred one of the most dramatic moves of the war. Exposed to plunging fire from above, the feinting federal troops were trapped, an exigency unanticipated by their commanders. Logic suggested immediate retreat; they had fulfilled their mission. Instead they advanced upwards. In an act of magnificent insubordination, 18,000 blue-clad men, infuriated by the musketry scything their ranks, sprang at the heights on their own.
Grant wheeled on General Gordon Granger : “Did you order them up ?” Granger answered, “No, they started up without orders.,” Fuming, Grant muttered, “Well, it will be all right if it turns out all right.”
The 24th’s first colour-bearer was bayoneted; the second was decapitated by a shell; then young MacArthur grasped the flagstaff and leaped upward, crying, “On, Wisconsin ” His face blackened with smoke, his muddy uniform tattered and bloodstained, he reached the top of the precipice, and there—silhouetted against the sky, where the whole regiment could see him—he planted the standard. Other blue-clad troops gained the crest at the same time, thus winning the battle and clearing the way for General Sherman’s march through Georgia.
Arthur MacArthur was promoted to major. During Sherman’ s drive to Atlanta, he fought in 13 battles, and was promoted again, becoming, at 19, the youngest full colonel in the Union Army. After eight years he was temporarily ordered to New Orleans. Here he fell in love with Mary Pinkney (Pinky) Hardy, a 22-year-old belle, daughter of a Norfolk, Virginia, cotton broker. The couple were married in May 1875. On January 26, 188o, Douglas MacArthur was born at what was then Fort Dodge, and is now part of Little Rock, Arkansas.