MacArthur: A Biographyby Richard B. Frank, Tom Weiner
Douglas MacArthur is best remembered for his adaptability that hoisted him to his greatest accomplishments. Adaptability now reigns as the most indispensable trait for high military leadership in an era of technological leaps that guarantee the nature of war will radically change during the span of an ordinary career. No American figure better exemplifies this trait than the man who was commissioned before the Wright Brothers' first flight but became a keen exponent of an entirely new dimension in warfare. He was also in charge of the U.S. occupation of Japan, the most successful occupation in history.
“A vivid, compelling portrait of our most enigmatic battlefield commander. Richard B. Frank strips away both myth and malarkey to reveal both Douglas MacArthur the general and Douglas MacArthur the man.” Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer prize-winning author of An Army at Dawn: The War In North Africa, 1942-1943
“Richard B. Frank's incisive biography of General Douglas MacArthur offers not only a great read, but a timely and useful study both of the dilemmas of civil-military relations and the challenges facing American military leaders thrust onto a global stage. The writing is always clear, the history always accurate, and the analysis consistently stimulating. For all his faults, MacArthur was indisputably a great man among great contemporaries--this book will make the reader ponder the disappearance of such greatness among our nation's leaders, military or civilian.” Ralph Peters, author of New Glory and Never Quit The Fight
“Douglas MacArthur was either the greatest American military commander of the 20th century--or a dangerous meglomaniac. In this shrewd, fair, but unblinking biogaphy, MacArthur is both- at once-brilliant and deeply flawed and, in Frank's skillful telling, an endlessly fascinating character. Rich Frank has long been a premier historian of the Pacific War. Now he has shown that he is first rank biographer as well.” Evan Thomas, Newsweek editor-at-large and author of Sea of Thunder
“A classic example of good things in small packages, this addition to the Great Generals Series owes much to its author, an expert on the Pacific War and a particularly accomplished writer. Those attainments allow him to do a remarkable degree of justice to his subject, one of the most controversial leaders in American history. From early on, MacArthur, scion of a military family, exhibited great talents and a colossal ego that made it difficult for him to cooperate with either his fellow commanders or his civilian superiors, leading one of the latter, President Truman, to terminate his career during the Korean War. MacArthur's insensitivity to politics didn't, however, prevent him from practicing a high level of statesmanship as military governor of occupied Japan. Frank's portrait of him is that of a man clearly related to the little girl who had a little curl in the middle of her forehead. When he was good, he was indispensable; when he was bad, he made colleagues and superiors think of firing squads. A good addition for any and all twentieth-century American history collections.” Booklist
“Frank (Guardalcanal) presents the reader with a fair assessment of both the man and the soldier, covering the failures and triumphs in an assured and dispassionate tone.” David Lee Poremba, Haines City P.L., FL
“His own unique take on this historic figure.” NewsMax
“No general in American uniform during World War II was more controversial or more idolized than Douglas MacArthur. It takes a rigidly objective historian and painstakingly careful research to produce a biography of him that is both balanced and accurate. Richard B. Frank has succeeded brilliantly.” Brian John Murphy, America in WWII
“America is hard on its politicians and generals. Whereas writers and composers are remembered for their creative peaks, and their lesser works are forgiven, politicians are often remembered for their failures, generals for their blunders. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was long an exception to this rule, for he spent a lifetime burnishing his image and training a staff to do likewise. But history is catching up, and we now have a readable and objective biography by respected World War II historian Richard B. Frank, who is immune to the general's considerable charisma.” John M. Taylor, The Washington Times
Douglas MacArthur was either the greatest American military commander of the 20th century--or a dangerous meglomaniac. In this shrewd, fair, but unblinking biogaphy, MacArthur is both- at once-brilliant and deeply flawed and, in Frank's skillful telling, an endlessly fascinating character. Rich Frank has long been a premier historian of the Pacific War. Now he has shown that he is first rank biographer as well.
Read an Excerpt
By Richard B. Frank
Palgrave MacmillanCopyright © 2007 Richard B. Frank
All rights reserved.
Douglas MacArthur claimed his first memory was "the sound of bugles." This is the sort of unverifiable detail a man with an artistic approach to creating a legendary life could toss off with ease. So the first rule of writing about Douglas MacArthur is that he is a tempting resource for color, but for facts one should often look elsewhere.
He was born on January 26, 1880, at the Little Rock Barracks, Arkansas. Douglas drew almost all aces at birth. Most biographies highlight his formidable intellect, his prodigious memory, his remarkable good looks, his dominating presence or charisma, perhaps nodding to his late-Victorian rhetorical skills. But arguably his most vital endowment was an astonishingly remarkable constitution. He maintained his physical and mental youthfulness for decades beyond his contemporaries and this extended his career for two encores beyond a normal span.
Without the slightest doubt, the most important human beings in his life were his parents. They molded Douglas and stored within him the ideas that served as his internal navigational gyroscopes. His father, Arthur MacArthur, distinguished himself as a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient and remained in the doldrums of the postwar army. In 1875, Arthur married Mary Pinkney Hardy ("Pinky"), a Confederate daughter of a Norfolk, Virginia family. They had three boys. The eldest brother, Arthur III, went to the Naval Academy and carved out for himself a distinguished career until appendicitis claimed him prematurely in 1923. The middle child, Malcolm, died in infancy. The baby was Douglas.
The MacArthurs spent the majority of Douglas's youth in the lonely posts faintly embroidering the West, where he witnessed the last twinges of three centuries of American frontier expansion. For the boy, it served as an idyll of barefoot explorations juxtaposed to an orderly daily regime of ceremony, drill, and brass buttons. Often the senior officer on the post, Arthur ruled the only universe Douglas knew and provided a profound example of what a soldier should be and do. He also instilled a very contrarian view during the time that America's destiny beckoned in the Far East, not Europe. During Douglas's life this view appeared bizarre to most Americans; it looks prescient now. If anything, Pinky's contribution loomed larger. She instilled the conviction that Douglas was an instrument of destiny. Pinky would hover near Douglas, often under the same roof, repeating this message for the first fifty-seven years of his life.
Initially an indifferent student, Douglas bloomed in his teens. He entered the military academy at West Point in 1899; Pinky took up residence in a nearby hotel. This dogged maternal clasp was by no means eccentric for the time. Maternal harnesses yoked both Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson far into adulthood. Rather than shielding him, Douglas's status as the son of a then senior officer made him the target of especially savage hazing. His bearing under this torment impressed his classmates, but much as Douglas loved the academy ever after, he loathed his mistreatment and when the opportunity arose, he would move to squash it. It is often claimed, but incorrect to say, that Douglas created an all-time record for academic excellence at West Point. Varying standards over the years preclude such a verdict, but he certainly towered above his contemporaries and graduated first academically in his class. Equally as important, his military bearing and character secured the coveted appointment as First Captain, the top post available to a cadet. This set of laurels formed the first milepost confirming that he was swaddled by fate for an exceptional life.
His parents talked Douglas out of abandoning West Point to participate in the Spanish-American War. That war, however, vaulted his father from lieutenant colonel to lieutenant general and dispatched him to command the Philippines. Arthur behaved petulantly when William Howard Taft arrived toassume overall direction. The vindication of his judgment partly assuaged the sting of effective demotion. Taft promptly pronounced the Philippine Insurrection as waning; MacArthur insisted it was waxing; MacArthur was correct. Notwithstanding or perhaps because of his observation of the Filipinos he was fighting, Arthur developed a deep appreciation and respect for them that he passed to Douglas. But Arthur also bequeathed something else from the experience: Taft later would become secretary of war for Theodore Roosevelt and passed over Arthur for the appointment of chief of staff of the army. It left Arthur so bitter that he refused to be buried in his uniform. It instilled in Douglas a family grudge that crippled him with a hypersensitive vigilance to the possibility that he might be denied his rightful destiny by lesser men.
As was customary in those days, as the top man in the class of 1903 Douglas took his commission in the Corps of Engineers. He fulfilled his first decade of assignments with distinction—except while distracted by his unsuccessful pursuit of a wife. In November 1903, during his initial tour in the Philippines, he encountered two armed insurgents, or possibly bandits. One fired a round that punctured MacArthur's hat—another event he read as a sign of destiny. MacArthur killed them both at close range with pistol shots. His most important assignment, he later claimed, was duty as an aide to his father during a tour of the Far East in 1905–6. When he attended the advanced course for engineer officers in 1908, he completed what turned out to be his last bit of formal schooling in his profession. He read prodigiously not only about military affairs, but many other subjects.
* * *
The year 1913 found MacArthur as a Young Turk staff officer serving the dynamic chief of staff, Leonard Wood. For the next fifty years, Wood stood second only to his father in his imprint on MacArthur's thinking and behavior as an officer. Wood's odd career began as a contract surgeon, not as a field officer, much less a West Point graduate; thus MacArthur's admiration stemmed from shared ideas rather than shared roots. MacArthur harkened not only to Wood's call to make the army ready to fight a modern war, but also to his personality and methods. MacArthur particularly assimilated Wood's skillful manipulation of the press and open dabbling in politics.
In 1914, the new president, Woodrow Wilson, faced a civil war in Mexico. Wilson detested the leader of one faction, General Victoriano Huerta, and sent American forces to Vera Cruz to deny him shipment of German arms. The situation careened toward a full-scale war, and Wood dispatched Captain MacArthur to scout for prospective operations. In a swashbuckling adventure, MacArthur penetrated behind Mexican lines with several local railroad workers he bribed, and returned with three vitally needed locomotives. His report of the episode, however, further recounted three close-range gunfire exchanges with Mexican forces or bandits, during which at least four bullets pierced his clothes without seriously injuring him. As several officers, including Wood, agreed, if all of this was true, MacArthur deserved a Medal of Honor. MacArthur positively lusted for the award, both as proof of his worthiness as a son and as a coveted sign of his destiny. The nomination failed both because the only available witnesses were the bribed and thus compromised Mexicans, and on the pettifogging objection that MacArthur's deed lacked proper prior authorization. MacArthur filed the episode away in the large family trunk that stored festering grudges.
* * *
In April 1917, Wilson secured a declaration of war against Germany. The army realized, if the politicians did not, that American participation in World War I required a huge army. That meant conscription. Major MacArthur, now effectively the first public relations office in army history, performed stellar service in selling this idea. MacArthur exhibited keen vision when he advocated breaking up the tiny regular army into cadres for a much larger force of national guardsmen and conscripts. In order to highlight the role of the national guard and to avoid the political pitfall of favoritism of one state or region, Macarthur proposed creating a division of guard units "stretch[ed] like a rainbow across the United States." Hence was born the 42nd ("Rainbow") Division. Sixty-three-year-old Major General William A. Mann commanded the division, but MacArthur, with a spot-promotion to colonel, became the division's chief of staff. MacArthur switched his branch from engineers to infantry, a move that opened vastly expanded opportunities for advancement in wartime. With MacArthur's appointment to the Rainbow Division, at age thirty-seven he bid adieu to a bit player's role for the orbit of the powerful.
The Rainbow Division was the second National Guard division (behind the New England-based 26th) and among the first four divisions to reach France in 1917. The commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, ignored sound advice from his allies that his divisional organization, with 28,000 men, was too unwieldy by over 10,000 men and woefully deficient of firepower. But the first challenge to Pershing's fetish for huge divisions was that his initial units all arrived well under authorized strength. Thus, ironically, the very first significant battle MacArthur won in his military career was bureaucratic: thwarting Pershing's plan to break up the Rainbow Division to fill the ranks of the other three divisions. MacArthur prevailed because he went over Pershing's head to appeal directly to the secretary of war. The ploy worked but cost him in his relations with Pershing's staff.
Pershing installed the 42nd Division into a front-line sector marked by little active fighting long before it completed training. MacArthur romped on two exhilarating adventures accompanying French troops on trench raids. His conspicuous bravery earned his first award of the Silver Star. The significance of this award and the ones that followed in France is much misunderstood. The hierarchy of valor awards now familiar to Americans only solidified after World War II began. In that hierarchy, the Silver Star Medal ranked third in the army behind the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. In World War I, however, the Silver Star was literally a small silver star device to attach to a campaign ribbon, not a separate medal. It really equated to a much lower level award, comparable to the British "Mentioned in Dispatches." MacArthur instigated the Silver Star Medal as chief of staff, and it was retroactively awarded to prior holders of the Silver Star. This is not to say that MacArthur's conduct did not merit the award of the Silver Star Medal as it later came to be understood, but the status and criteria for the award were much different in World War I.
With the experience of the French trench raids behind him, MacArthur joined one mounted by the Rainbow's own Iowa-raised, 168th Infantry. At the appointed minute, MacArthur climbed out of a trench into No Man's Land between the lines and started forward. "For a dozen terrible seconds," he recalled, "I felt they weren't following me. But then, without turning around, I knew how wrong I was to doubt even for an instant. In a moment they were all around me. I'll never forget that." MacArthur's dramatic leadership earned a Distinguished Service Cross for this action.
An enormous administrative workload normally tethers a divisional chief of staff to a rear headquarters. In almost all other divisions in both world wars, few enlisted men could even name the divisional chief of staff. MacArthur managed to be not only a superb conventional chief of staff, but also a common presence in the front lines. Father Francis P. Duffy, later the Rainbow's illustrious chief chaplain, wrote in May 1917 that MacArthur "chafes at his own task of directing instead of fighting, and he has pushed himself into raids and forays in which, some older heads think, he has no business to be." Duffy went on to note that MacArthur's exploits were regarded by other officers in the division who were latter to become famous (notably William J. Donavan, a Medal of Honor winner who was the director of the Office of Strategic Services in World War II) as valuable in encouraging the men. But Duffy added that all of these officers, including MacArthur, "are wild Celts, whose opinion no sane man like myself would uphold."
During his combat career in France, MacArthur refined a signature look that set him apart on the battlefield. After trying out a prototype at Vera Cruz, in France MacArthur perfected a distinctive image that remained with him ever after. He wore a shapeless hat far more often than a steel helmet (a helmet in his view was merely useful to keep away rain, not enemy projectiles) and a turtleneck sweater with a seven-foot-long purple scarf. Seldom burdened with a weapon, his swagger stick and calf-high boots spoke defiance of the realities of trench warfare. Even those who despised him—indeed, particularly those who despised him—recognized (or should have recognized) this distain for polish, stiff creases, and buttoned-down conformity as the mark of the quintessential casual American. It was the very antithesis of the European-style spit and polish, neck tie and starch of Pershing (and of Pershing's disciple, Patton).
His objective conduct seemed to reflect valor in spades. "All of Germany cannot fabricate the shell that will kill me," he allegedly declared. But this comment, if true, invites a philosophical question: Was he fearless or was he brave? If the definition of bravery is overcoming fear, then MacArthur's conduct lacked something critical. He truly believed he was an instrument of destiny and hence that he would be divinely protected until he fulfilled a huge predestined role. But even he recognized a border for his divine dome of personal grace. When a German prisoner disclosed a plan to shell a chateau MacArthur used as his headquarters with a huge howitzer, MacArthur discretely vacated the premises before it was pulverized. Twice he was gassed severely enough to be prostrated in the hospital for days. This type of incident will cure most men of the "it won't happen to me" world of denial, but it did not alter MacArthur's serenity under fire.
MacArthur's truly outstanding performance as chief of staff and in the front line won a recommendation for a general's star from his new division commander, Maj. Gen. Charles Menoher. The freshly appointed army chief of staff, Peyton March, was one of Arthur MacArthur's protégées. When Pershing failed to include Douglas on a list of men recommended for general officer appointment, March appended MacArthur's name—and deleted several of Pershing's staff officers. MacArthur received word of the promotion on June 26, 1918. He was only thirty-eight years old and had just begun his sixteenth year of active duty.
On July 14, 1918, Bastille Day, the Rainbow Division withstood a ferocious attack. MacArthur was recommended for another Silver Star and the French Corps commander urged the award of the Legion d'Honeur. But this time MacArthur got a full ration of the sights and sounds of hideous squalid deaths, and said later that war was never the same for him again.
On July 28, thinking the Germans were retreating, a French general flung the Rainbow infantrymen into an attack without their artillery. In fierce fighting against elements of four German divisions, Menoher relieved the commander of the division's 84th Brigade and replaced him with MacArthur. When the Germans did retreat, MacArthur saw the opportunity to pursue. By example and persuasion, he pitched the exhausted Rainbow men forward, lead by the Irishmen of the 165th Infantry. In seven days and seven miles, the division sustained 6,500 casualties. The battle's end brought MacArthur two more amply earned Silver Stars and the highest praise from Menoher. Moreover, MacArthur finally relinquished his job as chief of staff. The division's headquarters officers presented him with a gold cigarette lighter inscribed: "The bravest of the brave."
For the first solo American offensive at St. Mihiel beginning September 12, 1918, Pershing massed a half-million Americans and 100,000 French soldiers to attack a German salient. The mere 23,000 Germans in the salient were already pulling out when the American attack fell. MacArthur won a fifth Silver Star for personally leading the division into the attack. MacArthur was eager to take the strategic city of Metz and believed afterwards that Pershing's refusal to let him advance was a huge blunder. The reality was that MacArthur's men might have seized Metz, but surely would have been destroyed in the inevitable counterattack.
After Pershing terminated the St. Michiel offensive on September 16, MacArthur's brigade took over sole responsibility for the Rainbow Division's sector of the front line, while the division's other brigade rested. MacArthur's men found their trenches subject to frequent shelling. During one such rain of German artillery rounds at the end of the month, MacArthur encountered George S. Patton, then commanding a tank brigade. Patton (who privately admitted fear, and therefore was unquestionably brave) wrote that as the creeping barrage marched toward them "I think each one wanted to leave, but each hated to say so, so we let it come over us. We stood and talked but neither was much interested in what the other said." When Patton flinched at a nearby shell burst, MacArthur assured him, "Don't worry, Colonel, you never hear the one that gets you." Patton, a connoisseur in such matters, anointed MacArthur "the bravest man I ever met."
Excerpted from MacArthur by Richard B. Frank. Copyright © 2007 Richard B. Frank. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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Meet the Author
RICHARD B. FRANK is the author of Guadalcanal and Downfall and winner of the General William Greene Award and the Harry S. Truman Book Award. He lives in Annandale, Virginia.
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