Douglas MacArthur was arguably the last American public figure to be worshipped unreservedly as a national hero, the last military figure to conjure up the romantic stirrings once evoked by George Armstrong Custer and Robert E. Lee. But he was also one of America’s most divisive figures, a man whose entire career was steeped in controversy. Was he an avatar or an anachronism, a brilliant strategist or a vainglorious mountebank? Drawing on a wealth of new sources, Arthur Herman delivers a powerhouse biography that peels back the layers of myth—both good and bad—and exposes the marrow of the man beneath.
MacArthur’s life spans the emergence of the United States Army as a global fighting force. Its history is to a great degree his story. The son of a Civil War hero, he led American troops in three monumental conflicts—World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Born four years after Little Bighorn, he died just as American forces began deploying in Vietnam. Herman’s magisterial book spans the full arc of MacArthur’s journey, from his elevation to major general at thirty-eight through his tenure as superintendent of West Point, field marshal of the Philippines, supreme ruler of postwar Japan, and beyond. More than any previous biographer, Herman shows how MacArthur’s strategic vision helped shape several decades of U.S. foreign policy. Alone among his peers, he foresaw the shift away from Europe, becoming the prophet of America’s destiny in the Pacific Rim.
Here, too, is a vivid portrait of a man whose grandiose vision of his own destiny won him enemies as well as acolytes. MacArthur was one of the first military heroes to cultivate his own public persona—the swashbuckling commander outfitted with Ray-Ban sunglasses, riding crop, and corncob pipe. Repeatedly spared from being killed in battle—his soldiers nicknamed him “Bullet Proof”—he had a strong sense of divine mission. “Mac” was a man possessed, in the words of one of his contemporaries, of a “supreme and almost mystical faith that he could not fail.” Yet when he did, it was on an epic scale. His willingness to defy both civilian and military authority was, Herman shows, a lifelong trait—and it would become his undoing. Tellingly, MacArthur once observed, “Sometimes it is the order one disobeys that makes one famous.”
To capture the life of such an outsize figure in one volume is no small achievement. With Douglas MacArthur, Arthur Herman has set a new standard for untangling the legacy of this American legend.
Praise for Douglas MacArthur
“This is revisionist history at its best and, hopefully, will reopen a debate about the judgment of history and MacArthur’s place in history.”—New York Journal of Books
“Unfailingly evocative . . . close to an epic . . . More than a biography, it is a tale of a time in the past almost impossible to contemplate today as having taken place, with MacArthur himself as a figure perhaps too remote to understand, but all the more important to encounter.”—The New Criterion
“With Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior, the prolific and talented historian Arthur Herman has delivered an expertly rendered, compulsively readable account that does full justice to MacArthur’s monumental achievements without slighting his equally monumental flaws.”—Commentary
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Son of the Father
Nothing has stood longer than MacArthur, the hills, and the devil.
Anyone who wants to understand the life and career of Douglas MacArthur needs to start by understanding the father.
There is a photograph of Arthur MacArthur standing by a chair in his Civil War uniform. It’s a shock to realize we are looking at a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He looks more like a boy in costume dress-up, until you look at the face. Under the whiskerless cheeks still running to baby fat you can detect the hardness of granite in the mouth as well as in the eyes: a granite he would pass on to his son.
Arthur MacArthur was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on June 2, 1845. His father, also named Arthur, was a popular lawyer, as well as judge advocate for the militia in the state’s Western Military District. Judge Arthur MacArthur Senior had migrated to Massachusetts from Scotland in 1828. In America his considerable intelligence and even more considerable charm had won him a series of increasingly lucrative jobs. In little time he rose from teacher in a one-room school to law clerk in New York City. There he eventually opened his own law firm (in those days no one needed a formal law degree to pass the New York Bar) and found a wealthy wife, Aurelia Belcher, daughter of a Massachusetts iron manufacturer.1
Judge MacArthur, an accomplished storyteller and a delightful after-dinner speaker, was a hard man to dislike. People were irresistibly drawn to the man with dark, hooded eyes, tousled black hair, and quaint Scottish burr. But all the charm and smoothness that made the judge’s career a success stuck with him. What was left for his son, Arthur, was the same perceptive intelligence yoked to a ferocity—even a rigidity—of will and an emotional opaqueness that would characterize Arthur MacArthur’s entire career.
That ferocity certainly got him through America’s bloodiest war. He showed an unflinching heroism from his first battle at Perryville to Stones River in December 1862, and then to Missionary Ridge in November 1863, where he single-handedly led the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin up the steep slopes under heavy fire, carrying the regimental flag and shouting, “On Wisconsin!,” which would later become the state’s motto.
From there MacArthur and the Twenty-fourth would march south and fight on, along the long, bloody road to Atlanta, the hub of Confederate resistance in the west. He was still only eighteen when the regiment’s commanding officer was wounded and he took over command of the regiment. It was on the eve of fierce fighting at Resaca on the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad line that passed through Atlanta—the first major hurdle in the North’s bid to capture the transportation hub of the Confederacy, Atlanta itself.
Everyone realized this was no ordinary eighteen-year-old. MacArthur, a fellow officer in the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin named Ed Parsons, and a divisional staff officer were out examining the earthworks that the Wisconsin men had built to MacArthur’s specifications. They looked sturdy enough, but the staff officer wondered if the Twenty-fourth had enough personnel to man them if the Confederates launched a full-scale attack. “Major,” he asked MacArthur, “suppose the Rebs should make a charge and attempt to capture this position? What would you do?”
MacArthur told him fiercely, “Fight like hell.”2
At the battle for Kennesaw Mountain, Major MacArthur took a bullet in the wrist and another in the chest, but miraculously continued to lead his troops in the fight, on to Peachtree Creek, and finally he and his men and the rest of the Army of the Cumberland marched into a smashed and deserted Atlanta. In 112 days the Army of the Cumberland had advanced 200 miles and fought thirteen major battles. It had cost the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin eight officers and ninety-two enlisted men killed and wounded—with the teenaged Arthur MacArthur in command almost all the way. 3
Three months later, while the rest of Sherman’s army was marching south into Georgia, the Twenty-fourth saw even tougher fighting at the Battle of Franklin near Nashville on November 30. There the nineteen-year-old’s luck finally ran out. Two bullets, one in the knee and the other in the shoulder, finally laid him low in the battle that every survivor of the Twenty-fourth agreed was the worst they had ever fought, worse even than Missionary Ridge. When the last Confederate attack petered out around 9:00 p.m., MacArthur’s men loaded their critically wounded commander into an ambulance wagon while fires from the burning houses of Franklin lit up the night sky. His friend Ed Parsons was left in charge of the regiment while doctors struggled to save MacArthur’s leg (they did), and found to their relief that the bullet in the shoulder had passed clean through.4
So it was a relatively light price to pay for the slaughter at Franklin. When Parsons went to visit MacArthur in the hospital that evening, he remembered finding four blood-soaked generals lying side by side on the porch, all dead.
It wasn’t until mid-February 1865 that Arthur finally returned to his regiment after recuperating at home in Milwaukee, where his mother had died shortly before he arrived. By now, most veterans of the Civil War were sick of the war, including his former commanding officer and the man who had coined the phrase “war is hell,” General William Tecumseh Sherman himself.
“I confess without shame that I am tired of war,” Sherman wrote to a friend. “Its glory is all moonshine. . . . Only those who have not heard a shot, nor heard the shrills and groans of the wounded and lacerated (friend or foe) . . . cry aloud for more blood and more vengeance [and] more desolation.”5 Another survivor of the same campaign, Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes, had found the ordeal so shattering that he was never the same man again, even as Supreme Court justice.
Arthur MacArthur had the opposite experience. Far from being repelled by the violence, noise, and danger of war, he loved it, and he learned to close his mind and heart to the suffering it imposed. The supreme thrill of personally leading men through mortal peril to victory and glory would never leave him. In later years he came to wrap the experience of war and carnage around himself like an old friend—and he would pass that same thrill on to his son.
In April 1865 a beaten and battered Confederacy surrendered, and the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin was able to return home on June 5. Arthur MacArthur, now a lieutenant colonel by order of the Wisconsin state legislature, led his men in a triumphal dress parade down the streets of Milwaukee, while his father, along with the mayor and other dignitaries, proudly watched from their grandstand seats. Five days later the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin was officially disbanded, and Arthur was promoted to full colonel.
He was still not old enough to vote, but little more than a week after his twentieth birthday he was a war hero and a Wisconsin state legend. There was even talk of recommending him for the Medal of Honor for his bravery on Missionary Ridge. But the curtain of peacetime reality had now come down. Arthur MacArthur’s dream was to remain in the army, but as the army had shrunk from a million men to fewer than 55,000, and from 15,000 officers to only 3,400—with thousands of other veterans clamoring for the handful of remaining vacancies—commands were few and very far between, even for a war hero.
So Judge MacArthur, the most popular man in Milwaukee and a growing power in Wisconsin state politics, got into the act. He wrote to his friend Alexander Randall, former Wisconsin governor and now postmaster general, to see if Randall could help get a promotion for young Arthur (the best the army could come up with for the former lieutenant colonel of the Twenty-fourth Wisconsin was second lieutenant in the Seventeenth Infantry, which was being reorganized in New York City). Randall obligingly spoke to President Andrew Johnson, as did a Wisconsin senator and the congressman for Milwaukee’s district. On October 13, just as MacArthur’s regiment had completed training and was setting out for Texas, Arthur MacArthur found himself promoted to captain.6
It was not the first time a MacArthur furthered his military career with the help of political patronage, and it would definitely not be the last. Both father and son firmly believed that in the making of a successful military career, there was no substitute for courage and competence and experience. In their long careers, both would display plenty of all three—plus the other attribute Napoleon said was indispensable for a great general, namely, luck. MacArthur father and son also believed they had a kind of genius, a destiny, that would inevitably bring them the rewards they deserved. But why wait and do nothing when a brief but well-placed letter, a friendly meeting over lunch or after dinner, or a kind word from one powerful friend to another could help to speed up the inevitable?
“This fortunate promotion,” Arthur MacArthur wrote to Postmaster Randall, “[may] decide my life. The undeveloped events of the future may place it in my power to reciprocate.” Already he could see himself being in a position to one day return the favor.7
Arthur’s unexpected promotion did ruffle some feathers in the Seventeenth Infantry. It turned out there were no vacancies for captains, certainly none for MacArthur; so Captain MacArthur was reassigned to the Thirty-sixth Infantry instead, which was stationed in the Nebraska Territory, helping to protect Union Pacific Railroad crews building the Transcontinental Railroad from Indian attacks. It was not until November, however, that he reached the headquarters of the Thirty-sixth Infantry and his first post–Civil War army post, Fort Kearny. He would have to wait twenty-three long years before he would see his next promotion.
What followed for Arthur MacArthur were two decades in what would come to be called the Old Army, as he traveled from one far-flung army post to another in a series of scenes that could have been from a John Ford movie: the wooden stockade guarding a small collection of whitewashed buildings clustered around a flagpole and a dusty parade ground; the tedious patrols and monotonous fatigue duties played out in front of endless stretches of prairie and sagebrush desert with sandstone cliffs or dark snowcapped mountains framing the horizon; occasional shots traded with disgruntled bands of Indians while a steady procession of Cheyenne, Sioux, Comanche, and Kiowa as well as buffalo, antelope, elk, and characters from future westerns—“the unshaven buckskin-clad frontiersman, the trapper, trader, trooper, and pioneer homeseeker”—paraded past each post and each patrol, from Nebraska and Arkansas to Texas, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.8
Above all, there was boredom. Everywhere there was the same routine, from 5:45 first bugle call and reveille followed by raising of the flag at 6:10, through breakfast and assembly, to setting out for work on building bridges and stringing telegraph wires, to roll call in the evening and lights-out at 11:00 p.m. For Arthur, this routine was broken only occasionally, by some memorable event. He would be present, for example, on May 10, 1869, when Leland Stanford drove in the golden spike joining the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit, Utah, as America’s Transcontinental Railroad was finally complete. In January 1871 he was given leave to attend the wedding of his father and his new wife, who was seven years the judge’s junior, in Washington, D.C., where his father now made his home (this wife, Judge MacArthur’s third, was the daughter of a highly successful congressman). But otherwise, those first eight years of army service were ones of brain-crushing tedium for an army officer with no vices except perhaps the occasional glass of whiskey during a game of whist for minor stakes.
To relieve the boredom, Arthur MacArthur mostly read. He would have the judge send books on to him at his various posts, in addition to stacks of journals like Harper’s Weekly, North American Review, and Blackwood’s Magazine. We know MacArthur had a fascination for economics and authors like Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, and Walter Bagehot, as well as works on ancient and modern history. There was also a growing shelf on China and Japan—not to mention everything and anything he could get his hands on regarding military strategy.9
But as he sat and read and pondered, or sat in the pew at his father’s wedding among the delighted guests and the orange blossoms, he must have wondered when, if ever, he would be married. He was nearing thirty when his new regiment, the Eighteenth Infantry, was transferred to Jackson Barracks outside New Orleans. There he would meet the woman who would transform his life, and serve as a pillar of strength both for Arthur and for his even more famous son.
Mary Pinckney Hardy was a true Southern belle. If Arthur MacArthur was John Wayne from a John Ford western, “Pinky” Hardy was Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.
Headstrong, vivacious, and darkly beautiful, she was the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Norfolk. Her son Douglas, for whom she would become the single most important person in his life, described her heritage this way:
Mary Pinckney Hardy came from an old Virginia family dating back to Jamestown days. Her ancestors had fought under George Washington and Andrew Jackson, and her brothers, products of the Virginia Military Institute, had followed Robert E. Lee’s flag on Virginia’s bloody fields. A Hardy was at Stonewall Jackson’s elbow that dark night when he fell on the sodden Plank Road near Chancellorsville.10
Despite the associations with the South’s “lost cause,” her father, Thomas, was no slave-owning plantation owner and Riveredge, the family home outside Norfolk, was no Tara. As a businessman specializing in fertilizer rather than cotton, he had emerged from the Civil War with his fortune more or less intact. Mary, born in 1852, was the eleventh of fourteen children, and had grown up in North Carolina and then Baltimore while the family home was occupied by Union general Benjamin Butler and then rebuilt after being used as an army hospital. Summers during and after the war were spent at a house in Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Son of the Father 7
Chapter 2 Turning Points 23
Chapter 3 Glory Days 39
Chapter 4 Young Man Going East 54
Chapter 5 Countdown to War 75
Chapter 6 Into the Fire 103
Chapter 7 Fight to the Finish 123
Chapter 8 Back to West Point 151
Chapter 9 The Tumultuous Years 176
Chapter 10 Saving the Army 196
Chapter 11 Saving FDR 226
Chapter 12 Mission to Manila 253
Chapter 13 Waiting for the Enemy 288
Chapter 14 Rat in the House 314
Chapter 15 When Men Must Die 338
Chapter 16 Back to the Wall 366
Chapter 17 I Shall Return 395
Chapter 18 Taxing Supreme Command 416
Chapter 19 Green Hell 446
Chapter 20 Doing Cartwheel 473
Chapter 21 Stepping-Stones to Victory 498
Chapter 22 Liberation 522
Chapter 23 On to Manila 550
Chapter 24 Battleground 578
Chapter 25 Downfall 602
Chapter 26 Brief Encounters 627
Chapter 27 Being Sir Boss 654
Chapter 23 Headwinds 682
Chapter 29 War Again 705
Chapter 30 Inchon and Beyond 732
Chapter 31 Reversal of Fortune 763
Chapter 32 Endgame 787
Chapter 33 Fading Away 818