MacArthur was America’s senior military
commander in the Far East during World War Two.
MacArthur found fame as the officer who led
America’s withdrawal from the Philippines with
the quote "I shall return". It was a promise
that Douglas MacArthur was to fulfill.
Douglas MacArthur was
born in 1880 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was
educated at West Point Military Academy and
gained a commission into the engineers in 1903.
In 1905, MacArthur was sent to work in Tokyo
where his father was America’s official observer
of Japan’s military operations against Russia.
When America joined World War One in 1917,
Douglas MacArthur was sent to France where he
distinguished himself at the second battle of
the Marne. When the war ended in November 1918,
MacArthur was the youngest divisional commander
in the field.
From 1930 to 1935, he was Chief of Staff of the
In World War Two, after the attack on Pearl
Harbour, Douglas MacArthur was put in charge of
the Philippines where he had to defend the
islands against an attack by the Japanese. In
this he failed, but few western commanders had
been successful against the Japanese at the
start of the Pacific War – as the British had
found at Singapore.
The withdrawal of American forces from the
Philippines was a huge blow to America’s
military but it only made Douglas MacArthur more
determined to take back the islands. By 1943,
America was in a position to attack the
Japanese. However, rather than take every single
island in the area, Douglas MacArthur decided on
what became known as ‘island-hopping’. This
tactic meant that the Americans took the larger
more important islands captured by the Japanese
in the Pacific (such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa)
and left the smaller ones to "wither on the
vine" (Douglas MacArthur). Regardless of this,
America’s casualties were still high and any
attack on mainland Japan itself was fraught with
dangers. American intelligence estimated that 1
million American soldiers would be killed or
wounded if America attempted to take Japan
itself. As a result of this, President Truman
ordered the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima
Douglas MacArthur had a detailed knowledge of
Japan and Japanese culture. As Supreme Commander
of Allied Forces in the Pacific, MacArthur
became the head of the occupation forces in
their surrender in August 1945 to 1951. One of
the first things he did was for the emperor,
Hirohito, to announce on radio to the people of
Japan, that he was not a god and just a mortal.
He also used his influence to ensure that the
emperor was not put on trial for war crimes as
he feared that it might provoke a massive
negative reaction amongst all those people who
were still in Japan. Only those in the
government or the military, such as Tojo, faced
a public trial.
Douglas MacArthur did a great deal to rebuild a
nation severely damaged by the war. Japan was
given a democratic constitution and internal
reforms – dominated by MacArthur himself – moved
Japan forward as a nation. Ironically, there was
more resentment in Washington DC for what
Douglas MacArthur was doing, than there was in
Japan. Some American politicians disliked the
power MacArthur had accrued.
After his involvement in World War Two, Douglas
MacArthur remained in the limelight as head of
the United Nations force that took on the North
Koreans in the Korean War. In this position,
MacArthur showed both his genius (with the
amphibious landing at Inchon) and his belief
that as commander of the forces in the region he
was the senior decision maker. In fact, Douglas
MacArthur had been told by President Truman not
to risk a war with Communist China by advancing
to the Yalu River, in the north of North Korea
and on the Chinese border. Douglas MacArthur
ignored this and advanced north. This provoked a
huge Chinese invasion of the Korean peninsula.
Douglas MacArthur was relived of all his
commands by Truman in April 1951.
MacArthur returned to America as a hero but any
hopes of a career in politics after his military
one came to nothing and from 1952 until his
death in 1964, aged 84, Douglas MacArthur lived
out his retirement in Manhatten.