Essay: General Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur
During World War II there were many people whose efforts made a difference during the war. Some of these efforts had a great impact on the war, even to the point in changing the course of the war. One of these figures that had a significant impact on the global war was General Douglas MacArthur. Considered one of the greatest generals of World War II, he served in the pacific theater of war. His contributions to the war effort greatly aided the allies defeat the Empire of Japan.
Pre-World War II
Douglas MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880 in Little Rock Arkansas. He was the third child to his parents Arthur MacArthur Jr and Mary Hardy MacArthur. According to the Macarthur Memorial, his father Arthur was an Army Captain at the time; he had served during the American Civil War for the Union and was highly decorated. His mother Mary was from Virginia; she came from a cotton merchant family. Her brothers also served during the Civil War but they had fought for the Confederacy.(n.d.) Charles Rivers Editors author of American Legends: The Life of General Douglas MacArthur states that growing up, both his parents had a great influence on him; his father’s career in the Army influenced Douglas both on the type of commander he would become and the choices he would make later in life when dealing with politicians that would be in charge of him. (2013) Sara Wilson writer of The Paradoxical General MacArthur points out a quote his father would constantly tell his children, ‘We were to do what was right no matter what the personal sacrifice might be. Our country always came first.’ His mother instilled a sense of greatness in him by letting him know that he would be ‘destined for greatness and that he should strive to be a great man like his father and Robert E. Lee. (1999)
While at West Point from 1899 to 1903, MacArthur excelled in his studies, graduating top of his class and having an overall academic score second only to General Lee. From there he started his career in the Army as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers being assigned to the Philippines.(MacArthur Memorial, n.d.) In 1905, MacArthur’s father who was a Major General, had Douglas assigned to him as part of his staff to go on a tour of Asia with him. This tour would give MacArthur insight to the region and saw the people there were just as resourceful as anyone else in the world. Despite the racist views the United States had at the time, he believed ‘America’s future lay with the Pacific and not with old Europe.'(Editors, 2013) After this influential tour of Asia, MacArthur went back to the United States and served at various posts from being an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington D.C. to Vera Cruz, Mexico on a mission to gather intelligence. (MacArthur Memorial, n.d.) MacArthur later went back to Washington where he was eventually appointed head of the Army’s Bureau of Information; his time there taught MacArthur how publicity and public opinion were powerful tools. (Editors, 2013)
At the beginning of World War I, MacArthur had achieved the rank of Major and helped in the formation of the Army’s 42nd Division called the Rainbow Division. (MacArthur Memorial, n.d.) By the time the United States entered World War I, MacArthur was promoted to Colonel and was made Chief of Staff of the 42nd Division. By November of 1917 the 42nd went to France to join the war effort. Eventually MacArthur led the Rainbow Division through some of the toughest battles the US was a part of during the war, earning himself and his men many medals and honors. During battles, MacArthur led his troops from the front, sometimes being the first man charging out of the trenches into no man’s land; this earned him two purple hearts for injuries due to mustard gas. (Editors, 2013) At the end of the war, MacArthur was promoted to Brigadier General and returned to the US to take the post as the superintendent of West Point Military Academy. In 1922 he married his first wife Louise Cromwell, who he later divorced seven years later. Also in the twenties, MacArthur returned to the Philippines to serve two tours and was tasked to lead the U.S. Delegation in Amsterdam for the 1928 Olympics. (MacArthur Memorial, n.d.) President Hoover, in 1930, appointed MacArthur as the Army’s Chief of Staff and again served in the same position under President Franklin Roosevelt. He had many arguments with President Roosevelt at the time because the president was making cuts to Army funding due to the depression. (Editors, 2013) The position of Chief of Staff was one that was kept from his father years earlier. William Taft, who was the Secretary of War at the time, was at odds with Arthur MacArthur at various times through his career. Douglas MacArthur would always remember that it was a politician that kept his father from holding the highest posting the Army. (Wilson, 1999)
His time as Chief of Staff of the Army was marked with some controversy. Under Hoover, he was tasked to remove the ‘Bonus Army,’ a group made up of thousands of WWI unemployed veterans who were protesting for the government to give them bonuses that were promised during the war. MacArthur, with armed troops, forced the group out of Washington using heavy handed force with the men and burning their encampments. Later MacArthur sued a journalist for slander after the reporter Drew Pearson published a report stating that MacArthur was disrespectful to those appointed over him and a tyrant to those under him. When the reporter informed MacArthur that he had attained letters between him and a famous female star he had liaisons with, MacArthur backed down and paid Pearson $15,000 to get the letters. He wanted to keep the story from becoming public, mainly so that his mother wouldn’t hear about it. (Wilson, 1999)
In 1935 MacArthur stepped down as Chief of Staff and was asked by his longtime friend Manuel Quezon, President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, to join him as Field Marshal of the Philippines. At this position, he would be tasked to prepare the Philippine military for independence from the United States in 1946 and later for Japanese attack when it became apparent the Japanese were making aggressive moves in the area. MacArthur himself believed because of his years of experience in the Philippines, he best understood Filipino people and Asians in general. On his trip to the Philippines, he brought over his most trusted staff and advisors, including his mother who followed him wherever possible. During the trip, he met Jean Marie Fairclough, a wealthy woman from Tennessee. The two fell in love and would marry in April 1937. The two had their only child, a son named Arthur IV, a year later on February 1938. (Editors, 2013)
World War II
In July of 1941, the Japanese continued their war against China where they had made advancements and began attacking ports in Vietnam. This caused President Roosevelt to order MacArthur to begin preparing defenses on the Philippines to guard against Japanese aggression. On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked the United States forcing the US into World War II. Later that day, Japan began attacking military targets in Manila, the capitol of the Philippines. Due to the decisive advantage they had against the defenders, the Admiral of the US Naval ships stationed there ordered his ships to safety leaving behind the MacArthur and his defenders; this incident angered MacArthur and accused the Admiral of cowardice. (Editors, 2013)
With the Japanese having air superiority and losing his naval support, MacArthur organized his troops to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor. There they would continue to slow the Japanese forces from conquering the Philippines. The Japanese suffered heavy losses trying to destroy MacArthur’s forces that were under daily air attacks for months. At this time MacArthur primarily stayed in his command outpost in Corregidor rarely visiting his forces on Bataan this earned him the name ‘Dugout Doug’ with the troops. During his stand against the Japanese, MacArthur was convinced by Quezon to try to convince Roosevelt to give the Philippines independence so the country could declare itself neutral, hoping to avoid being totally conquered by the Japanese. President Roosevelt completely disagreed with the idea causing MacArthur’s hatred for politicians and politics to grow even more. Even though General Marshall said MacArthur’s forces would be relieved or supported, no help ever came. (Editors, 2013) Meanwhile in Washington, Brigadier General Eisenhower pushed the issue about MacArthur and his forces to his superiors, convincing President Roosevelt and General Marshall to realize hesitantly that since they were not going to support MacArthur’s forces, they would have to rescue the General. A few reasons went into why they had to rescue the General. First, it would be a blow to US security if the Japanese captured a former Chief of Staff. Second, General MacArthur had built himself up in the public eye; during his stand against the Japanese, MacArthur had basically used a spin machine to conduct self-promotion by issuing bulletins to the press, making greatly enhanced claims of his efforts during the siege. Finally, on March 12, 1942, MacArthur with his family boarded torpedo boats in the middle of the night to meet up with a B-17 that would fly over enemy territory to get the General to Australia. (Editors, 2013) When leaving, the General told his men and Filipino people ‘I shall return.’ That quote went on to become a rally cry to Americans back home that saw MacArthur as a great hero. MacArthur had a chance to evacuate his family earlier when President Quezon offered to take MacArthur’s wife and child on his submarine when he escaped the Japanese; MacArthur, however, told him that ‘My wife married a soldier. My son is the son of a soldier.’ For his stand against the Japanese, General MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest honor that can be given to any military personnel. (Wilson, 1999)
When MacArthur arrived in Australia, he was appointed as the Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area. His forces were made up of strong air force, small naval ships and a very capable Australian infantry. (Editors, 2013) With this force he began his campaign against the Japanese, using what would be called ‘Island Hopping.’ This meant he would bypass better defended areas and attack weaker Japanese targets. Despite some setbacks due to logistical and intelligence failures, MacArthur continued to press the attack against the Japanese. By October 20, 1944 he returned to the Philippines, keeping his word. After making his triumphant return to the Philippines, he was promoted to the rank of a Five Star General, only one of six men to have ever held the position. (MacArthur Memorial, n.d.) Even though he returned as promised, the fighting had just begun. The Japanese decided to make their stand there since it was their last source of resources, such as oil. Finally on February 25, 1945, MacArthur and his forces defeated retook the capitol of Manila. By April of 1945, MacArthur was given command of all Army assets and began to draw up plans for the final assault on Japan, which many believed would have been very costly to both sides. (Editors, 2013) To prevent further loss of life to allied troops, President Truman made the decision to drop the two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Shortly thereafter, Japan surrendered and General MacArthur was selected to accept the Japanese surrender. At the ceremony, MacArthur stated ‘It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion, a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding.’ (Wilson, 1999)
Post World War II
After the war MacArthur would go on to govern over and rebuild Japan, and command the United Nation forces in the Korean War in 1950. Faced with the possibility of a third World War, President Truman called for a cease fire. MacArthur, however, did not agree and wanted to attack China. He even tried to convince Congress he was right. Due to this insubordinate action by MacArthur, President Truman removed the General from duty, effectively firing him. (Wilson, 1999) After a hero’s welcome in New York in 1952, MacArthur would go on to chair the board of Remington Rand and would provide advice to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Douglas MacArthur died on April 5, 1964 in Washington D.C. and was buried with full honors in Norfolk, VA on April 11, 1964 at the MacArthur Memorial. (MacArthur Memorial, n.d.)
MacArthur was a great man but he was still human. Even when under attack, he always had an ulterior motive to gain position to do what he thought he must for the United States. He could also be seen as selfish by having men open to attack while he kept undercover, and by keeping his family with him rather than sending them to safety. Despite his faults, General Douglas MacArthur was clearly an American hero whose experience, drive and determination helped see the American Army thorough some of its darkest times and achieve victory for the United States in World War II.

Charles Rivers Editors. (2013). American Legends: The Life of General Douglas MacArthur. Charles River Editors
MacArthur Memorial. (n.d.). General Douglas MacArthur: MacArthur Memorial. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from
Wilson, S. E. (1999). The Paradoxical General MacArthur. Humanities, 20(3), 12.

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