Douglas MacArthur

Welcome to the VOA Special English program, 20th Century Americans. In this year long series, we tell about Americans who have played an important part in the past 100 years. I'm Rich Kleinfelt. And I'm Sarah Long. Today, we tell about one of the most successful and unusual American military leaders, General Douglas MacArthur.

General Douglas MacArthur was a most unusual man. He was extremely intelligent and very demanding. He expected his orders to be followed exactly, yet he had problems all his life following the orders of those who were his commanders. Douglas MacArthur was very intelligent and could remember things that others would easily forget. He could design battle plans that left the enemy no choice other than surrender and defeat. His battle plans defeated the enemy and saved as many of his own men as possible. At other times, he would make simple mistakes that made him appear stupid. He often said things that showed he felt important. Many people made jokes about him. Some of his soldiers sang songs that made fun of him. Others believed he was the best general ever to serve in the United States military. General Douglas MacArthur was extremely brave in battle, some times almost foolish. It often seemed as if he believed he could not be killed. He won him every medal and honor the United States can give a soldier. However, at the end of his life, he rejected war and warned American political leaders to stay away from armed conflict.

Douglas MacArthur was born to be a soldier. His father, Arthur MacArthur, was a hero of the American Civil War and continued to serve in the army after the war ended in 1865. He became the top officer of the army in 1906. Douglas was born on an army base near the southern city of Little Rock, Arkansas in January, 1880. He grew up on army bases where his father served. He said the first sounds he could remember as a child were those of the army, the sounds of horns, drums and soldiers marching.

There was never been any question about what Douglas MacArthur would do with his life. He would join the army. He wanted to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. The Academy is a university that trains officers for the United States Army. School officials rejected him two times before he was accepted. He finished his four years at West Point as the best student in his class.

Douglas MacArthur began his service in the Army by traveling to several Asian countries including Japan, and to the Philippines, then an American territory. He also served at several small bases in the United States. He became a colonel when World War I began. He led troops on very dangerous attacks against the enemy. He won many honors for his bravery and leadership. After that war, he served as head of the West Point Military Academy. He became a general. During the 1930s, President Herbert Hoover appointed him Chief of Staff of the Army, one of the most important jobs in the American military. In 1935, General MacArthur was appointed military advisor to the Philippines. He was to help the government build an army for defense purposes as the Philippines began planning for independence. He had retired from the army. He was the chief military advisor to the Philippine military forces when the United States entered World War II in December, 1941.

Japanese aggression in the Pacific developed very quickly. Japanese troops began arriving in the Philippines on December 11th, 1941. The fighting was extremely fierce. The Japanese were defeating the Philippine and American forces. General MacArthur had been recalled to active duty by President Franklin Roosevelt. President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to leave the Philippines to command American forces in the South Pacific. General MacArthur finally agreed to leave for Australia before the Philippines surrendered to Japan, but he made a promise to the Philippine people. He said, "I shall return."

Military history experts continue to study General MacArthur's decisions during World War II. He won battle after battle in the South Pacific area. Often, he would pass islands with strong enemy forces, cut off their supplies and leave them with no chance to fight. In 1944, he returned to the Philippines, with an army that defeated the Japanese.

MacArthur was chosen to accept the Japanese surrender in September, 1945. He was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, the leader of the occupation forces that would rule Japan. As an American soldier, he had to follow the orders of the government in Washington, but in Japan, General MacArthur ruled like a dictator.

The Japanese expected severe punishment. They saw MacArthur as a very conservative ruler who would make Japan suffer. MacArthur did charge some Japanese leaders with war crimes, but he did not try to punish the Japanese people. General MacArthur told the Japanese they must change, both politically and socially. He began with education. Before the war, female children in Japan received little if any education. MacArthur said education would be for everyone, including girls and women. He said women must have the right to vote in elections, and be permitted to hold political office. He said Japanese women would now have the same legal rights as men, and he said that every person had the same legal protection under the law.

General MacArthur told the Japanese people they were now free to form political parties, and he ended the idea of an official government religion. Religion would be a matter of individual choice. He also said the Japanese government would no longer be controlled by a few powerful people. MacArthur told Japan it would now be ruled by a parliament that was freely elected by the people. He helped the people of Japan write a new constitution for a democratic form of government.

On June 25th, 1950, North Korean troops invaded South Korea. Within two days, the United States decided to send armed forces to aid South Korea. Douglas MacArthur was appointed commander of the United Nations forces in South Korea. As the weeks passed, the North Korean army forced the South Korean Army and its allies to retreat to the southern city of Pusan. Many military experts said South Korea was lost. General MacArthur did not agree. He wanted to attack from the sea, deep behind the enemy troops at the city of Inchon. MacArthur said the enemy would not be prepared. Most other military leaders believed this would be extremely dangerous. American Marines did attack Inchon September 15th. It was a complete success. MacArthur had been right.

General MacArthur often disagreed with political leaders. President Truman warned him several times not to disagree with government policy. General MacArthur continued to disagree and told reporters when he did. He often gave orders that were not approved by the president. MacArthur called for a total victory in Korea. He wanted to defeat communism in East Asia. He wanted to bomb Chinese bases in Manchuria and block Chinese ports. President Truman and his military advisers were concerned World War III would start. In April, 1951 President Truman replaced MacArthur as head of the U.N. forces in Korea. Douglas MacArthur went home to the United States. It was the first time he had been there in more than 15 years. He was honored as a returning hero. He was invited to speak before Congress. There was a huge parade to honor him in New York City.

General MacArthur retired again. Some political leaders wanted him to compete for some political office, perhaps for president. Instead, he lived a quiet life with his wife and son. He died at the age of 84 on April 5th, 1964. Today, many Americans have forgotten Douglas MacArthur. However, the people of the Philippines built a statue to honor him for keeping his promise to return, and many Japanese visitors go to General MacArthur's burial place in Norfolk, Virginia to remember what he did for Japan.

This Special English program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Rich Kleinfelt. And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week at this time when we tell about another of the 20th Century Americans.