Useful Notes: Douglas MacArthur

"There is no substitute for victory."

"The best and the worst things you hear about him are both true."
Sir Thomas Blamey, summing up the character of General MacArthur.

Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) was an American general during the time of the Second World War and the Korean War. He was one of only five to receive the rank General of the Army in the U.S. Army. He is a highly polarizing man in American history - you either think he was a great war hero and commander, or a dangerous and egotistical madman. As the youngest major general by 1925, MacArthur became the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. Infamously, MacArthur was sent by Herbert Hoover to peacefully remove jobless World War One veterans marching on Washington - instead, MacArthur used tanks and injured hundreds. He was the lone field marshal of the Philippine Army, of which he supervised and spearheaded its foundation and development.

A Medal of Honor recipient, MacArthur played a prominent role in (among others) the Pacific War, the Philippines campaign, and the New Guinea campaign, elevating to the role of Supreme Allied Commander for the Allied Forces. As the de facto military governor of Japan, he effectively restructured Japanese society in the aftermath of the occupation, thereby garnering the nickname of Gaijin Shogun, a.k.a the Foreign Generalissimo.

If you could describe him with one word, it would be "imperious". He was very much his own man, caring little - if at all - about any established power outside of his own, whether it was other nations or that of his superiors. He disobeyed or ignored orders entirely, even getting into verbal clashes with Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. He promoted soldiers based on their loyalty towards himself, and his influence extended through the Army and somewhat into the Air Force (but never in the Navy). He was eventually relieved of command by Truman, largely because he wanted to use nuclear weapons during the Korean War. On China at the height of the Cold War. His public criticism of Truman's policies didn't help his case.

Tropes That Apply to MacArthur:

  • Badass: Say what you will about the man, this is certainly true.
  • Bad Boss: Towards the Navy.
    • And the Australians – despite the fact that the Australians had a year's combat experience over the Americans, knew the terrain better, and were literally on their home ground, none were allowed on his staff. In fairness though, that was because they (The Australians) had spent the entire war up to that point fighting Nazis in Africa, and were inexperienced in fighting on the Pacific Campaign.
    • And anyone he thought was underperforming, even if they weren't. MacArthur rarely approached the front lines, which meant he had no conception of the horrific New Guinea terrain, which meant he thought his men were slackers when they were literally hung up on mountains and bunkers. On at least two occasions, commanders were sacked right at the point where they were about to succeed, and their replacements got all the credit.
    • Apparently, to Dwight Eisenhower, who had the following to say about his experience working as MacArthur's Beleaguered Assistant:
      "I studied dramatics under him for seven years."
  • Benevolent Boss: Towards everyone else.
  • Big Ego, Hidden Depths: A shameless self promoter, highly egotistical and at his very worst a Smug Snake of titanic proportions, MacArthur however was one of the most competent military commanders in WW2, winning against the Japanese with less resources than his European counterparts were provided with against the Germans, was Dangerously Genre Savvy as the war went on, had an encyclopedic knowledge of Asia and did surprisingly well running an occupied Japan, helping draft the current Japanese constitution.
  • Blood Knight:
    • MacArthur was so insistent on winning the Korean War that he wanted to keep fighting until victory was assured. He even considered using nuclear bombs to eliminate China's numerical superiority. The nuclear option was averted for the sake of preventing World War 3.
    • Before that, during WWII, he was a vocal supporter of a ground-force invasion of Japan's Home Islands – the very thing the atomic bomb attacks were intended to avert – because he felt Japan had it coming for their brutal treatment of the Philippines. Newly-sworn-in-President Truman's decision to reject MacArthur's idea and drop the bomb no doubt helped cause the rift that shattered completely once Korea happened a few years later.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Embodied the trope. Had many obnoxious quirks and his planet-sized ego nearly brought him to disaster several times over. But when push came to shove, MacArthur was damn near unstoppable on the battlefield and did a pretty decent job running post-war Japan.
  • Cool Shades: Trope codifier. His trademark aviators helped popularize the style and sunglasses in general.
  • The Chessmaster: On a good day. Take the Incheon landings for instance, an audacious move which, by the time it was over, had trapped a sizable portion of the Korean People's Army and forced the Korean Communist leadership to run for China.
  • Cultured Badass: Arguably Wicked Cultured. At his desk, he would wear a Japanese ceremonial kimono, cool himself with an oriental fan and smoke cigarettes in a jewelled cigarette holder. In the evenings, he liked to read military history books.
  • Destructive Savior: He had to break his ban on heavy artillery and air support when faced with a much tougher Japanese resistance. It succeeded, at the cost of flattening most of Manila and its historical landmarks with tons of bombs and shells.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Bonus Army was an assemblage of several World War I veterans, their families, and sympathizers, who gathered in Washington D.C. in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand early cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. Herbert Hoover ordered MacArthur to disperse the Bonus Army, to which he complied by sending in tanks to break it up. Yeeesh.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Corn cob pipe, specifically.
  • Easily Forgiven: Inverted. When Emperor Hirohito wished to issue a personal apology to MacArthur over the Pacific War, MacArthur refused to even acknowledge him. Owch.
  • A Father to His Men: Roosevelt's "Executive Order to evacuate MacArthur to Australia" caused the General much heartache and shame since he really didn't want to abandon his men to their fate, despite the fact that the Philippines was effectively lost to Japan.
  • General Ripper: Whooo boy. His solution to winning the Korean War?
    "We could solve the Chinese problem with 40 or 50 atomic bombs."
    • It got to a point where MacArthur tried to use nuclear weapons without the president's permission to continue the assault on China, via the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it didn't work For Want of a Nail (10 B-29 bombers had been sent to Guam by 1950 with nukes, still lacking the "pit" needed to initiate, and 9 nukes of type Mk 4 had been transferred to the Army by April 6, 1951).
  • Genre Savvy: At his best. For starters, he figured that Nazi Germany was no match for the Soviet Union (which it wasn't); and unlike most at the time, he argued that China and North Korea were no mere Soviet puppets (well, China sure wasn't).
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Filipinos will always think of MacArthur as the man who liberated them from Japanese control, and the man who in effect modernized their military.
    • There are people in South Korea who worship the man. As in, literally. They built shrines and all that stuff. Inchon, produced by the Reverend Moon, is evidence of this.
  • Happily Married: Horribly subverted with his first wife. But played straight with his second.
  • Insult Backfire: In a strange way, the meeting between General MacArthur and President Truman. Truman got off the plane and met a man dressed in dirty clothes and a greasy cap. He was thoroughly insulted and, whereas MacArthur (treated as an emperor in Japan) intended to show the President's superiority, Truman was so offended that MacArthur was fired (it didn't help that the war wasn't going well at that time and MacArthur was seriously planning dropping nuclear bombs on Red China).
  • Interservice Rivalry: He was rather vicious towards the Navy, particularly in his deliberate dropping of Marines deep into enemy lines without support.
  • I Shall Return: Trope Namer. Not a Beam Me Up, Scotty!, by the way.
  • It's All About Me: To an extent. MacArthur insisted on being the first recipient of the Purple Heart, and when he did get it, he had it engraved with "#1".
    • He also promoted himself aggressively to get a Medal of Honor, even going so far as to recommend himself for one after a mission. Quite a few people feel that his Medal of Honor should never have been awarded for "Defense of the Philippines" because the Philippines fell to Japan, and because Dugout Doug did not personally see or engage in combat during the battle, instead being evacuated as soon as possible. Quite a few people felt that he should not have been decorated at all after the fall of the Philippines, and would have preferred to see him court-martialed for incompetence. Eisenhower himself blocked efforts to be awarded his own Medal of Honor at the end of the war, precisely because he had not been in combat, and he regarded the Medal as something to be awarded only for actions under fire. Dougie knew he was stepping onto very thin ice regarding the Medal, and at the award ceremony he made a comment about only accepting it in recognition for the valiant efforts of the men under his command. In short, Doug knew he didn't deserve the Medal, but accepted it anyway. He's on record as stating, early in his career, that he was willing to sell his soul for the Medal of Honor. Strong opinions about this on both sides of the issue...
  • Japanese Ranguage: The ever-immortal "We pray for MacArthur's erection" sign.
  • Karma Houdini: Inverted. In exchange for acquisition of the information gained in the studies of the biological warfare, MacArthur granted immunity to Shiro Ishii's Unit 731; who conducted lethal human experimentation during the Sino-Japanese War. None of those guys were ever tried for war crimes, largely due to MacArthur.
    • Similarly, before the Tokyo tribunal, he exonerated Emperor Hirihito, Prince Chichibu, Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda, Prince Asaka, Prince Higashikuni and Prince Hiroyasu Fushimi from criminal prosecutions.
      • Exonerating the Imperial family was one area in which MacArthur knew what he was doing: it ensured an easier occupation and in reality the Emperor had little to do with the actual prosecution of the war. The true architect of Japan's wartime policy, Prime Minister Hideki Toji was prosecuted and hanged.
    • Arguably played straight regarding his dismissal by President Truman. He returned to a hero's welcome by the public and the media, with multiple parades held in his honor, whereas Truman suffered a massive popularity hit. This for a guy who was almost certainly guilty of insubordination for his actions in Korea and openly demanded to nuke China. No one ever questioned him until years after his death.
  • Kicked Upstairs: He was sent to govern the Philippines so Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't have to deal with him anymore. Predictably, MacArthur took advantage in every possible way.
  • Large Ham: Hoo boy, yes. When Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked if he knew MacArthur, Eisenhower – who had been MacArthur's chief military aide 1932-1939 – said, "I ought to. I studied dramatics under him for seven years!"
    • It's not for nothing that he is the Trope Namer for I Shall Return. Naturally, when he did return to the Philippine islands several years later, he announced his return similarly.note 
  • Long Runner: His Army career lasted from 1903 until he was relieved of command in 1951.note  When Pearl Harbor and the Philippine Islands were attacked in December of 1941, he was 61 years old.
  • May-December Romance: Once had a mistress that was 34 years younger than him. More precisely, he was 50 at that time, while she was 16.
  • Military Brat: Born in a barracks in Little Rock, Arkansas, he spent his youth in various military schools, moving whenever his father got posted somewhere else.
  • Military Maverick: So much that he was fired over it.
  • Momma's Boy: Supposedly.
  • Moral Myopia: Placing the lives of his men and the civilians under his protection over those of others went so far as to attempting to cause World War III just to win a limited war. Which would've likely caused more of his men to die anyway. Jesus Christ, MacArthur.
  • The Neidermeyer: He has his own entry.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: He sent tanks after the Bonus Army (explained elsewhere), wanted to stage a scorched-earth ground invasion of Japan (failed), wanted to use dozens of nukes on Red China to eliminate their numerical advantage (also failed), and was forced to turn half of Manila into a parking lot with artillery and airstrikes because the Japanese defenders were so stubborn.
  • Nuke 'em: His way to win the Korean War. It was one of the reasons Truman chose to fire him.
  • Old Soldier: Provides the page quote.
  • Oral Fixation: His signature corncob pipe.
  • The Patriarch: Prided himself in being a father, but was overbearing and adulterous enough for us to mark him as a subversion or deconstruction.
  • Person as Verb: Lyndon Johnson once said "I hope you don't pull a MacArthur on me" to General William Westmoreland.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: When he was a Brigadier General in 1922, his superior John Pershing sent him to the Philippines for becoming involved in a woman that Pershing himself had been pursuing. At least, that was the rumor of the time. Conversely, it was also rumored to be either a reward or a punishment for his attempts to reform West Point during his two years as superintendent.
    • MacArthur felt this of his command of the South Pacific Theater, because he felt he should have been put in charge of the entire war effort. General Marshall knew better.
  • Smug Snake: At his worst. Despite being one of the most competent Generals the US military ever produced, MacArthur was hit by two severe cases of this of this, the first during WW2 when the Japanese destroyed the American Air force on the Philippines and an even worse case during the Korean war when the Chinese crossed the Yalu and began decimating his forces.
  • Taking You with Me: Truman's removal of MacArthur caused the former's popularity to plummet and contributed to his decision to not seek re-election. To this day, Truman still has one of the lowest approval ratings ever recorded for a President in office.note 
  • Took a Level in Kindness: If his "Duty, Honor, Country" speech is anything to go by, he mellowed considerably in the end.
  • The Siege: After the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, MacArthur moved his headquarters to the island fortress of Corregidor, in Manilla Bay, while the bulk of his forces retreated to the Bataan Peninsula to make their stand against the Japanese. Over the next few months, he was forced to move his headquarters into the tunnels beneath the island due to enemy air attack, earning him the not-favorable nickname amongst his troops of "Dugout Doug". Under orders from President Roosevelt, MacArthur and his staff evacuated from Corregidor and departed to Australia. The American forces on Bataan surrendered in April, and the remaining forces on Corregidor surrendered in May.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: He could barely stand being in the same room as Hirohito, culminating in how he refused to acknowledge Hirohito's apology for Pearl Harbor.
  • Third-Person Person: Around late 1930, he began to refer to himself exclusively by his last name, even conversationally. Not "I", not "me", not "my", not even a Royal "We". Simply, "MacArthur".
  • Thoughtcrime: As the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), he had strict control over the Japanese media, banning 31 topics from all forms of media, including criticism of Allied policy, the atomic bombings, all Allied countries, any form of imperial propaganda, criticism of the SCAP and Black Market activities.
    • Of course, this was standard procedure during any and all occupations.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Tell us, Doug. What made you think it would be a good idea to nuke China at the height of the Cold War?
    • Not to mention making THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES wait for when you decide to talk with him – i.e. your boss and the one man who can remove you from power with just a signature.
    • Truman himself, never a man to mince words, summed it up most succinctly: "I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son-of-a-bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for Generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be behind bars."
    • Arguments could be made that he really was either Too Dumb To Live, or suffering from Sanity Slippage. As the Korean War progressed, the fact that his ideas and plans were being questioned and that Truman was holding him accountable and expecting him to follow orders was a shock to someone who'd been used to unquestioning obedience for as long as he could remember. This probably contributed to his very erratic behavior before he was relieved. Speaking out publicly on policy matters, refusing to meet with the President when ordered to do and insulting Truman when they finally met, as well as encouraging the broadening of the war and seeking to use nuclear weapons, could all be considered the acts of someone who was no longer capable of weighing the consequences. As General Bradley wrote, these combined pressures "most likely snapped his brilliant but brittle mind."
  • Undying Loyalty: His soldiers, whom were promoted/demoted purely based on their loyalty towards him. "MacArthur Men", they were called.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Back in 1951, people were extraordinarily unhappy about Truman relieving MacArthur, in spite of many questionable decisions made by the General beforehand – in fact, upon his return to America, he was treated as a hero and multiple ticker-tape parades were held in his honor (contrast to Truman, whose already-shaky approval rating utterly collapsed as a result).
    • Part of this was that, by and large, the public was not (fully) aware of the depths to which MacArthur sank in the period before he was fired. A few years after his death – which happened to coincide with the public turning against The Vietnam War – the adoration for him started to dwindle and people began to realize just how dangerous he could have been.
    • It goes a bit further than that. The media adored MacArthur, who perpetuated his perceived image of being a war hero. It allowed for the public to take his side versus Truman, and it at least partially helped in sowing seeds of loyalty towards sections of the military. Interestingly, the man himself was only quaintly aware of his good publicity, so it all played into his hands without him even knowing.
  • War Is Hell: He professed his belief in this, but in his own words: "Once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end."

Douglas MacArthur in popular culture
  • On Smallville, Lex Luthor's father Lionel makes a bid to retake the family company from Lex, with the backing of a consortium of Asian financiers. Lex finds Lionel just chilling in the executive suite, toying with a silvery revolver. Lex snarkily asks if Lionel's back to kill him, to which Lionel replies "Oh no, Lex...I'd never fire this! This is a piece of history. You know, General MacArthur wore this when he returned to the Phillipines. What was it he'd said? I shall return."
  • From A to Z-Z-Z-Z: Ralph imagines himself to be MacArthur and leaves the classroom, paraphrasing the general's famous line: "I shall return."
  • Portrayed by Gregory Peck in Macarthur and Laurence Olivier in Inchon. Neither film is very well-regarded.
  • William Sunday in Men of Honor claims he won one of MacArthur's own corncob pipes when he bet him he could hold his breath for five minutes to escape a sinking aircraft carrier.