Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …
In Its Own Time
It has been years since I read William Manchester – every word ever published by him. Since his time, anyone alive then would have, should have, been able to hear his voice. The “would” and the “should” are predicated on an absent culture of “must,” which up until the present time is not inculcated into the education of mankind.
Manchester is one of the first to get and to hold my attention. I’ve long admired his narrative gift, applied as it always is, to tying up the loose threads of history through its historic figures. His research is irrefutable. He cuts his subjects a lot of slack, but there is a slap in it – they are revealed – unsparingly.
An American Caesar, is required reading. Mr. Manchester gives Douglas MacArthur a full profile, citing his strategic grasp of uncertain circumstance in wartime, his fearlessness, and too, the negative effect on fellow commanders caused by his outsized ego. Without the brilliance of the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff, George Marshall, compromised, yet well served at one and the same time by MacArthur – Manchester’s MacArthur – who knows how the Pacific Theater of World War II could have been successfully prosecuted?
MacArthur was never one to put country and fellow officers first. Indeed, his contribution to the Korean debacle that continues to this day is significant and largely overlooked. A news item in the NY Times of August 11, 2011 carries the story of the two Koreas shelling each other – still. Remember that the U.S. as the victor in WWII forbade Japan to rearm, and assumed responsibility for its defense. When you see a map of the Japan Sea relative to its region, you see immediately that it is less than 100 miles from North Korea, which now has nuclear capability along with missile delivery capability. Frightening! Certainly the people of Japan know the vulnerability, even if other nations play it down. And too, public opinion in Japan is divided. The large military presence of the U.S. at bases in Japan remains controversial.
You may begin to understand how this state of affairs developed by reading An America Caesar. MacArthur had a life-long habit of defying civilian authority. His outsized ego and over-weaning ambition were never satiated. A significant event that amply demonstrates the harm he brought to the nation’s standing is clear in Manchester’s account of the assignment given him, as the Army’s Chief of Staff, by president Hoover in the Spring of 1932 to remove an encampment of some 25,000 WWI veterans who had installed a tent city in the swampy South East area of Washington, D.C., within sight of the Capitol to petition the government for assistance.
“They called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force, or BEF. A Veterans Administration survey would later show that 94 percent of the bonus marchers had army or navy records, 67 percent had served overseas, and 20 percent had been disabled. MacArthur refused to believe it. He thought 90 percent of them were fakes. And he never changed his mind. Long afterward Major General Courtney Whitney, his most noisome advocate, reflected the General’s view when he wrote that BEF ranks were swollen with “a heavy percentage of criminals, men with prison records for such crimes as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, burglary, blackmail, and assault.” Whitney charged: “A secret document which was captured later disclosed that the Communist plan covered even such details as the public trial and hanging in front of the Capitol of high government officials. At the very top of the list was the name of Army Chief of Staff MacArthur.
“There was no secret document; there were only hungry Americans….When (Hoover’s Secretary of War, Patrick J.) Hurley told MacArthur that the President wanted the BEF evicted, he proceeded with enthusiasm. What was really needed was tact. That morning police scuffling with an encampment of vets at the foot of Capitol Hill had shot two of them….MacArthur said: ‘There is incipient revolution in the air. We’re going to break the back of the BEF.’ …The main BEF encampment lay on the other side of the Anacostia River. Hoover was not the shrewdest of office-holders, but he knew an armed attack on the other side of the shacks and tents the bonus marchers had erected there would not look well in the newspapers. Therefore he sent duplicate orders, via two officers, forbidding troops to cross the Eleventh Street Bridge. MacArthur scorned them. The Chief of Staff declared emphatically that he was “too busy” and did not want himself or his staff ‘bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders.’ Then he led his men across, and the tents, shacks, lean-tos, and packing crates which had sheltered the bonus marchers and their families were put to the torch. Two babies were dead of tear gas and a seven-year-old boy trying to rescue his pet rabbit had been bayoneted through the leg. But before Hoover could react [to MacArthur’s flagrant insubordination] MacArthur outmaneuvered him. Law-and-order Republicans, he knew, would approve his show of strength. Therefore he called a midnight press conference, disclaimed responsibility, and praised Hoover for shouldering it.”
Hoover let him get away with it instead of firing him on the spot. It would not be MacArthur’s last such act of gross insubordination.
In 1950, as China’s Chow En-lai, Mao’s foreign minister, frantically and futilely sought affirmation of U.S policy through an Indian emissary while watching a massive buildup of “U.N.” forces along China’s border with North Korea, MacArthur took it upon himself to pronounce to the press corps that he’d chase those “North Korean Communist bastards” off the peninsula and all the way back into their sanctuaries. This insubordination, finally, resulted in his being fired by President Harry S Truman. But not before those quilted Chinese masses pushed the U.S. forces to the brink of extinction, with the resulting damage seen to this day on that unfortunate place, and to our everlasting shame. Manchester’s account makes it plain – we got off light. Finally, after a career of pronouncements to the press on matters of national policy, MacArthur was brought down by his hubris. The ultimate cost to the world of his being allowed to get away with it for so long is huge and terrible.