Study Guide

Douglas MacArthur in Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation

By President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Douglas MacArthur

Born Soldier

Bruce Springsteen was born to run. Lana Del Rey was born to die. Douglas MacArthur? He was born to be a soldier.

And not just any run-of-the-mill solider either, but a super highly-decorated and famous one.

By the time his military career ended in 1951, he'd earned literally several dozen military awards and accolades, including thirty-five awards from foreign governments, and had even been part of the first father-son Medal of Honor recipient team.

He was a five-star general who fought in both World Wars and Korea, occupied and governed Japan after its 1945 surrender, and even served as President of the American Olympic Committee in 1927-28. He graduated from West Point with the third best grades ever recorded, and he is still the most decorated serviceman in American military history.

Basically, Douglas MacArthur was the Chuck Norris of the United States Army.

Wait, or is Chuck Norris the Douglas MacArthur of killer action flicks?

Either way, there are three super-important things everyone ought to know about Dugout Doug.

Dashing Dandy

First, General Douglas MacArthur's career followed in the footsteps of dear old Dad, a distinguished Army general who fought in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, and the Philippine-American war, and served as an advisor during the Russo-Japanese War.

Some of us inherit crooked teeth or detached earlobes from our 'rents; MacArthur inherited military prowess.

Go figure.

Second, MacArthur's career field may have said "GI," but his fashion savviness totally said "G."

While Army uniforms don't typically leave a lot of room for pieces of flair, MacArthur did what he could to be the dapperest dude in the armed forces.

His trademark: aviators and a corn cob pipe.

Yeah…he was that cool.

He was also a big fan of mock turtlenecks and ultra-chic hats, and this hankering for high fashion earned him several nicknames: the Beau Brummel of the Army, the Disraeli of the Chiefs of Staff, and D'Artagnan of the AEF are among the most popular.

And third, and possibly most germane to our discussion today, is that General MacArthur was the Army's #1 go-to guy concerning Japan and the Pacific War.

Okay, yeah, that's definitely the most germane part. So let's get to it.

MacArthur's Pacific Coast Party

About six months before Pearl Harbor was attacked, MacArthur, who'd retired from the Army in 1937 and was currently serving as the Military Advisor to the Commonwealth of the Philippines, was recalled to active duty when FDR federalized the Philippine Army. Since Douglas was already marinating in Manila and was tight with Philippine President Manuel Quezon, FDR said, "This guy knows what's up over there," and officially made him commander of the USAFFE.

That's United States Army Forces in the Far East, BTW, and lest we've forgotten, the Philippines were actually an American commonwealth at that time.

But back to our story.

So there MacArthur was, chillin' like a villain with his buddy Manuel, when he got a concerning heads-up from Army Chief of Staff Richard K. Sutherland: Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese.

Then, just a few hours later, the Philippines were also attacked.

It didn't go well.

Unless you were the Japanese. If you were the Japanese, it went marvelously.

This battle, called the Battle of the Philippines (1941-42 edition), is one of the worst military defeats in American history. It may have started right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but it didn't end until May of 1942. In the meantime, Clark and Iba Airfields got some serious hurt put on them, 23,000 Americans were killed or captured, 100,000 Filipinos were killed or captured, and three-and-a-half years of some seriously heinous and horrible war crimes perpetrated by the Japanese commenced.

So where was our general while all this was going down?

He was in the thick of it, of course. That is, until he was ordered by President Roosevelt to get the heck out of Dodge and make his way to Australia in February of 1942.

This Time It's Personal

MacArthur was awarded a Medal of Honor for his participation in the battle, and when he reached Australia, he famously pledged to return to the Philippines and set this whole Japanese invasion mess right.

And he did return in 1944, after getting his battle on during the New Guinea Campaign for a while.

Now it was time for an encore performance of the Battle of the Philippines (1944-45 version). This time it was Japan's slushee that got sloshed, and in 1945, victory by the Allies was had and the Philippines were free from Japanese occupation.

This coincided nicely with the timing of Japan's post-A-bomb surrender.

Speaking of Japan's surrender, after the Philippines were all squared away and Emperor Hirohito had already announced that Japan would be bowing out of the war, now-POTUS Truman sent MacArthur his next mission.

His task, should he choose to accept it, was to go to Japan and…well…pretty much run the place for a while.

He accepted.

Supreme Commander

And on August 29, 1945, the Big Chief headed to Japan and hung out his shingle on the Dai Ichi Life Insurance Building in Tokyo.

Wait, he became an insurance agent?

No. He became the overseer of the American occupation of Japan, and his official title became Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.

Big, intimidating title? You betcha. It's called SCAP for short, and it basically gave General MacArthur and his entourage complete control over the goings-on in Japan.

First and foremost, MacArthur and his Navy counterpart, Admiral Chester Nimitz, oversaw the signing of the Potsdam Declaration and the official official surrender of Japan. It was a big to-do, with 250 Allied warships plunked down in Tokyo Bay. Flags were flying and cameras were flashing on the USS Missouri when Nimitz, Japan's Foreign Minister, and an Imperial Army general signed the paperwork as a stalwart MacArthur served as emcee.

But the fun didn't stop there.

Per the Potsdam Declaration, which delineated the terms of Japan's surrender, MacArthur and friends would not only be setting up shop in Tokyo; they'd be liberalizing the country, democratizing the government, neutralizing the military, and capitalism-izing the economy.

It took six years, a boatload of cash, and a formalized peace treaty to get it done.

It was a big job, but someone had to do it, and that someone was Douglas "Fighting Dude" MacArthur.

Post-Pacific Life

After all the hullabaloo in Japan and all around the Pacific, one might've thought MacArthur would head back to the States and commit himself to a life of chillaxing. Maybe take up gardening or macramé or something. Swing dancing, perhaps.

But he didn't.

Instead, he jumped right into an energetic little skirmish with some communists that would come to be known as the Korean War.

And, despite his vast experience and snazzy attire, this war would mark the beginning of the end of the General's military career.

There were a few things going on here: first, the advent of nuclear weapons had changed the game a little bit, and the suits in D.C. felt like maybe MacArthur didn't have the training and education needed to play under the new rules.

Second, and more importantly, Harry Truman was now in the White House, and he and ol' Douglas did not see eye to eye.

After some very public comments about Korea and about Truman himself, MacArthur was eventually removed from his position and retired from the Army in April of 1951.

At that time, the guy had served in the military for over fifty years. Talk about job commitment.

After that, there were a few "MacArthur for President" murmurs, but he never campaigned and nothing ever really came of it. He got a cushy office job and he and his wife moved into a penthouse at the Waldorf-Astoria.

After a little medical scare in 1960, he embarked on what we like to call his bucket list tour: he went and hung out with President Eisenhower for a while, he advised President Kennedy on some international issues here and there, he went to the Philippines and was given all kinds of honors and medals and stuff, and he sold the rights to his memoirs for a hefty chunk of change.

Typical retiree stuff.

But in 1964, his cirrhosis-stricken liver finally called it quits. He was given a super-sweet state funeral that over 150,000 people attended.

Today, not only is he remembered as a military hero of epic proportions, but he's also got his own memorial, he's been portrayed by A-list actors like Gregory Peck, and he's got high schools all over the country named after him.

And really, at the end of the day, what says "legacy" more than having your name on a high school?

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