The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur

BOOK: The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur
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More Advance Praise for
The Most Dangerous Man in America

“Second only to his monumental self-regard was Douglas MacArthur’s ability to polarize those who encountered him. Thus Mark Perry’s achievement in this even-handed and insightful assessment is all the more remarkable. Concentrating on the events of World War II, he reveals in telling detail the strengths and weaknesses of this most controversial military figure.”

—Lewis Sorley, author of
A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam

“A balanced and wide-ranging portrait of one of the United States’ most brilliant and controversial military leaders, reminding us that MacArthur had great strengths as well as weaknesses.”

—David Kaiser, author of
The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

The Making of Douglas MacArthur



Copyright © 2014 by Mark Perry


Published by Basic Books,

A Member of the Perseus Books Group


All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Basic Books, 250 West 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10107.


Books published by Basic Books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the United States by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 2300 Chestnut Street, Suite 200, Philadelphia, PA 19103, or call (800) 810-4145, ext. 5000, or e-mail [email protected]


A CIP catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

ISBN (hardcover): 978-0-465-01328-9

ISBN (ebook): 978-0-465-08067-0


10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

In memory of General Bruce Palmer Jr. (1913–2000)

United States Military Academy, 1936

Luzon, Republic of the Philippines, 1944

II Field Force, Republic of Vietnam, 1967

Acting Chief of Staff of the United States Army, 1972

Some might consider him as too fond of fame; for the desire for glory clings even to the best men longer than any other passion.

—Gaius Cornelius Tacitus


Prologue: Albany

Chapter 1
The White House

Chapter 2
Fort Myer

Chapter 3

Chapter 4
Clark Field

Chapter 5
Lingayen Gulf

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8
Alice Springs

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15
Tokyo Bay

New York


A Note on Sources


Prologue: Albany
We must tame these fellows, and make them useful to us.
—Franklin D. Roosevelt

On the afternoon of July 29, 1932—just weeks after winning the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency—New York governor Franklin Roosevelt was having lunch at the Governor’s Mansion in Albany. Seated around the table were his wife Eleanor, his trusted secretaries Missy Lehand and Grace Tully, and Grace’s sister Paula. Joining this group was Rexford Tugwell, the brilliant Columbia University agricultural economist who had become an important Roosevelt advisor. “We had finished with lunch and Roosevelt was moving into his wheelchair—he had appointments—when the steward came in and whispered in his ear,” Tugwell recalled. Roosevelt listened closely to the steward and nodded his head. A slight smile crept over his face: Louisiana senator Huey Long, who had kept the South in Roosevelt’s column during the Democratic convention, was on the telephone. Roosevelt turned to his guests. “You should listen to this,” he said. The steward produced the telephone and Roosevelt picked up the mouthpiece. “Hello, Huey, how are you?”

Roosevelt’s question was followed by an outburst from Long, who accused Roosevelt of listening to the “bigwigs”—like financiers Owen
Young (“that stuffed shirt”) and Bernard Baruch. “God damn it, Frank,” Long said, “who’d you think got you nominated?” Long was breathless.

Roosevelt peered over his glasses at his guests, then turned back to his conversation. “Well,” Roosevelt said, “you had a lot to do with it, Huey.”

Long exploded. “You sure are forgettin’ about it as fast as you can. We won’t even carry these states down here if you don’t stop listenin’ to those people. You got to turn me loose.”

“Everybody appreciates all you’ve done,” Roosevelt said, “it’s just not time to start yet. It’s better to wait until the election is nearer and people can remember what’s been said.” There was a momentary silence. “We need to plan,” Roosevelt added.

Long erupted. “
Hell with plans
,” he said. “Don’t
any plans. I’ll carry the country for you, but I can’t do it without

Roosevelt, unfazed, poked back. “You never needed money before; why do you need it now?”

This was too much for Long. “Damn it, you musta been born yesterday. I know where to get money when I’m running for myself. But this ain’t the same. I’m running’ for you, don’t you know that? . . . Let me come up there. People are goin’ to feel a lot better if they see me comin’ out of that big house than those crooks that got us into this mess in the first place.”

Roosevelt waited for Long to compose himself. When the Louisiana politician spoke again, there was a sudden sadness in his voice. “Did you see what Hoover did to those Bonus boys, Frank?” he asked.

Roosevelt had. On the table next to his chair, a copy of the morning’s
New York Times
screamed out its three-column headline: “Troops Drive Veterans from Capital.” The story detailed a day of chaos in Washington, where troops commanded by Douglas MacArthur had evicted thousands of World War One veterans from their makeshift encampment across the Anacostia River from the U.S. Capitol.

The Bonus Army had congregated in Washington early in the summer seeking the early payment of their bonus from the Great War, protesting peacefully while lobbying Congress. But President Herbert Hoover ordered MacArthur to turn them out of their encampment. What was supposed to be a peaceful eviction turned into an ugly and
bloody incident. A newborn infant had died, asphyxiated by tear gas. “Flames rose high over the desolate Anacostia flats at midnight tonight,” the
story began, “and a pitiful stream of refugee veterans of the World War walked out of their home of the last two months, going they knew not where.”

Roosevelt eyed the headline, thinking of Hoover. “Yes, things like that are going to hurt him,” he said. “Don’t you think so?”

Long grunted. “Damn right,” he said. “But we got to treat ’em different. There’s a lot of that kind around, and they’ve got friends. Somethin’s got to be done for ’em.” Long then turned his focus back to the campaign. “You ask me up there, Frank. I’ll give you some schemes that’ll bring in

Roosevelt thanked Long for calling and reassured him that his views were being heard. When he hung up, he let out a long breath. Turning to his guests, he explained his views on Long—and how the senator could be placated. Roosevelt would invite Long to the White House, he said, and include him in important meetings. “He needs to be patted on the back,” he explained. A low chuckle greeted this comment. Roosevelt was surprised. “It’s all very well for us to laugh over Huey,” he said, “but we have to remember all the time that he’s really one of the two most dangerous men in the country.”

Tugwell was puzzled by this and later, as the lunch broke up, turned to Roosevelt. “You said Huey was the second most dangerous person, didn’t you?” he asked. “Did I hear it the way you said it?”

Roosevelt nodded. “You heard right,” he said. “Huey is only
. The first is Douglas MacArthur.”


ugwell was shocked by Roosevelt’s comment. Was Douglas MacArthur, an admired war hero, really the most dangerous man in the country? The grandson of a Milwaukee judge (a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln) and the son of Arthur MacArthur—who had received the Medal of Honor for leading his Wisconsin regiment up the face of Missionary Ridge during the Civil War—Douglas MacArthur had followed in his father’s footsteps. At West Point he earned the highest grades of any cadet since Robert E. Lee, served honorably in an early assignment in the Philippines, and then led the famed
42nd Division into the German lines at Côte de Chatillon during the Great War. His battlefield courage resulted in seven Silver Stars. The end of the war brought even greater recognition: In 1919 he was named superintendent of West Point, in 1922 he was appointed commander of the Military District of Manila, and in 1925 he was promoted to major general—the youngest man, at forty-three, to hold that rank. In 1927, MacArthur’s tenure as head of the U.S. Olympic Committee resulted in the U.S. team’s winning twenty-four gold medals at the Summer Games in Amsterdam. Named in 1929 the commander of the Philippine Department, he served in that post only briefly before being named army chief of staff by President Hoover. At fifty, MacArthur was the youngest officer in American history to hold that post.

But while MacArthur was widely admired, there was a side to him that threw a shadow over his career—and his character. Like his father, who clashed repeatedly with civilian leaders when he commanded troops during the Philippine insurgency in the early 1900s, Douglas flouted authority. During the Great War, he earned the enmity of General John Pershing’s staff for affecting a number of rakish eccentricities: He wore his command cap jauntily to one side, went into battle armed only with a cane, and wrapped himself in a flowing silk scarf. When Pershing sent a team to assess MacArthur’s leadership skills, MacArthur angrily labeled them “the Chaumont crowd” and railed at their inability to recognize his greatness. As superintendent of West Point, he instituted a series of badly needed reforms that included a wider breadth of courses in the liberal arts, but then ran roughshod over critics who thought he was going too far. They were, in his words, acolytes of “the Pershing clique” who spent their time plotting against him. Proud and egotistical, he was his own worst enemy.

In 1921, MacArthur was the subject of society-page gossip when he married Louise Cromwell Brooks, a rich socialite who had been photographed on the arm of Pershing. When MacArthur was then transferred to the Philippines, rumors circulated that Pershing had arranged his departure as an act of revenge—allegations that Pershing labeled “all damn poppycock.” In 1925, MacArthur was appointed a member of the military panel sitting in judgment of General Billy Mitchell, the World War One fighter ace accused of insubordination for criticizing military
leaders who rejected his claim that air power would transform the face of war. MacArthur, Mitchell’s boyhood friend, described his appointment as “one of the most distasteful orders I ever received.” But when the ace was convicted, Mitchell’s supporters believed that MacArthur had betrayed him. In 1929, when MacArthur received orders sending him again to the Philippines, Louise asked for a divorce, hinting to society writers that MacArthur’s prowess in the bedroom never matched what he could do on the battlefield. But Louise also blamed MacArthur’s mother, “Pinky,” for the breakup: “It was an interfering mother-in-law who eventually succeeded in disrupting our married life.” In that, at least, Louise was probably right.

Mary “Pinky” MacArthur was her son’s leading advocate—and a suffocating presence. When he was admitted to West Point, she took a room at Carney’s Hotel overlooking the academy, staying up nights to make sure his light was on, to indicate that he was studying. During the Great War, she bombarded Pershing with letters promoting Douglas, referring to him as “our Boy” while studding her missives with unctuous references to Pershing’s qualities. Pinky’s devotion to Douglas increased after the sudden death of MacArthur’s older brother Arthur, a Naval Academy graduate, in 1923. She was scandalized by his marriage to Louise, worked to derail it, and clucked that the attraction was “purely physical.” But while that assessment rings true, MacArthur’s marriage brought him into close contact with some of the nation’s richest and most powerful businessmen, including Louise’s stepfather, Edward “Ned” Stotesbury, an aging Philadelphia investment banker and stalwart Republican. Louise’s lost ardor for MacArthur had no effect on Stotesbury, who squired MacArthur through a merry-go-round of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington meetings. Since Stotesbury was one of the largest contributors to the Republican Party, the introductions included handshakes with GOP stalwarts and kingmakers.

These conservative elites liked what they saw. Stotesbury’s son-in-law was austere and articulate, a war hero who shared their deep mistrust of government, progressives, and Anglophiles. These men had made their fortunes in banking, steel, and railroads; extolled the virtues of the self-made man; viewed liberals as “Jacobins” (which is how Stotesbury described Franklin Roosevelt); and spent lavishly to protect their interests.
MacArthur shared their outlook, which is why they began to consider him a possible candidate for higher office. This opinion was especially reinforced after Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, when the stock market crashed. The savvy Stotesbury survived the crisis, but he realized that corporate America would soon be besieged by a government bent on reworking the economic order. Increasingly, influential Republicans counted MacArthur as an ally who could serve as a bulwark against this tendency. MacArthur played to these sentiments, particularly after Herbert Hoover named him army chief of staff. Freed suddenly from the constraints of following someone else’s orders, MacArthur entered the public arena, writing articles defending “a red-blooded and virile humanity” while decrying “pacifism and its bedfellow, Communism.” In June 1932, while giving the commencement address at the University of Pittsburgh, he described the critics of the government’s response to the economic crisis as “organizing the forces of unrest and undermining the morals of the working man.”

The speech was a mistake. It was not “pacifism and its bedfellow, Communism,” that were threatening the working man, but unemployment. For a nation mired in the Great Depression, with bread lines stretching for blocks, MacArthur’s views were out of touch and insensitive—and he paid a heavy political price for them. “I was slandered and smeared almost daily in the press,” he later said. “The propaganda spared neither my professional attributes nor my personal character. It was bitter as gall and I knew that something of the gall would always be with me.” But MacArthur’s Pittsburgh address was not nearly so damaging to him as what happened a little more than one month later, on July 28, when a handful of protesters from the Bonus March clashed with Washington police. President Hoover became impatient: The legislation for the payment the veterans had lobbied for had been defeated in Congress and it was time, he decided, for the Bonus Army to go home. He instructed Secretary of War Patrick Hurley to clear the protesters from the streets of the capital, while showing “every kindness and consideration” to women and children in the crowd. Hurley wrote out the orders for MacArthur: “Proceed immediately to the scene of disorder. . . . Surround the affected area and clear it without delay.”

When MacArthur received his orders, he sent an aide to retrieve his full dress uniform at his home at Fort Myer, then ordered the 12th Infantry, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, a machine gun squad, and six midget tanks (under the command of Colonel George Patton) into the streets of Washington. When his aide, Major Dwight Eisenhower, suggested he was overreacting, MacArthur waved him off. What followed was catastrophic for MacArthur’s reputation. When his troopers confronted a crowd of marchers, MacArthur ordered his cavalry forward. They charged into the crowd along Pennsylvania Avenue. Pushed back by a wall of bayonets, the marchers retreated south toward their camp on the other side of the Anacostia River. Hoover, suddenly worried that MacArthur was going too far, dispatched orders telling him not to send troops into the protesters’ encampment. MacArthur angrily waved aside the president’s message, saying he was too busy directing operations to be “bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders.” Later that night, with some eleven thousand marchers streaming out of Washington and the glow from their burning hovels lighting the night sky, MacArthur explained his actions to the press. He had broken up an incipient revolution, he said. Had Hoover waited another week, “the institutions of our government would have been threatened.” Eisenhower was enraged. If MacArthur had given Hoover’s orders to his subordinates to carry out, he believed, things would have turned out differently. “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there,” Eisenhower later reflected. “I told him it was no place for the Chief of Staff.”

BOOK: The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur
12.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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