Inside the Capitol

Monday, August 22, 2005

8-26 MacArthur

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- No one engendered stronger feelings among New Mexico National Guard troops on Bataan than Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
To some, he was a genius of military strategy. For others, he bungled the defense of the Philippines and then ran away from the battle.
Such mixed feelings were not uncommon among those who were affected by the general. They certainly weren't uncommon in Washington, at the White House or the Pentagon.
MacArthur was first in his class at West Point, a World War I hero, decorated often for bravery, the youngest general ever to command a division and frequently referred to as America's best frontline general.
Between wars, he had advanced to Army chief of staff before retiring to become military adviser to the government of the Philippines, then a U.S. territory.
As World War II approached, he was brought out of retirement to become commander of the U.S. Army Forces, Far East, consisting of the Philippine Army and all U.S. Army units on the islands.
MacArthur took the ball and ran, hoping to soon become supreme commander of the war in the Pacific. He convinced Washington that the Philippines could be defended from Japan's southern advance if he had sufficient support. He was supplied with the strongest American air forces outside the United States.
But on the opening day of the war, with several hours notice that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, half of that air strength was wiped out by what should not have been a surprise attack. After that, it was a losing battle.
Soon Mac Arthur retreated to Corregidor, an island at the entrance of Manila Bay, leaving the troops under the command of Gen. Jonathon Wainwright. Only once, was MacArthur known to have returned to Luzon.
In "Beyond Courage," Dorothy Cave records a brief New Mexico involvement in that event. Two soldiers were dispatched by the 200th Coast Artillery to deliver a written message to an important person who would arrive at an isolated dock.
When they arrived, no one knew what they were talking about. But just then, a small boat bumped up against the dock and out stepped Gen. MacArthur and several staff members. Reportedly, he spent about 10 hours inspecting battle positions on Bataan and conferring with his commanders.
But that wasn't enough to keep him from getting the name "Dugout Doug" from many of the troops left on Bataan. Their bitterness increased as MacArthur made grand announcements about the help that was on the way and the necessity of not giving an inch.
Those pronouncements also included assurances that supplies were ample to hold out. That bit of deceit produced a song sung by many troops about Dugout Doug's growing timidity. It was set to the Battle Hymn of the Republic and ended with "And his troops go starving on."
Had our men known about a confidential transfer, at the time, of $500,000 from the Philippine government to MacArthur's bank account, their thoughts about his timidity would have been even stronger.
When Gen. Eisenhower learned of the payment, he suggested that MacArthur was "losing his nerve" and had to be kept fighting by any means.
But MacArthur's public relations staff was hard at work generating press releases that were quickly making him a hero. They called him "The Lion of Luzon." Starved for any good news in the early days of the war, the American press and public embraced MacArthur as a legend.
Congress quickly followed suit. Soon there was talk of "MacArthur for President," something the general did not discourage.
MacArthur was a forceful and colorful personality, a man of dramatic gestures and rhetoric, which made him a natural leader. But his hunger for self-promotion and his desire to take credit for successes and dodge any blame for failures, made him divisive and controversial.
FRI, 8-26-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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