DOUGLAS MACARTHUR – A Man Deeply Flawed: How Did He Do It? Part II

Am I thoroughly familiar with the technique, necessities, objectives, and administration of my job?

That there were no major foul-ups or charges of corruption during his reign is a tribute to his superb ability as an administrator. He may have been remote as a person, but as an administrator he was thoroughly involved and hands-on. None of his SCAPINS were half-baked or had to be recalled because they were poorly conceived.

Like a president of the United States, he knew the most important person in his administration was the chief of staff. In Courtney Whitney, he had a superb one. He divided his organization into sections, appointed top-class officers, and let them run the show. SCAP was a remarkably lean organization. Personal initiative and responsibility took precedence over procedure. “Rules,” said MacArthur, “are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”

More important than his performance as a manager was his performance as a leader. The two roles are different. The Harvard Business School professor John Kotter defines the difference in succinct fashion: One copes with complexity, and the other—leadership—copes with change. “Most organizations are overmanaged and underled,” he says.

Nobody would say this about MacArthur’s SCAP. It was an organization determined to shake up the status quo, rid Japan of feudalism and militarism, and protect the country from its major external threat, the Russians. These were extremely ambitious goals, the kind of goals that call for leadership rather than management.

Do I lose my temper at individuals?

MacArthur was a master of self-control. The same fearlessness he displayed in battle he carried over into his office. When he got word he had been fired by President Truman, he evinced no anger or outrage. No matter how upset he must have been at the callous way it was handled, he did not lash out. Minutes after he had left Tokyo for good, John Foster Dulles’ plane passed by, coming from the opposite direction. By telephone in midair, they had a lengthy talk about what needed to be done in Japan. Dulles noted: “I never had greater admiration for a man. Under such provocation, he still uttered not a word of personal bitterness; he considered only the cause of his country. . . . As long as America can produce men of that stature and caliber it will be safe.”

Have I the calmness of voice and manner to inspire confidence, or am I inclined to irascibility and excitability?

In keeping with the above tenet about self-control, MacArthur was a master of serenity—a quality rarely mentioned in books on leadership. MacArthur possessed what Voltaire praised in Marlborough: “that calm courage in the midst of tumult, that serenity of soul in danger, which is the greatest gift of nature for command.”

He never lost his temper. He radiated calm and self-assurance throughout his tenure. According to John J. McCloy: “He was most impressive as he talked about the future and the forces that were playing around the Orient with which he was quite familiar. He was a man of tremendous discernment. . . . He was a thoughtful man, he was not a poseur.”

Am I inclined to be nice to my superiors and mean to my subordinates?

Here the evidence is mixed. MacArthur was not a butt-kisser who toadied to the powers that be in Washington. He followed his own drummer, and got away it by being extremely charming with visitors from Washington. He was a master at seeming to agree with people when in fact he didn’t. People could get frustrated with MacArthur, but it was hard to get angry at him.

Asked by his military secretary Faubion Bowers how he managed to make such a powerful impression on people who came to see him, he said: “I just give ’em a shot of truth. They’re so unused to it, it knocks ’em for a loop.”

There’s a wonderful story about MacArthur in World War I that showed his compassion toward subordinates. Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was in the trenches just before dawn; he took the Distinguished Service Cross ribbon from his own tunic and pinned it to the chest of a young major about to lead his battalion into battle, explaining that he knew the major would do heroic deeds that day.

Such displays of personal concern can spur followers to excel. MacArthur treated his subordinates decently; he never bullied or browbeat them. He had his personality differences with Eisenhower, his long-standing aide in the Philippines, but never let that interfere with his professional judgment. In a fitness report on Eisenhower, he wrote: “This is the best officer in the Army. When the next war comes, he should go right to the top.”

With men his equal, however, MacArthur could be tough, even mean. He went after generals who beat him and demanded revenge. Instead of treating Yamashita and Homma like honorable warriors, he made sure the U.S. Military Tribunal sent them to the gallows. One of his closest colleagues was Robert Eichelberger, who had won the pivotal battle at Buna and who he insisted be the first to greet him at Atsugi. The two men had known each other since 1911. When Eichelberger emerged from the jungle after winning Buna, MacArthur was there to greet him—with a chocolate milk shake. Their relationship cooled in 1946, when Eichelberger expressed his wish to leave and go work in Washington for Eisenhower and hopefully succeed him as army chief of staff. MacArthur blocked the move, and when Eichelberger left Japan two years later, MacArthur gave him only a perfunctory send-off.

Do I think more of POSITION than JOB?

Twice he turned down invitations from Truman to appear in Washington as a hero, with all the publicity and visibility it would have generated. He was absolutely right: The situation in Tokyo was critical; this was not a time to run off and play crowd-pleaser. He couldn’t even be bothered to pick up a Harvard honorary degree.

Other than president, there was no job big enough for a man of his ambition and talents. He knew his post in Japan was a last stop in his career, with no opportunity for promotion. Yet he took the job seriously, and put in hours that would have exhausted younger men.

MACARTHUR MADE EIGHT bold moves when he went against or vastly exceeded Washington’s wishes, any one of which could have seriously jeopardized his tenure. They were:

  • recommending an immediate, major reduction of troops
  • initiating a massive food relief program
  • rejecting repatriation demands
  • pushing for Article 9
  • blackballing the Japanese version of the new constitution
  • giving free license to Communist agitators in labor unions
  • vetoing Dulles’s proposal for a 300,000-man police force
  • launching the surprise amphibious attack at Inchon

In every single one of them MacArthur was right, and Washington was wrong.

He had “the gift of command,” said William Randolph Hearst. The components of this gift were mastery of sound policy, sensitivity to the local culture, and personal traits of flexibility, persuasiveness, and idealism.

Sound Policy

AS EVERY CEO will agree, more important than “strategy” (goals and means) is “policy” (purpose and rationale). MacArthur’s job was to develop permanent peace and democracy in Japan. Everything he did was directed toward this mission. When superiors in Washington wanted him to pursue specific Cold War objectives (preserve the zaibatsu, build up the Japanese military), he did so only with the greatest reluctance. Such objectives were not consistent with his mission.

He undertook bold new measures—labor unions and women’s rights—that were disruptive but consistent with his mission. In promoting prodemocracy measures even more liberal than current practices in the United States, he was a man ahead of his time. He was a master of “soft power” in communicating America’s culture, political ideals, and aspirations.

Walter Lippmann once said that effective leadership consists not of giving people what they want, but of giving them what they will learn to want. MacArthur was very much an agent of change, attempting to push Japan toward a new future. He ran a highly disciplined, well-behaved organization. His troops, on the whole, behaved superbly and became popular ambassadors for America and its values.

He was not reckless or impulsive. He took a tremendous risk at Atsugi, but it was a gamble based on a careful reading of the Japanese mood and situation. It was a risk worth taking because the rewards would be so extraordinarily high. Almost everything he did was according to plan. He announced eleven specific objectives to his fellow generals on the Okinawa-to-Atsugi flight—and he accomplished them all.

Sensitivity to the Local Culture

FROM THE MOMENT he landed at Atsugi not wearing a firearm, he let the Japanese people know he trusted them. They were a beaten people; he would not humiliate them by showing up with a lot of guns. He never strutted around in public wearing all his medals, reminding them he was a victorious general. He always dressed informally, like he did in his first meeting with Hirohito.

He jumped immediately to meet their desperate need for food. He preserved the emperor, even if he had to perform considerable gymnastics to do so. He let almost all Japanese government employees keep their jobs, and motivated them by giving them important tasks to do, under American guidance and supervision. He reduced American troop levels (making Japan happy, Washington unhappy). He read every single letter sent to him by the Japanese people, and went so far as to meet with a man who tried to assassinate him, so as to glean deeper insight into Japanese sensibilities, even perverted ones. He quashed public exposure of the atrocities of Unit 731, not only to keep the biological research away from the Russians but also to avoid damaging Japan’s international image.

Seeing how the Japanese were having trouble developing a new constitution, he ordered his staff to jump in and do it in one week—no messing around. He never insulted the Japanese or put them down. He did not blow up and insist it was his way or no way. He entertained modifications, and when the final version finally came out he gave the Japanese full credit. According to Shigeru Yoshida:

General MacArthur’s headquarters did insist, with considerable vigor, on the speedy completion of the task and made certain demands in regard to the contents of the draft. But during our subsequent negotiations with GHQ there was nothing that could properly be termed coercive or overbearing in the attitude of the Occupation authorities towards us. They listened carefully . . . in many cases accepted our proposals.


WARNED THAT GEORGE Atcheson might be a State Department “pink,” MacArthur kept an open mind and gave the man a chance. On another occasion when he issued three directives and Mamoru Shigemitsu came to him and said it wouldn’t work, MacArthur revoked them immediately and set about revising them. When George Kennan came to see him with new demands from Washington, MacArthur cooperated. On the other hand, when the Communists stepped over the line and went too far in taking advantage of his labor union reforms, he went after them vigorously. He did not bluff.

The son of a general, and a military man all his life, he was unlike most generals who “think of the last war.” He was always thinking ahead. Of all the World War II generals, he was the most aggressive in advocating new technologies in motorized transport, fast boats, and aircraft. He recognized the obsolescence of Clausewitz’s “war is policy by other means” in a world of atom bombs, and became a fierce opponent of attempts to build up “offensive” military operations intended solely to intimidate.

Considerable credit for his success belongs to the Joint Chiefs in Washington, who gave him good plans to work with. But planning can only do so much. The idea of exhibition baseball games didn’t come from Washington, or even from MacArthur, it came from a lowly lieutenant. Knowing a good idea when he saw one, MacArthur pounced on it—on the spot.


HE WAS AN extremely hard worker. Officials who conferred with him were astounded how well prepared he was and how much he knew about their particular areas of expertise. He outdueled Nimitz in persuading the president how to wage the Pacific war. One on one with important visitors like Hirohito, Shigemitsu, Yoshida, McCloy, Kennan, Dodge, and Dulles, even lesser visitors like Choate and Griffin, he dazzled them all. At the Wake Island meeting, where neither protagonist was at his best, he still managed to astound his audience with his mastery of distances, temperatures, artillery, aircraft, and number and configuration of troops. Army Secretary Frank Pace, who had never met him before, concluded MacArthur “was indeed a military genius . . . the most impressive fellow I ever heard.” Added Truman’s special counsel Charles Murphy: “I believed every word of it.”

His speeches to the Japanese public, beginning with the surrender signing, were inspirational and uplifting. He expressed big ideas—nothing pedantic or parochial. He was a serious man: He never started a speech with a silly joke or how honored he was to be there. He was a superb communicator, with a rich vocabulary and a mastery of cadence. He could be mesmerizing. Who else could write like he could? “He died unquestioning and uncomplaining, with faith in his heart and victory his end.”

As manager of a large enterprise, he communicated his wishes to his thousands of employees fully. Everybody knew what the boss wanted done, and they did it. He assembled a staff that covered all the political bases. He had liberals and New Dealers under Whitney, counterbalanced by conservatives under Willoughby. Somehow they all managed to work under one roof. There was remarkably little backstabbing. Why? Because everyone feared him, they knew they must act professionally.

A number of visitors, observing how loyal MacArthur’s staff members were to him, accused him of surrounding himself with yes-men. This was a simplistic observation. MacArthur was so smart he usually was right. People who rebutted him were welcome so long as they knew their facts. Eisenhower stated that he argued with his commander for the nine years they were together and they had no problem.


“WARRIOR RAGE” WAS never part of his temperament. He was no William Tecumseh Sherman whose scorched-earth policies created Southern hatred that lasted for decades (as a Southerner, MacArthur was very much aware of this). He had none of the attitude of Admiral Halsey, who had posted signs in a Pacific seaport on the way to Japan: “Kill Japs. Kill Japs. Kill All the Lousy Bastards.” Like Ulysses Grant, he fought relentlessly like a warrior, but had no admiration for generals who incurred massive casualties and needless deaths in pursuit of victory. He set a standard for moral conduct toward an enemy who in war had shown hardly any honor at all. He was betting—correctly, it turned out—that in peace the enemy would respond positively to his overtures and cooperate.

But it wasn’t easy. The Japanese military and zaibatsu—with the government looking the other way—were having a field day stealing wartime supplies for their personal aggrandizement and benefit, while the masses were starving. Corruption was rampant. Ishii was playing games. The Communists were making trouble at every opportunity. The economy was a shambles. No country in Southeast Asia wanted to trade, they all wanted revenge.

Yet throughout it all, MacArthur never wavered. He was imbued with a strong sense of idealism and purpose. It may be fashionable in certain political circles today to knock idealism as causing America to get into foreign policy excesses, but properly applied in places like Japan after World War II, idealism brought out the best in American influence. For the final word on MacArthur as a transformational leader, a comment by the historian Kazuo Kawai:

One reason for his influence on the Japanese was his dedicated sense of mission. The egoism fringed with mysticism, with which he regarded himself as the chosen instrument for the reformation and redemption of the Japanese people, might sometimes be ludicrous and sometimes irritating. But there was no mistaking the sincerity and intensity of his idealism. . . . He lifted the tone of the Occupation from a military operation, to a moral crusade.


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