Saturday, March 17, 2012

l. 7630 -- “it's the orders you disobey that make you famous.”

The title quotation was made by MacArthur during his duty in France in WWI, and referred to his decision to disregard his regulation uniform (l. 6945).

Like recalling your childhood sweetheart, thinking about the first public figure you really and truly loathed, with every fiber of your being, can make you feel young and vigorous again, and as such is a great joy. For me, that role is filled by Richard Nixon. Karnow was from the previous generation, so he had Douglas MacArthur. Karnow strives mightily to be charitable, but cannot resist the deliciously damning details, which pretty quickly swamp the redeeming features.

Nevertheless, Karnow reports that “[t]o the Filipinos, he was nothing less than superhuman” (l. 6862). The chapter starts with a long set piece at the beginning of the chapter about MacArthur's last visit to the Philippines in July 1961, which Karnow covered as a correspondent for Time magazine. He was received as a hero, with war veterans in their old uniforms lining the root of his motorcade, women holding up uncomprehending babies to see him, a long farewell speech in a public park, etc.

Douglas MacArthur was born in Little Rock in 1880 and attended West Point (l. 6914). His mother lived near the school during his time there and generally smothered him for the rest of her life. He graduated at the top of his class in 1903 and was assigned to the Philippines, where his father was military commander. Assigned to desk duty in Manila, he (untypically for Americans there) socialized with Filipinos, meeting future leaders Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena (l. 6928). He contracted malaria, returned to the US, and after recovery worked as an aide to his father, who was touring Asia on official business.

He returned to the Philippines in 1922 (l. 6933), in command of a recently-reduced infantry brigade, a reflection of the more isolationist mood in the US (l. 7027). Since well before that time, and continuing until the eventual Japanese attack, private US government studies showed that the islands were indefensible without an enormous investment. If investment was not forthcoming, the best next alternative was withdrawal. Since neither of these alternatives were politically palatable, the US for decades did nothing.

After another short tour in the US, MacArthur was appointed US commander for the Philippines in 1928 (l. 7086). He unsuccessfully lobbied to be appointed civilian governor the following year. In 1930, he again returned to the US. Hoover appointed him to US Army Chief of Staff.

While in the Philippines, MacArthur (already divorced) acquired a mistress, a half-Scottish, half-Chinese vaudeville and movie star named Isabel Rosario “Dimples” Cooper (l. 7124). He installed her in an apartment near his office in Washington, under the mistaken impression that she wouldn't go outside and no one would notice them. He became unpopular after using force to clear out the Bonus Marchers in 1932. When MacArthur threated to sue some unfriendly newspaper columnists for libel, the columnists' lawyers told him that Dimples would be called as a witness. MacArthur dropped the case and paid Dimples $15,000 to return his love letters. Dimples eventually drifted to Hollywood, had bit parts in a few movies, and committed suicide by drug overdose in 1960 (l. 7190).

In 1934, Quezon visited Washington and got MacArthur appointed as military advisor to the autonomous Philippines, with the promise to build a Swiss-style army of a core of Army regulars with a reserve of civilian conscripts (l. 7204). He returned in 1935, accompanied by his mother and a staff that included Dwight Eisenhower, then a Major. Quezon was by then president of the commonwealth and was “primarily preoccupied with preserving his power” (l. 7221), out-doing the colonial master in terms of the good life while talking the talk of social justice. He visited China and Japan as a chief of state, but “in 1936, ... Roosevelt denied him permission to attend the coronation of King George VI of Britain as an independent ruler” (l. 7235).

Meanwhile, the worldwide depression rolled back a lot of the progress that the US had made in education and standard of living. A steady series of brushfire rebellions and violent uprisings occurred (l. 7307). Eisenhower was assigned to create a Filipino army out of nothing with little budget, and when he brought the bad news, MacArthur blamed him, while reporting (in 1936) that “progress ... has exceeded original anticipation” (l. 7336). However, Quezon listened to Eisenhower and understood that the Philippines could not defend itself from Japanese invasion.

Quezon travelled to Tokyo in June 1938 (l. 7364), with a plan to get a formal pledge to respect the neutrality of the Philippines if the Philippines could get the US to move up the date of independence. The plan went nowhere, because neither the US nor Japan wished it to. Japan has its eye on the Philippines raw materials.

At that time, 30,000 Japanese lived in the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao (l. 7442), and the Japanese officials in the Philippines devoted time and energy to cultivating anti-US sentiment.

When the problem became too obvious for even Washington to ignore, MacArthur was promised accelerated delivery of materials (planes, ammunition, etc.), but much of it turned out to be substandard and too late (l. 7557). Still, MacArthur made public statements of optimism and privately said that the Japanese would not attack until April 1942. He was wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment