Sunday, February 26, 2012

Douglas MacArthur

On February 26, 1918, Colonel Douglas MacArthur of the U.S. 42nd Division approached General Georges de Bazelaire, the commander of the French VII Corps. MacArthur wanted to accompany a French raiding party. De Bazelaire hesitated. "I cannot fight them if I cannot see them," MacArthur said. The general gave his approval.

MacArthur in St. Benoit Chateau, September 19, 1918.
That night, the group entered no-man's land. They were almost at the enemy trench when a German detected them. MacArthur describes what happened next:

His [the German's] gun flashed into the night. The alarm spread through the trench, across the front. Flares soared and machine guns rattled. Enemy artillery lay down a barrage in front of the lines, trapping the party. But the raid went on. They leaped from the trenches, and the fight was savage and merciless. Finally, a grenade tossed into a dugout where the surviving Germans had fled, ended it.

Suffice it to say that for his bravery, MacArthur received the Croix de Guerre and the Silver Star. "The award seemed a bit too much to me," he would write, "but I was, of course, glad to have it."

The son of a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient, Douglad MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880 at the Arsenal Barracks in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was very athletic as a young man, playing football, baseball, and tennis. It was perfect way to prepare for his dream: entry into the United States Military Academy at West Point.

At this time if someone wanted to enter West Point, the there had to be a vacancy. It just so happened there was one in the spring of 1898. So to prepare and take the competitive examinations that would take place in Congressmen Theabold Otjen's Fourth District in Milwaukee, Douglas, along with his mother, went to St. Paul. There, Douglas attended West Side High School. "Every school day I trudged, there and back, the two miles from the hotel to the school." he remembered. "I never worked harder in my life."

After a sleepless night, MacArthur arrived at city hall, keeping in mind the "cool words" his mother had conveyed to him: "Doug, you'll win if you don't lose your nerve. You must believe in yourself, my son, or no one else will believe in you. Be self-confident, self-reliant, and even if you don't make it, you will know you have done your best. Now, go to it." He passed, and on June 13, 1899, MacArthur entered West Point.

As a son of a soldier, MacArthur was probably one the most best-prepared cadets for the rigors of West Point. However, he even he was impeccable there. In December 1900, Congress investigated incidents of alleged hazing at the Academy, and MacArthur had to testify as a victim of such abuse. MacArthur, taught by his parents neither to lie nor tattle, refused to tell which upper classmen bullied him, but what if he was ordered to? Thanks to message his mother imparted to him, he eventually decided to stand by the principles he was brought with.

Even then, when the court of inquiry convened once more, MacArthur wavered in what was perhaps of the most trying moment in his early years:

Although more than sixty years have come and gone since then, I can still feel the beads of sweat on my brow, still feel my knees giving way under me and that dreadful nausea that I had felt once before when I faced my competitive examination at the city hall in Milwaukee. I did my best to fend off the question, to dodge the issue, but I was no match for the shrewd old heads who sat in judgment. And then the order came, short, peremptory, unequivocal. At the end I grew weak and pleaded for mercy: that my whole life's hope lay in being an officer; that always I had been with the colors; that my father, then on the battleline 10,000 miles away, was their comrade-in-arms of the Civil and Indian Wars; that I would do anything in the way of punishment, but not to strip me of my uniform. And then- I could not go on- I heard the old soldier who presided say, "Court is recessed. Take him to his quarters."

He was never arrested, and the identities of the bullies were "obtained through other means."

In another incident, MacArthur was caught by a tactical officer performing some public displays of affection with a girl. The officer simply smiled. "Congradulations, Mister MacArthur." The cadet did not receive any demerits.

MacArthur also had his troubles academically. The space-time relationship that eventually would be a part of Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity was so hard to get that he simply decided to memorize it. Upon being called by the teacher, Colonel Feiberger, to tell the class what the lesson was all about, MacArthur "solemnly reeled off almost word for word what the book said.

"Do you understand this theory?" Feiberger asked.

"No, sir." MacArthur replied.

"Neither do I, Mister MacArthur." said the Colonel after a pause. "Section dismissed."

MacArthur never did manage to put his head around the theory.

By the time of he graduated on June 11, 1903, MacArthur had been a First Captain of the Corps and ranked first in his class. Indeed, it was the highest scholastic record in the past 25 years. He was now Second Lieutenant Douglas MacArthur of engineers.

He definitely got to see the world, going to far off places like the Philippines, India, and Japan, where he, along with his father, studied the Japanese Army when it was fighting against the Russians, getting a good look of the men he would eventually confront in World War II and even meeting the commanders who would forge victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). "It was here that I first encountered the boldness and courage of the Nipponese soldier." MacArthur later wrote. "His almost fanatical belief and reverence for his Emperor impressed me indelibly." Still, he had his worries:

I was deeply impressed by and filled with admiration for the thrift, courtesy, and friendliness of the ordinary citizen. They seemed to have discovered the dignity of labor, the fact that a man is happier and more contented when constructing than when merely idling away time. But I had the uneasy feeling that the haughty, feudalistic samurai who were their leaders, were, through their victories, planting the seed of eventual Japanese conquest of the Orient. Having conquered Korea and Formosa, it was more than evident that they would eventually strike for control of the Pacific and domination of the Far East.

More success was to follow. He entered and graduated from the Engineer School of Application at Washington Barracks; served as an aide-de-camp to President Theodore Roosevelt; became a lecturer in the General Service Schools and the Cavalry School at Fort Riley and a member of the Engineer board and, in September 1913, of the General Staff; and, the following April, went to Veracruz during the dark days of the Mexican Revolution. When the U.S. entered the First World War, MacArthur was made Chief of Staff of the 42nd "Rainbow" Division.

Now, he had just received his first taste of modern war, and he would prove himself to be foolishly brave on the battlefields of France, refusing to don neither a helmet nor a gasmask when visiting the front lines. He was a prima donna even then.

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