Saturday, August 27, 2016

The MacArthur of Our Time

From the desk of the Tiger Lily.

For the past couple of weeks, my main recreational reading has been a quarter-sale biography called American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, by William Manchester. As I am now at the halfway point, I wanted to share a couple of passages with you, and can say three things with confidence:

1) I have finally figured out why I hate short, squat paperbacks with a million pages-- the page-turning gets in the way of the book and becomes more of a thing than reading the actual book itself.

2) Even liberals with a hatred for legendary figures like MacArthur still retain a grudging respect and admiration for him, even as they defend their beloved dictator FDR's blatant attempts to kill/destroy his political enemies while dismissing MacArthur and other's very legitimate concerns about FDR's subterfuge as "paranoia".

3) The more I read about MacArthur, the more of him I see in Trump. Not saying Trump is a reincarnation, but they are definitely cut from the same cloth.

(Okay, four things, because I came across this nonsense prior to posting.)

4) If you do happen to pick up this book, take everything that is not a firsthand account of people who were actually there with an entire truckload of salt. The writer is apparently too ignorant to research whether or not his pre-formed opinions are historically valid. He blathered something about how life under the Japanese, particularly for the Filipinos, was "basically unchanged" and they "for the most part ignored their rulers" or some such BS. I had a friend whose Filipino grandmother lived through the WW2 Japanese occupation-- she once related a story about how she and her friends did not want their crops (mostly rice) to be completely confiscated by the Japanese for their consumption, so they went sailing down the coast of northern Luzon to try to sell it to the locals at various small ports. They had to be careful and stay in hiding because if they got caught, they would be killed. One evening, they accidentally signaled a Japanese scout instead of their contact at one of the ports, who came and lined them up, kneeling, on the beach. The soldiers beheaded several of her friends, but when they reached her, for God's reasons they didn't behead her (can't remember if the officer ordered the soldier to stop at that point, but she could feel the blade on her neck and she was praying very hard at that moment). According to my friend this story was related in a very matter-of-fact, truthful way, without embellishment or trying to make it seem like she was some tragic heroine. This Filipino woman wasn't part of the guerrilla resistance or anything, just was trying to survive the war. She lived in the province too, so logically the cities had to be even worse under Japanese dictatorial rule.

(The background of the names you don't recognize is largely unimportant to the story. All you need to know is that most of them were military naysayers, and they were proven wrong, over and over again... and you can hear their retroactive begrudging of MacArthur's success, particularly from the navy, e.g. Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey.)

[Referring to MacArthur's visionary island-hopping decision to take Los Negros instead of Manus- Admiralty Islands]

"...he decided to accompany the task force so that he would be there to order the evacuation of the troops, if it came to that. On Sunday, February 27, 1944, he slipped out of Lennon's Hotel, flew to Milne Bay, and strutted up the gangplank of the cruiser Phoenix, the first navy vessel he had boarded since leaving Bulkeley's PT-41 on Mindanao [Philippines]. Monday morning Krueger came aboard and handed him a sheaf of new G-2 appraisals reporting a strengthening of the enemy garrison on Los Negros. Willoughby now estimated--and events would prove him to be correct--that they would be met by over four thousand Japanese troops. MacArthur handed back the papers, turned to several anxious officers awaiting his decision, and said, in his calm way, "We shall continue as planned, gentlemen." After a pause he added that he intended to land with the troops. Krueger was alarmed. In his memoirs he writes: "He had expressly forbidden me to accompany our assault loadings and yet now he promised to do so himself. I argued that it was unnecessary and unwise to expose himself in this fashion and that it would be a calamity if anything happened to him. He listened to me attentively and thanked me, but added, 'I have to go.' He had made up his mind on the subject--and that was that."
The General spent most of that night alone at the Phoenix rail, gazing out at the black, phosphorescent sea. At dawn, when they dropped anchor in Hyane Harbor off Los Negros, they were greeted by a bombardment from Japanese shore batteries. A Life correspondent who was present wrote: "One salvo went over the ship. The second fell short. Men on the deck, expecting that the third might well be on the target, were preparing to get behind anything handy when it hit. MacArthur began to take an increased interest in the matter at that point, standing up straight on the bridge to survey the scene while chatting with his staff. Fortunately, his survey included the obliteration of the Jap gun positions by the cruiser, which had got the range in the nick of time."
Six hours later he went ashore in a pouring rain. The fighting was heavy. GIs of the 1st Cavalry Division wearing steel helmets and camouflaged battle dress were lying prone, but the General, conspicuous in his trench coat and cap, awarded a Distinguished Service Cross to the man who had led the first wave and then, to the amazement of his party, strolled casually inland. Anguished aides tried to persuade him not to expose himself. One senior officer warned him that he was in "very intimate danger." MacArthur lit up his corncob pipe, waved out the match, and explained that he wanted to get "a sense of the situation." A lieutenant touched him on the sleeve, pointed at a path, and said, "Excuse me, sir, but we killed a Jap sniper in there just a few minutes ago." The General nodded approvingly. "Fine," he said. "That's the best thing to do with them." Then he walked in that direction. Stumbling over the cadavers of two enemy soldiers who had been slain a few minutes earlier--their bodies were still warm--he continued on, merely remarking, "That's the way I like to see them." A GI called, "You are beyond the perimeter, sir!" MacArthur courteously thanked him for the information, but he didn't break his stride until he came to a wounded American infantryman. Crouching down beside him, he took the man's hand and asked, "Son, what happened?"
John Gunther wrote: "He stalks a battlefront like a man hardly human, not only arrogantly but lazily." One officer who was discovering this on Los Negros was Dr. Roger O. Egeberg, the General's new physician, who had joined his staff the month before. Egeberg, an intellectual, had accepted the appointment with misgivings. "I was," he says, "anything but a starry-eyed idol worshipper." He had expected that he and the General would disagree about politics, and had been pleasantly surprised to find that the subject hadn't been raised. Here in the Admiralties he was distressed for a very different reason. Other aides, he remembered, had told him that accompanying MacArthur within range of enemy riflemen was to be avoided if at all possible. Now the physician was terrified. He recalls: "I thought about my children at home. Maybe if I 'accidentally' dropped something, I could stoop over, but I wondered if I ever would be able to stand again....all of the officers with MacArthur were uneasy at Los Negros--uneasy about MacArthur's safety and, more vital to them, about their own safety."
The most dangerous spot on the island was the airstrip. Kenney had told the General that it could become "the most important piece of real estate in the theater." Now he wished he hadn't, because MacArthur was heading straight for it. From the number of corpses later counted there, officers estimated that eight hundred pairs of Japanese eyes were watching as, Kenney remembers, "General MacArthur wandered up and down the strip....digging into the coral surfacing to see how good it was." A correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post who had joined his entourage wrote: "With his yellow trench coat swinging out behind and smoke trailing from his pipe, MacArthur paced off the puddled coral runway himself. At first the width, and then down the length, far outside our lines." A dumbfounded cavalryman said afterward, "Why they didn't kill him, I don't know." Egeberg concluded that "MacArthur wanted to experience the smell of gunpowder and the sights and sounds of combat. Being in or near a battle seemed to quicken him....It was almost as though battle 'fed' his system....It was true also that he could appreciate the problems of his commanders and soldiers much better by getting a taste of the fighting than by poring over maps and operations reports back at headquarters."
Soaking wet and coated with mud, the General re-boarded the Phoenix two hours later, satisfied that no evacuation would be necessary. As he had predicted, enemy troops had counterattacked in small, ineffective charges....By Thursday he was in his Lennon's apartment, where he learned three days later that U.S. troops were in firm control of both Los Negros and Manus. Some naval officers thought he had been very fortunate, that the triumph had been a fluke. Barbey wrote in his memoirs, "Looking backward, I have wondered if MacArthur ever questioned his own judgment in this matter".
After inspecting the beachhead and talking to the beachmaster, he asked Barbey to convey him and his party to Tanahmerah Bay....Here, as on Los Negros, the General himself narrowly escaped being one of the casualties. Despite Barbey's protests, he insisted that he and his cortege ride to and from the shores of both bays in an unarmed Higgins boat The admiral's fears were realized on Tanahmerah Bay, where the cruiser radioed them that an enemy fighter was coming in low, strafing small craft. Barbey writes: "I ordered the coxswain to head for the nearest destroyer to get the protection of her guns. An open boat without protection seemed hardly the place to concentrate most of the brass of the Southwest Pacific when there was a Japanese plane on the loose. MacArthur, however, thought otherwise. He asked that I direct the boat to continue to the beach, which I did. A few minutes later a lone plane came in, swooped over us, then continued on in the direction of Hollandia. In thinking about this incident and similar ones at other times, there was never the feeling that it was an act of bravado on MacArthur's part, but rather that he was a man of destiny and there was no need to take precautions."
One of the three aides cowering on the deck of the little vessel was Dr. Egeberg, who did not regard himself as a man of destiny and felt the need for precautions strongly. He forgot his qualms on the shores of Humboldt Bay, however, where his professional curiosity was aroused by his patient's physical performance. Aged sixty-four, the General was by far the oldest member of the party, yet he took off on a brisk three-hour hike, leaving the others, the physician noted, "panting hard." Not only wasn't he out of breath; despite the equatorial heat, he wasn't even sweating. Later MacArthur would speak of New Guinea's "broiling sun and drenching rain," its "tangled jungle and impassable mountain trails," but he was describing the hardships of others. He himself seemed to be almost unaffected by the climate. Back on the Nashville, Eichelberger noticed that "my uniform was soggy and dark with wetness. I remember my astonishment that General MacArthur, despite the sweltering heat and vigorous exercise, did not perspire at all."

American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964
William Manchester