Why was MacArthur never “taken to task”?

Mr. History,

It appears that General (Douglas) MacArthur was never properly reprimanded for his failure to secure the Philippines after warnings from the US high command that a Japanese attack was possible—even having the planes on the ground when they attacked!

Also, it seems his march into the Philippines at the end of the war caused so many unnecessary US and civilian deaths, and that his march to retake the islands was almost a vanity venture.

Why was he never "taken to task" over his bad mistakes?


Matthew Lombardi

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Dear Mr. Lombardi,
I may be the only military historian who regards General Douglas MacArthur, with his spotty record of spectacular victories and failures, as "a flawed genius." Just about everyone else either thinks he’s beyond reproach or absolutely despises him. (My father, a Navy combat photographer who was among many taking pictures of him in Morotai, was one of the latter, calling him "The biggest phony I ever met.") Still, hindsight is always 20-20 and your question must be addressed by going back to the situation at the time.
When MacArthur arrived in Australia from the Philippines debacle and first stated that "I shall return" (ignoring suggestions that he modify the slogan to "We shall return"), he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Given his public popularity, it would have been imprudent to subject the flaws in his generalship to excessive scrutiny. Instead, he was made commander in chief of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific, where he conducted a highly effective and successful campaign in New Guinea. MacArthur also insisted that the United States had a moral obligation to liberate the Philippines, rather than wait for Admiral Chester Nimitz’s proposal to take Formosa as a prelude to directly assaulting Japan and, after its retreat, simply see its troops withdrawn. A successful series of carrier raids by Admiral William Halsey’s Third Fleet in September 1944 convinced MacArthur—and his superiors—that the Philippines were lightly defended, leading to the landings on Leyte in October. The campaign proved to be harder and bloodier than expected, and General Tomoyuki Yamashita was still hanging on in northern Luzon when the war ended, but MacArthur had liberated Manila and most of the most important islands in the archipelago.
Strategically, the war could probably have been won if the Philippines were bypassed, but on the grand strategic level their specific liberation would affect the Philippines’ attitude toward the United States, from the granting of its independence in 1946 to the present. Vanity project it may have been, but in the long run, the entente cordiale that has existed between the United States and the Philippines from 1945 to the present tends to vindicate MacArthur’s determination to "return." 




Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History


5 Responses

  1. Dennis

    He was very close in politcs and your point seems to back this up. The question I have in this is that MacArthur was not in the U.S. forces for a time. When did he regain his U.S. rank in the Philippines?

    • Jon Guttman

      Dear Dennis,
      When President Franklin D. Roosevelt federalized the Philippine army on July 26, 1941, he also recalled Douglas MacArthur, then serving as military adviser to the Philippine army in a civilian capacity, into the U.S. Army as a major general. He promoted him to lieutenant general the next day, and to general on December 20, 1941.
      Jon Guttman

  2. John

    Just as an addition, I read somewhere that MacArthur’s total casualty count in WWII was less than the casualty count for D Day. Is this true?

    • Jon Guttman

      Dear John,

      I don’t know where you read that, but the latest statistic regarding D-Day sets American dead at 2,499. General Douglas MacArthur suffered 8,310 killed in the course of his campaign to retake Luzon, between October 1944 and the end of the war, when General Tomoyuki Yamashita surrendered what remained of his still-intact army. That’s not counting all of MacArthur’s other defeats and victories. ‘Nuff said?

      Jon Guttman

  3. Tom Robison

    I remember asking my Dad, years ago, why MacArthur was never admonished for his failures in the P.I., and Dad simply answered \Because he was MacARTHUR!\

    ‘Nuff said…


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