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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proposal to take Formosa as a prelude to directly assaulting Japan and, after its retreat, simply see its troops withdrawn.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
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