Although he was in Douglas MacArthur’s shadow for much of his military career, in the end, it was George C. Marshall who reached the pinnacle of their profession.
During World War II when George Catlett Marshall finally caught up to Douglas MacArthur in rank and both men wore five stars, Marshall, as army chief of staff, visited MacArthur in the Pacific to discuss strategy. “MacArthur said to me,” Marshall recalled, ‘”My staff tells me so and so.’ ‘You don’t mean your staff,’ I retorted, ‘you mean your court.'” The visitor from Washington had no clique hovering in his orbit, but that was only one of the contrasts between the two men, one a desk-bound brass hat who was perhaps the greatest staff general in American history, the other a flamboyant self-advertiser who led armies abroad and almost never came home. In a rare confession, Marshall once told an artist painting his portrait, “You have endowed me with more of a MacArthur personality than my own less colorful characteristics.”
Marshall and MacArthur had their year of birth in common–1880–but almost nothing else. Their fathers could not have been more different. George C. Marshall Sr., was a civilian soldier, a Union rifle man taken prisoner by the Confederates. Arthur MacArthur became a career officer and a general, one of the youngest in the Union Army. In the war with Spain he further distinguished himself and eventually became the military governor of the Philippines. By then the elder Marshall was a prosperous coal merchant in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Both fathers, however, sent their sons to military academies. Marshall was an average student at the Virginia Military Institute. MacArthur graduated first in his class at West Point–and to make sure he fulfilled his promise, his mother, Mary “Pinky” MacArthur, had followed him to the military academy and watched over his career from a nearby hotel.
While Marshall, as a recently married second lieutenant of 22, shipped out for a tour in the Philippines, General Arthur MacArthur was ruthlessly suppressing nationalist rebels there. When Lieutenant MacArthur, long to remain unmarried, arrived for his first Philippines assignment, the aura of his father’s achievements preceded him. The experience would help shape both young officers–but in different ways.
Posted next to the Oklahoma Territory, Marshall transferred in 1906 to the Infantry and Cavalry School at Fo1t Leaven worth, Kansas. The school was intended to train young officers who appeared likely to rise in the small peacetime army. When he saw that his competition was mostly captains and majors, anxiety set in. But Marshall more than made the cut, emerging first among the 24 chosen for advancement to the next class and continuing at the school for two additional years (1908-10) as an instructor. Contacts he made at the school would prove useful in the future.
Douglas MacArthur, meanwhile, was in Leavenworth’s engineering company. Despite their Philippines service, Marshall and MacArthur hardly knew each other. By then both fathers had died, but Pinky MacArthur continued to steer her son’s career, intervening with her late husband’s associates to make sure that Doug las received the kinds of postings that would move him ahead. As a result he played an active role during a punitive expedition along the Mexican border.
As the Great War began in 1914, both men were promoted to fill gaps in the expanding army. In 1917, following America’s entry into the war, they shipped out separately to France to serve in General John J. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Both were lieutenant colonels, but MacArthur, who had shown his fighting mettle in Mexico under Pershing, won a leadership assignment with the Forty-second Infantry Division. Marshall, meanwhile, was sent to a staff job at First Infantry Division headquarters. His assignment to the First meant that Marshall was near the first major American clash with the German army at Chateau-Thierry and the battle for the crucial village of Cantigny, which the in experienced doughboys managed to hold. Yet Marshall almost missed it. Cantering toward the trenches, his horse slipped in the mud. As the colonel was dragged down, his foot caught in the stirrup, and his ankle was fractured. Insisting on overseeing the operation, he had his leg bound up and–in considerable pain remained with the troops.
Commended for his work, Marshall was promoted to full colonel and promised command of a battalion. A star loomed if he remained in the fighting, but Pershing remembered him from an earlier incident and had other plans.
In October 1917 Pershing had inspected the First Infantry Division, in which then–captain Marshall was a staff officer, and found fault with the unit that Marshall believed was unjust. “General Pershing,” Marshall exclaimed, “there’s something to be said here and I think I should say it because I have been here the longest.” In front of his horrified fellow officers, most of them his seniors, he proceeded to rebut Pershing’s criticisms. The chief was impressed. Later, when Pershing revisited the division, he took Marshall aside and asked him how things were going. Later still, he brought Marshall without delay to AEF General Headquarters (GHQ) at Chaumont, France, where he was assigned to the general staff. Reluctantly, Marshall packed his few belongings and left the First Division. “Six days later,” he wrote, “they dashed into the great counterattack which precipitated the retreat of the German Army, and within seventy-two hours every field officer in the infantry, excepting three colonels, had fallen….All four of the lieutenant colonels were killed, and every battalion commander was a casualty, dead or wounded.”
Regimental command might have done in Marshall. Instead, at Chaumont, well south of the action, he shared a comfort able chateau with Major General Fox Conner, AEF chief of operations, and Major General LeRoy Eltinge, the deputy chief of staff. Marshall spent the last months of the war drawing up operational plans, his first against the St. Mihiel salient. One of the divisions in the salient attack was his old one, the First. Another was the Forty second, where MacArthur, by now also a colonel, was chief of staff, leading engagements from as far forward as he could get and lobbying for his own command. Marshall wrote that had he been with the First Division, “in the line in immediate contact with the enemy,” he would have “struggled with the concrete proposition of feeding, clothing, training, marching and fighting.” At division level his immediate concerns were “trained replacements to fill the thinning ranks, more ammunition and horses; [and] less frequent visits from critical staff officers in limousines would have met our approval.” Now one of the brass from head quarters, he arranged for the relocation of men in the hundreds of thousands and for the movement of thousands of horses, trucks, and artillery. At one point during the offensive Marshall had to arrange for 176,000 sick and wounded soldiers to be evacuated. His intention in planning the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which was designed to finish off the Germans, was to prevent an orderly retreat by forcing the enemy into the rugged Ardennes country, where mobility would be difficult.
Marshall would explain the Germans’ predicament to Pershing: “The gaining of ground counts for little; it is the ruining of his army that will end the struggle.” Still, to men on the line, his job was remote from the anxiety, agony, and danger they experienced and worthy only of ridicule for its pretensions, contempt for its lifestyle, bitterness about its easy avenues to promotion, and hostility toward its lack of hazard.
One of the critics of Chaumont, as the general staff was collectively called, was MacArthur, who had proved himself with the Forty-eighth Infantry Regiment of the “Rainbow Division,” as the Forty second Infantry Division was known because of its multistate composition. He effectively had become the Forty-second’s commander. Major General Charles Menoher, the division’s official commander, passively left everything to his ambitious chief of staff, creating internal jealousies that led to GHQ concerns and talk of breaking up the division. MacArthur blamed Chaumont for undercutting him, although he had already been promoted to brigadier general–at 38, the youngest in the army. In his memoirs he dramatized his Great War glory as it almost certainly never happened:
The night of October 11th was wet and black, and I had just completed plans for the attack when Major General Charles P. Summerall, the V Corps commander, entered the candle-lit C.P. [command post]. He was tired and worn, and I made him drink a cup of steaming black coffee, strong enough to blister the throat. “Give me Chatillon, MacArthur,” he suddenly said, his voice strained and harsh. “Give me Chatillon, or a list of five thousand casualties.” His abruptness startled me. “All right, General,” I assured him, “we’ll take it, or my name will lead the list.”
There were, MacArthur recalled, nearly 1,200 casualties. He was wounded during a gas attack near the Salient du Feys but kept going and was recommended for the Medal of Honor “but,” he said, “the Awards Board at Chaumont disapproved.” He was perceived, he believed, as being too close to his men, who admired his guts and his appetite for glory; too successful at co opting war correspondents, who saw him as good copy; and too careless of the rules in flaunting swaggering dress that called attention to himself. Chaumont, where Marshall plodded on quietly, disapproved of showboating.
When MacArthur learned that there was talk of splitting the Rainbow Division into replacement units, he went to Pershing’s chief of staff, Brigadier General James G. Harbord, whom he had known in Manila. Harbord revoked the order, MacArthur wrote. “My action,” he conceded, “was probably not in strict accord with normal procedure and it created resentment against me among certain members of Pershing’s staff.” What the staff officers at Chaumont did not know was that in Washington MacArthur’s mother left nothing to chance, lobbying the secretary of war and officers who had served under her husband and were now able to help her son.
At the time seeing an opportunity to take Metz, the brigadier secured approval at corps level, but the “high command” disapproved. “It was an example,” a frustrated MacArthur stated, “of the inflexibility in the pursuit of previously conceived ideas that is, unfortunately, too frequent in modern warfare. Final decisions are made not at the front by those who are there, but many miles away by those who can but guess at the possibilities and potentialities.”
Early in November 1918, oblivious to the infighting between MacArthur and headquarters, Marshall authorized the Rainbow Division, as well as the First Division, to strike across the Meuse River toward Sedan. Armistice negotiations were imminent, and both sides wanted the best possible strategic position from which to initiate a cease-fire. Sedan, which was too infused with symbolism for the Germans to relinquish and for the French to ignore, was the target. It had been at Sedan that Napoleon III had effectively lost his throne in 1870 and with it Alsace and Lorraine.
Consulting with his immediate chief, Fox Conner, Marshall was assured that the French were not positioned to seize Sedan before the shooting stopped. Rationalizing that the town was a legitimate American target, Conner directed Marshall on November 5 to prepare instructions for an immediate American attack. Divisions jumping-off would include the Forty-second, now commanded by MacArthur. Despite his promotion to command he still refused to lead from the rear. MacArthur said that he was the subject of complaints from headquarters “that I wore no helmet, that I carried no gas mask, that I went unarmed, that I always had a riding crop in my hand.” Pershing, who had served under Arthur MacArthur, as Pinky regularly reminded him, called the complaints nonsense.
As chief of staff of the First Army, Marshall had been on the promotion list for his star since mid-October, but Congress–not Chaumont–had to confirm all recommendations for the rank of general, and as the war wound down there was resistance in Washington to awarding more stars. When Conner, as Colonel Marshall’s superior, began dictating to him a message that Pershing “desires that the honor of entering Sedan should fall to the First American Army,” Marshall was skeptical about its authenticity. “Am I expected to believe,” he asked, “that this is General Pershing’s order, when I know damn well you came to this conclusion?”
“That is the order of the Commander in Chief,” Conner claimed, “which I am authorized to issue in his name. Now get it out as quickly as possible.”
Pershing, so Marshall directed, “has every confidence that troops…will enable him to realize this desire.” Then, to make certain that the urgency of the order was understood, he added a second paragraph: “In transmitting the foregoing message, your attention is invited to the favorable opportunity for pressing the advance throughout the night.” Although Marshall realized that the American action would overlap the flank of the French Fourth Army, he found excuses, when a tactical advantage might be gained, to ignore “a theoretical line drawn on a map.” It took until that evening before Major General Hugh Drum, on Pershing’s general staff, agreed to the dispatch of the order, adding a further sentence, “Boundaries will not be considered binding.” MacArthur would blame Marshall for the entire text, which “narrowly missed”–he exaggerated causing “one of the great tragedies of American history.”
The result was a free-for-all toward Sedan. MacArthur, however, had prudently postponed his own attack until daylight on the seventh because he did not want troops pushing ahead in darkness into “unfamiliar and rough ground.” Other American commanders did not hesitate, crossing into other units’ fields of fire, even encroaching into the sector held by the French Fortieth Division.
Realizing the hazards of friendly forces firing into one another’s areas, MacArthur set off near dawn to try to prevent it. The First Division was already getting tangled with his division and with the French. Striding ahead, he was taken “at the point of a pistol” by an American patrol, which mistook his floppy hat (he removed the stiff wire grommet from his officer’s cap) and his flowing nonregulation scarf for a German officer’s garb. In his memoirs MacArthur claimed he was “recognized…at once,” and there was no embarrassing capture. In reality, after strenuous protests he effected his release, with apologies, then learned that his division was being relieved by the Seventy-seventh. He had not been around to argue for keeping it in the fight. On the evening of the 9th he reluctantly led the Forty-second into reserve status near Buzancy, to the south. From Sedan, enemy fire was still intense, but MacArthur would see no more of the war. His division had been only three miles from Sedan and from across the Meuse could look down into its streets.
Although MacArthur afterward claimed to see comedy in the affair, he had little sense of humor at the time. Ambition was serious business. He had read the order that had sent everyone through each other’s lines, a desk-drafted blunder apparently committed by George C. Marshall, a colonel he knew vaguely and who represented all that MacArthur found wrong with Chaumont.
Despite MacArthur’s reputation for reckless abandon, he knew that he had been the cautious one in the affair, and Marshall–however under orders and even guiltless of the last line in the order–appeared to be the perpetrator of the chaos. Many years later Marshall dismissed the recriminations as “senseless….The thing was we were succeeding….There’s going to [be] all sorts of turbulence on the battlefield, and this thing was carried back to old animosities. I didn’t have much patience with it.” Perhaps it was nostalgia that later caused him to write, as melodramatically as MacArthur, of the AEF’s final pushes in a way that does not suggest the judicious World War II chief of staff. After all, the armistice approached and every casualty had become unnecessary. The 11th-hour attacks in 1918, Marshall remembered, were:
A typical American “grandstand” finish. The spirit of competition was awakened in the respective divisions to such an extent that the men threw aside all thoughts of danger and fatigue….There were numerous cases where soldiers dropped dead from exhaustion, wonderful examples of self-sacrifice and utter devotion to duty. It requires far less of resolution to meet a machine-gun bullet than it does to drive one’s body to the death. The men in the 6th Division, which lacked thou sands of draft animals, substituted themselves for the missing horses and mules and towed the machine-gun carts and other light vehicles. In six days the army had advanced thirty eight kilometers, and had driven every German beyond the Meuse from Sedan to Verdun. It was a wonderful and in spiring feat of arms.
For MacArthur the reason for being there had vanished. He was ready to bring his division home and savor his glory. Marshall, on the other hand, would accept an assignment as chief of operations for American forces in Germany.
The armistice came into effect at 11 o’clock on November 11, 1918. At First Army headquarters, Marshall had been telephoned the news at 6 in the morning. He rushed to cancel orders for four divisions scheduled to push off at 6:30. Two hours later he wearily went back to sleep, assuming that he had done all that was to be done in his sector to stop the war on time.
Breakfast in Marshall’s headquarters farmhouse for his staff waited until he again awoke, which did not happen until 10:30. At the table the French liaison officer confessed his frustration that he could not go into Germany firing away, at the head of a regiment of fierce Moroccans. As his British equivalent began to air his own grievances about permitting freedom of the seas to the evil Germans, there was a shattering explosion just outside the only window in the room. Marshall was thrown against the wall, stunned. He recalled:
I thought I had been killed, and I think each of the others had the same idea, but we picked ourselves up and found that aside from the ruin of the breakfast, no particular damage had been done. Soon afterwards a young aviator hurried in to see what had happened. He explained that he had been out in his plane with some small bombs, all of which he thought had released, but…one stuck to the rack and as he sailed down just over our roof to make his land ing in the field beyond our garden wall the remaining bomb jerked loose and fell just ten yards outside our window.
If the walls of the old farmhouse had been less sturdy, a different man would have led the U.S. Army in the next war against Germany.
As a staff colonel, Marshall had supervisory duties to follow up the armistice. As late as 4 o’clock that afternoon, five hours after the armistice, Chaumont received word from General Maxime Weygand, Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s chief of staff, that he had heard from the German side “of [the] failure of Americans to stop firing at Stenay, Beaumont, and above the Meuse.” The river crossing had cut some units off from communications, but other divisions had merely paid no attention to the clock. The American Eighty-ninth and Ninetieth Infantry divisions had both reached Stenay, once the headquarters of the German crown prince, in the morning hours. Both now claimed the town, Colonel Marshall understood, “particularly as everyone was looking for a dry place to sleep. After examining the map, I telephoned up instructions that a certain east–and west street would divide the town be tween the two divisions so far as billeting was concerned.” Even later an American platoon entered the village of Cervisy, beyond the armistice line, its lieutenant ordering a German major and his troops to vacate because the village was wanted for beds and washing facilities, “the men having been without these greatly desired things…German protests forced the American cease-fire violators to desist.
Reports began to drift into the Ameri can sector of other problems in ending the fighting. Marshall noted:
The Germans had promptly withdrawn all along the line, and there was thus left a zone in which there was no constituted authority to maintain order. Released prisoners, Russians, Italians, Rumanians, etc., were reported to be endangering the lives of the French inhabitants left in this region. We were forbidden, however, from taking any action as we could not go beyond the Armistice line.
When the mayor of a town in the Woevre plain reached American lines with information that released Russian prisoners had raided abandoned German supply dumps for arms and ammunition and were terrorizing the villagers, Marshall decided to investigate. With his driver he motored to Stenay and on the Montmedy road passed beyond the American lines into unoccupied ground. Two kilometers to the east he found the road “filled from side to side with long-bearded, filthy looking Russians.” When they saw the ramrod-straight American colonel emerge “they instantly formed up into a column of squads and stood rigid and motion less, looking straight to the front.”
Marshall recalled that neither he nor his driver spoke any Russian:
So I called out to them, using the greeting that I understood they always received from their Czar, “Good morning, my children.” To my embarrassment, not a child moved or spoke, and the chauffeur indulged in some ribald laughter. I then pointed toward our own lines and motioned them forward , and the column marched by like a regiment in review.
There were 1,800 of them, captured by General Paul von Hindenburg’s army in 1914 and worked like slaves by the Germans ever since, building fortifications near Verdun. “They were so cowed,” Marshall remembered, “that at the least frown they jerked into a rigid posture, from which it was hard to relax them.”
Marshall’s armistice tasks, which required improvisation and patience, lasted only a few months. He then became Pershing’s aide in postwar Europe, with headquarters in Paris. Now famous, the general was about to set off on a series of official visits to Allied nations, for which Marshall would handle the logistics and share the welcomes. With his future to worry about, he exploited his opportunity to establish bonds with the man most likely to represent the future of the army. He accompanied Pershing in an elaborate victory parade down the Champs Elysees, leading triumphant doughboys under the Arc de Triomphe. Marshall went to Windsor, where Pershing (but not his aide) had lunch with King George V and Queen Mary. He also had his fill of official balls, dinners and receptions, escorting elegant ladies, and visited battlefields and military cemeteries. On September 1, 1919, Marshall sailed home on USS Leviathan, a troop transport that had origin ally been Deutschland, but had been confiscated from the Germans at the start of the war.
After the armistice, MacArthur returned to the Eighty-forth Brigade, which had a temporary occupation assignment on the Rhine. MacArthur departed France aboard Leviathan on April 18, 1918. The ship arrived in New York a week later, and early in May he learned that he would keep his star. With the conflict officially over, the War Department notified Marshall that his wartime rank of colonel was suspended as of his return, and he was once again a permanent–and now elderly captain. Congress, however, awarded four stars to Pershing, two more than the irate army chief of staff, Peyton March. And with Marshall clearly a Pershing man, he would see no favors from March but a grudging homecoming promotion to major.
Pinky MacArthur may have had some thing to do with her son’s next posting as the superintendent of West Point, since March, too, had served under her husband in the Philippines. But for the chief of staff the main thing, when the prestigious superintendency was his to fill, was not to appoint a Pershing acolyte.
All that Major Marshall had going for him was a national inspection tour accompanying Pershing. Pershing would soon succeed March as chief of staff, but in a shrinking postwar army, the Chau mont connection did Marshall little good. MacArthur went from glory to glory from superintendent at West Point to a Philippines assignment (with a promotion to major general) to chief of staff of the army. He brought his mother with him to Manila, where she died two months later. Major Marshall, meanwhile, went from a post in China to an infantry training job at Fort Benning, and finally, as a lieutenant colonel, to a Depression-era appointment at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. There, he supervised 25,000 unemployed young men in 17 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC ) work camps in the South.
By then Marshall had remarried after the death of his first wife, and MacArthur had been married, briefly, to a wealthy and difficult socialite. MacArthur’s task in Washington was to keep the professional army from being downsized too drastically. In the boondocks, Marshall supervised the training of illiterates and near-illiterates in such basic skills as reading and writing, brushing one’s teeth, and learning to swim, as well as building breakwaters and preserving forests.
A military careerist with a social conscience going back to his small-town beginnings, Marshall took pride in his CCC accomplishments, although he knew the assignment would do him no good in moving up in the army. MacArthur also had to deal with the unemployed. A year earlier, in Herbert Hoover’s last months as president, 20,000 jobless veterans nonviolently demonstrating for early payment of a promised World War I bonus had marched on Washington, tenting in open fields and squatting in vacant buildings. When the Senate, blaming the Depression, voted down a payment bill, the self-styled “Bonus Expeditionary Force” refused to leave. On July 28, 1932, MacArthur was ordered by Hoover to evict the veterans. As the chief of staff, in full beribboned uniform, watched from horseback, soldiers of the Sixteenth Infantry, using tear gas and bayonets, routed the protesters, who set fire to their tents and shacks as they fled. MacArthur told the press that he had just saved the country from “incipient revolution.” This arrogant remark dramatized the difference between MacArthur and Marshall.
Later, after public outrage at the brutality of the operation was ignited, MacArthur offered to resign over the “Bonus Army” issue, but he finished out his term as well as a one-year extension. In late 1933, Marshall, upon his promotion to colonel (after 15 years in rising again from captain), was appointed by MacArthur to be chief of staff of the Thirty-third Division, an Illinois National Guard unit. Marshall protested his transfer to yet another military backwater. When General Charles G. Dawes, former vice president under Hoover and a Chaumont crony of Pershing, learned of the assignment he objected: ‘He can’t do that. Hell, no! Not George Marshall. He’s too big a man for this job. In fact he’s the best goddamned officer in the U.S.Army.”
Pershing himself, now retired, appealed to MacArthur but without effect. Instead, the chief of staff commended Marshall to Major General Frank Parker, commander of the Sixth Corps area in the Midwest as an officer with “no superior among infantry colonels.”
That sounded good, and Pershing also learned from MacArthur that a further appointment for Marshall–in the War Department itself–loomed within ten years, as chief of infantry. with a major general’s two stars. That, however, was also a tainted assignment for someone with unextinguished ambitions to be chief of staff. No one in the army moved up to the top job from paper pushing, and time was running out for Marshall. Assuming that Pershing was behind the promise of the infantry desk, Marshall explained that he sought “command duty, with the attendant possibilities for the future…although it had “generally been my fate to draw administrative duties. As I will soon be 54,” he told Pershing, “I must get started if I am going anywhere in the Army.” If he remained on the desk track, he would be pensioned off before he could have a chance to become chief of staff.
Marshall went to Chicago. Pershing then interceded with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who asked the secretary of war to put Marshall on the “list of next promotions,” only to have an army selection board refuse to make any exceptions. And while Marshall again was denied his star, MacArthur had taken early retirement from the army to go to the Philippines to become field marshal of its small army, which was hardly more than a constabulary. MacArthur expected to exploit his large reputation to build a Philippine army while double dipping in earnings.
Under a new chief of staff, Malin Craig, in August 1936 Marshall was assigned–with the general’s star that was first promised to him back in November 1918–to the Fifth Brigade of the Third Division at Vancouver Barracks, Washington. It was, finally, a command position. But now he had more than the insistent support of Pershing. His CCC tenure at Fort Moultrie had brought him to the attention of Roosevelt’s social work-minded confidant (and then secretary of commerce) Harry Hopkins.
After less than two years with the Third Division, Marshall was ordered to Washington, D.C., to be deputy chief of staff, a rare appointment for a brigadier general. From his War Department office, Marshall had written to Pershing late in 1938, as war loomed in Europe and Japan’s occupation of China was entering its third year: “Rumor is destroying me, I fear. I am announced by Tom, Dick and Harry as Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of Staff to be.” Pershing expected both outcomes. Army practice was to appoint as chief of staff a general who had at least four years to serve before mandatory retirement at 64, and of the 31 two- and one-star generals with more seniority in April 1939, only four others, all major generals, were eligible ahead of Brigadier General Marshall. But President Roosevelt chose Marshall because of his connections with Pershing, who admired him from World War I, and Harry Hopkins, who got to know Marshall through the CCC assignment. The tortoise had caught up to the hare.
There had been no excuse for the animosities of 1918 to fester during the interwar years. MacArthur had made it to the top and had no reason to put down Marshall. Now, in part perhaps to show the Japanese that the United States intended to defend the Philippines vigorously, Marshall brought MacArthur back into the U.S. Army as commander in chief of both American and Filipino troops on the islands. It was recognition of his abilities and reputation. Marshall even allocated MacArthur additional funds and equipment, hardly enough to upgrade the American military posture in Manila but all that a penurious Depression-era Congress would appropriate.
Although none of his claims were true, it would not take long before MacArthur boasted of the prowess of his Filipino troops. When the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Marshall warned MacArthur by radiotelephone to be on the alert. MacArthur responded to Brigadier General Leonard Gerow, who had placed the call for Marshall from Washington: “Tell George not to worry. Everything is going to be all right here.” Reinforcing that air of confidence, he added: “You tell George that there have been some enemy planes flying around for a few hours. We are watching them. You don’t have to worry about us. We’ll be all right.”
Nothing was. MacArthur and his court in Manila were not paying attention. His air force was wiped out before it ever left the ground. His troops failed to oppose the invasion of Luzon, although everyone knew exactly where the Japanese were going to land. Unprepared to fall back onto the Bataan Peninsula, MacArthur did so anyway, dooming his troops, whom he visited only once from Corregidor. When Roosevelt sent him a message that help was on the way–and it was diverted instead to Australia because the Japanese “blocked the sea lanes to the Philippines–MacArthur faulted Marshall for talking the president into a morale….boosting lie. Mistrusting his old rival, he charged Marshall with “treachery.”
By Christmas 1941 MacArthur had been rewarded, despite his performance in the Philippines, with four stars, equal to Marshall’s rank as chief of staff. Also, Marshall recommended to Roosevelt that MacArthur be presented the Medal of Honor–for domestic political reasons rather than actual military achievement. Marshall even wrote the text of the citation. Despite the award of the long-coveted medal, MacArthur’s paranoia about Washington, and Marshall in particular, would increase as his carefully nurtured fame in the Far East made him almost unmanageable during the remainder of World War II. On “competence alone,” Marshall conceded throughout the war, MacArthur had earned the Far East command, then the leadership of the projected invasion of Japan and still later the postwar shogun ate of defeated Japan. “I supported Mac Arthur through thick and thin through most of the questions [about him] and opposition to his policies,” Marshall recalled late in life. “He had a great many prejudices and intense feelings….was fighting his battles from start to finish.”
After MacArthur’s spectacular amphibious gamble at Inchon during the early months of the Korean War in 1950, Marshall, now defense secretary (after retiring as secretary of state) under President Harry S. Truman, sent MacArthur a rare handwritten personal letter opening with “Please accept my personal tribute to the courageous campaign you directed…and the daring and perfect strategical operation. “Almost certainly surprised, MacArthur began his reply warmly, “Thanks, George, for your fine message.” Then followed a spin on their relationship, turning it into a fantasy that, perhaps, MacArthur even believed at the moment: “It brings back vividly the memories of past wars and the complete coordination and perfect unity of cooperation which has always existed in our mutual relationships and martial endeavors. Again my deepest appreciation for your message and for your unfailing support.”
Marshall fought his last battle on MacArthur’s behalf six months later, in April 1951, when he tried to avert Truman’s firing of MacArthur for insubordination 10 months into the war. Very likely Marshall was visualizing the potential cost. MacArthur would become a martyred political hero who would return to an America that he hardly knew to rally the belligerent Republicans into expanding a carefully limited war into a global anti-Communist crusade. Truman suggested mildly that his defense secretary should go back into the files and examine the record of MacArthur’s deliberate disobedience over many months since the start of the Korean conflict. Marshall returned to the White House the next day. He had “gone over all those telegrams and communications between General MacArthur and the President of the United States over the past two or three years,” he said, and had “come to the conclusion that the general should have been relieved two or three years ago.”
“Thank you,” said Truman. “Now will you write me the order relieving General MacArthur of his command, and I will have him brought home.”
The order was written in General Omar Bradley’s name (as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and signed by him, but drafted by Paul Nitze, Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s aide, with Bradley’s assistant, Colonel Chester Clifton. It quoted a message to MacArthur from the president, penned by Marshall. The message closed bluntly: “You will turn over your command at once to Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway. You are authorized to have issued such orders as are necessary to complete desired travel to such place as you may select. “MacArthur saw Marshall’s hand in it. Truman, he erroneously thought, did not have the guts for the decision. “George Marshall pulled the trigger,” MacArthur told his palace guard in Tokyo. It was the last shot, MacArthur charged, of the “Chaumont gang.”
STANLEY WEINTRAUB’S MacArthur‘s War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero was published by Free Press in early 2000.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2000 issue (Vol. 12, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Marshall & MacArthur: The Tortoise and The Hare
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