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A Loyal Traitor: General MacArthur as a Romantic Hero

Ryan Beveridge

In 1880, General Douglas MacArthur is born the youngest of three brothers in the army barracks of Little Rock, Arkansas, to Mary Pinckney Hardy and Medal-of-Honor-recipient, Civil War veteran, and Episcopalian Arthur MacArthur Jr., who provides for his family with the meager salary of a First Lieutenant. MacArthur desires to emerge as a Victorian Romantic Hero—the archetype he believes his father personifies—by deeply holding and promoting his belief in Christ, envisioning himself destined for a glorious military career, having great pride in himself, and defying his superiors when he feels they antagonize his values. His mother encouraged him in his endeavors to “… grow up to be a great man,” since his childhood, later following MacArthur to West Point, where he graduates valedictorian. At age 32, MacArthur’s father passes away; he develops a “wound in [his] heart” which he is “never … able to heal …,” and inherits his father’s vast library. MacArthur then turns to the works of Greek philosophers, particularly Plato’s Republic [(“MacArthur, Douglas (1880–1964)”); (Spurgeon)].

While he made several unjustifiable mistakes and regarded himself highly, General Douglas MacArthur overall sought for a new world of harmony and advancement in his vision for all humankind by protecting and proliferating democracy, Christianity, and human lives throughout the world. The Holy Bible and American democratic ideals influence MacArthur’s values which he identifies as what his life is made to foster. Throughout his life, he employs the cardinal virtues of Plato’s Republic to achieve his values by confronting both enemy forces and his superiors and by building the ideas and communities with the people for whom he feels responsible. MacArthur often rejects the common opinions and practices of his superiors and other generals, remaining loyal to his own conscience and values, leading to his prominent successes at the cost of his career and reputation.

First, MacArthur demonstrates the cardinal virtue of fortitude. The general is best known for his commitment and bravery in World War II where he only places his soldiers in as much danger as himself, while other officers of his rank would not. The militarily superior Japanese Empire forewarns America of the imminent invasion of the Philippines. Yet, instead of electing to flee at any point, MacArthur remains to fight Japanese forces and defend the Filipino people whom he cherishes, even while constantly defeated and forced to retreat to Bataan. While the general desires to continue, President Roosevelt orders MacArthur to retreat to Australia. He reluctantly agrees, famously promising the Filipinos, “I shall return,” giving hope to the Filipino people who see MacArthur as the face of their resistance. MacArthur continues to boldly combat the Japanese in the Pacific, leading to his invasion of the Philippines while other generals advise him to drive to Tokyo instead. During the reconquest of the Philippines in Luzon, MacArthur never sits in shelter to plan his attacks like most other generals. Instead, MacArthur rides in his jeep at the front lines, both ensuring his personal oversight of his men and encouraging the morale of American and Filipino soldiers alike. In persevering and battling where others yield, MacArthur heroically manifests the virtue of fortitude in defense of both liberty and the Filipino people [(Hegel); (Lutz); (“MacArthur, Douglas (1880–1964)”); (Rasor)].

Even before his famed World War II campaigns, MacArthur exerts much fortitude to protect his values. During the 1918 Battle of Saint-Mihiel, then-Brigadier General MacArthur’s valor amazes the renowned then-Colonel George S. Patton, Jr. The colonel illustrates to his wife, “They [the Allied soldiers] were all in shell holes except the general, Douglas MacArthur, who was standing on a little hill … I joined him and the creeping barrage came along toward us.” The American forces later defeat the German Army under MacArthur’s fearless leadership, and Patton dubs young MacArthur, “the bravest man I ever met.” In his final famous speech, MacArthur expresses his belief on the sacred obligation of a soldier: “Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory, that if you lose, the Nation will be destroyed, that the very obsession of your public service must be duty, honor, country.” General MacArthur exhibits the cardinal virtue of fortitude with his courage in continuing to fight through all trials, even while most of his men withdraw, committed to defending his values of liberty and democracy [(Hegel); (Lutz); (MacArthur “Duty, Honor Country”)].

Next, Douglas MacArthur exerts Plato’s cardinal virtue of prudence, particularly in his keen military judgement, to serve and protect his nation. In following his own instincts, MacArthur often defies the demands of his superiors, inspired by his two militarily apt father figures: Arthur MacArthur, Jr., and Douglas MacArthur's former commanding general, Leonard Wood. Before the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, General John J. Pershing orders MacArthur and the 42nd Infantry Division to use minimal artillery to create an element of surprise against the Germans. Yet, MacArthur and his officers agree such a decision would end unfavorably for them and that little chance would arise of seizing the Germans off-guard. And so, Brigadier General MacArthur called for a sufficient artillery attack and successfully defeated the Germans, remarking, “It’s sometimes the order that you don't obey that makes you famous.” MacArthur’s following of his own conscience and military judgement, while risking his career with his insubordination, displays his true dedication to achieving victory to protect freedom [(Hegel); (Lutz)].

During the Korean War, MacArthur continues to employ his military prudence and remains loyal to his conscience to preserve and cultivate democracy and Christianity in Asia, remaining loyal to his original orders to overtake the entire Korean Peninsula, against his irresolute superiors. With his military ingenuity, the general successfully forces the North Korean forces to surrender by sending an amphibious assault to a coastal city on the UN border between North and South Korea, instead of directly pushing up North, as many other generals would have done, winning the security of South Korean sovereignty. Yet, MacArthur holds to his proposition that, “There is no substitute for victory,” desiring democracy and Christianity for the Asian peoples and to thwart both communism and a “psychological” catastrophe for his men who he believes fight without a clear cause and will die in vain without a complete reunification of Korea. MacArthur pushes North Korean forces all the way to the Chinese border, prompting an unforeseen Chinese counterattack for which MacArthur draws up a detailed plan guaranteeing full victory in ten days through air raids, blockades, foreign support, and, most importantly, nuclear weapons. The general only listens to his conscience and most prudent judgements, believing he found the only solution to the combined global threat of China and North Korea. MacArthur later reminisces, “Of all the campaigns in my life … the one I felt the most sure of was the one I was deprived of waging properly. I could have won the war in Korea … with considerably fewer casualties than were suffered during the so-called truce period. It would have altered the course of history.” Truman himself threatened to use his nuclear arsenal on North Korea months earlier, but surrenders the idea of a unified, democratic Korea which prompts MacArthur to publicly dispute the president and act without Truman’s approval. The president discharges MacArthur for insubordination, forming the narrative of the Korean war as a victory in solidifying proper civilian control of reckless military officers and damaging the general’s image with the American people. As MacArthur follows his conscience and military prudence, even while risking his career and reputation, in the name of protecting human lives and democracy abroad, General MacArthur arises a true romantic hero [(Blaine); (Cumings); (Hegel); (Lutz); (MacArthur “Farewell Address”); (Patterson, et al.)].

Furthermore, Douglas MacArthur exhibits Plato’s cardinal virtue of temperance, wanting to preserve the lives of his men. Throughout the entire war in the Pacific Theater, General MacArthur’s men suffer around twenty-eight thousand casualties. In comparison, the same number of GIs fall under General Eisenhower during only in the Normandy Landings while Axis Forces kill over two-and-a-half times that number of Allied Soldiers in the Italian Battle of Anzio. During the 1944 Battle of Leyte, MacArthur takes three months to defeat enemy forces because he refuses to treat his soldiers as objects fit for sacrifice but as human beings whom he sends in moderate numbers to level enemy artillery and only lose the least lives possible. In sending his troops in moderation, valuing lives over swift victory, MacArthur employs the virtue of temperance to achieve protect his value of human lives, especially within the American and Allied forces under his command [(Hegel); (Lutz)].

Moreover, MacArthur displays the cardinal virtue of justice during his life. After the Victory over Japan, MacArthur sets about to bring justice into Japanese society. The Japanese people fear enslavement and death after their wartime devastation. Yet, MacArthur delivers an international address first denouncing war which has technologically advanced to the point of “profound concern” and second vowing to rebuild Japan from its poverty into a prosperous, democratic nation to propagate liberty and security to Asia, shocking the Japanese people. One of the general’s first subjects of reform, General Tomoyuki Yamashita committed atrocious war crimes, and MacArthur calls for his imprisonment, asserting, “The soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason for his being.” MacArthur grows fond toward the Japanese people and employs much effort and organization to replace supremacist imperialism in Japan with Christianity and the oppressive, fascist government with a democratic constitution plus legislation benefitting women and poor laborers. The general’s latter endeavors prove more successful than his attempts to grow Christianity. In giving each person their due by punishing those with little respect for human life and ensuring a better society for all the most disadvantaged, including those formerly his enemy, MacArthur showcases the virtue of justice in his actions toward Japan after World War II [(Hajimu); (Hegel); (Lutz); (MacArthur “Radio Address”); (Pathak); (Rasor); (Toll)].

With MacArthur as a commanding officer, countless crucial campaigns result in both victory against oppressive and expansionist regimes for several wars (including the Korean War stalemate) and in most of his men returning home. MacArthur champions the hearts of the Filipino and Japanese people. He inspired the Filipinos to resolutely fight for freedom, liberated them even before defeating Japan, and overall held affection toward the Filipinos. Consequently, after the Philippines gain independence from the United States, the nation which it previously warred against for independence, the Philippines maintain a strong military, political, and economic partnership with America because of the Philippines’ esteem for MacArthur. Japan emerges as the model of modernization throughout Asia with MacArthur’s continuation and guiding of Japan’s burgeoning capitalist economy and with Japan’s democratic constitutional monarchy which some argue remains MacArthur’s most significant direct contribution to society. Today, democracy reigns in much of the Far East while Japan and the Philippines remain two of the United States’ closest and most essential allies [(“Allies”); (Hajimu); (Patterson, et al.); (Sterling); (Toll)].

Douglas MacArthur stands as a genuine Romantic Hero by persevering through his life to defend and cultivate his values of democracy, Christianity, and human lives (especially of those under his authority), the values he believes he was created to protect. During his careers in the military and political administrative spheres, MacArthur persistently obeys his conscience and works with Plato’s cardinal virtues of fortitude, prudence, temperance, and justice to secure victories for the ideas he believes to be in the best interest of humanity: democracy, liberty, Christianity, peace, and returning his soldiers home. MacArthur’s legacy persists in his values maintained by several peoples from United States to the Philippines to South Korea and Japan. While many may criticize the general, were it not for MacArthur and his commitment to his values, the world would have suffered disaster and devastation.


Works Cited

Primary Sources:

"Allies Mark 75th Anniversary of MacArthur Arriving in the Philippines." Morning Edition, 21 Oct. 2019, p. NA. Gale In Context: U.S. History, Accessed 23 May 2023.

MacArthur, Douglas. "Duty, Honor, Country." 12 May 1962. Austin Community College District, edited by David Kramer, Austin Community College,,%20Honor,%20Country.pdf. Accessed 23 May 2023. Address.

Macarthur, Douglas. "Farewell Speech to the Joint Houses of the U.S. Congress, April 19, 1951 (1951)." The Cold War, edited by Walter Hixson, Primary Source Media, 2000. American Journey. Gale in Context: U.S. History, Accessed 23 May 2023.

MacArthur, Douglas. "General MacArthur's Radio Address to the American People, September 2, 1945." 2 Sept. 1945. Battleship Missouri Memorial, USS Missouri Memorial Association, Accessed 23 May 2023. Speech.

Secondary Sources:

Clayton, James D. The Years of MacArthur Vol. 1, 1880–1941. Internet Archive, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Cumings, Bruce. "Why Did Truman Really Fire MacArthur? … The Obscure History of Nuclear Weapons and the Korean War Provides the Answer." History News Network, 10 Jan. 2005. Columbian College of Arts and Sciences: The George Washington University, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Evans, Sterling. "Philippines." America in the World, 1776 to the Present: A Supplement to the Dictionary of American History, edited by Edward J. Blum, vol. 2, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2016, pp. 835-37. Gale in Context: U.S. History, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Hajimu, Masuda. "Japan." America in the World, 1776 to the Present: A Supplement to the Dictionary of American History, edited by Edward J. Blum, vol. 1, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2016, pp. 551-55. Gale in Context: U.S. History, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. "The Philosophy of Plato." The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 4, no. 4, 1870, pp. 320-80. JSTOR, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Lutz, David W. "The Exercise of Military Judgement: A Philosophical Investigation of the Virtues and Vices of General Douglas MacArthur." Journal of Power and Ethics, vol. 1, no. 1, Jan. 2000, p. 68. Gale Academic OneFile Select, Accessed 23 May 2023.

"MacArthur, Douglas (1880-1964)." Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale, 1998. Gale General OneFile, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Pathak, S. M. "Christianity and Christian Influence in Japan after the Second World War." Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 29, no. 2, 1967, pp. 283-95. JSTOR, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Patterson, Amy, et al. "Truman's Firing of General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War." Gale Academic OneFile Select, Gale, Accessed 23 May. 2023.

Spurgeon, John. "Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964)." Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Central Arkansas Library System, 25 Apr. 2023, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Taylor, Blaine. "Douglas MacArthur's Plan to Win the Korean War." Warfare News Network, 2023, Accessed 23 May 2023.

Toll, Ian W. "MacArthur Seeded Japan's Post-World War II Flourishing." Washington Post [Washington, D.C.], 1 Sept. 2020. Gale General OneFile, Accessed 23 May 2023.

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