Gen. MacArthur, the 'perfumed prince'
Geoff Metcalf interviews author, Korean War vet, Stanley Weintraub

By Geoff Metcalf
Gen. Douglas MacArthur is viewed historically as either a brilliant strategist or the epitome of the Greek concept of hubris. Professor Stanley Weintraub, a Korean War veteran, has written an intriguing new book about the general, entitled, "MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero." An acclaimed historian, Weintraub teaches at Penn State.

WorldNetDaily reporter Geoff Metcalf recently interviewed Stanley Weintraub about his book and its colorful subject.

Question: MacArthur is a study in contrasts. There is really no gray area. Analyses are either really good or really bad.

Answer: The strange thing is, he really was both. He was a brilliant tactician. He was a great leader. He was the youngest general in the army in World War I at the age of 38 and a brilliant superintendent of West Point, where he revised the curriculum. At that point, it appeared that MacArthur was the greatest general we ever produced.

Q: On the other side of the coin, he was what Col. David Hackworth would call a "perfumed prince."

A: Yes, he was. And, strangely enough, the very conservative National Review just published a review of the book and titled it "Five-Star Peacock." Even the National Review has to go along with the fact that the peacock side of him really got in the way.

Q: What I really liked about the book is that you do what in the military we used to call a SWOT analysis of sorts. You address Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. With MacArthur, you really didn't have enough pages to cover it all.

A: I only tell the story -- the 11 months in Korea, during which he plummeted from one of the great heroes in American history, to an also-ran.

Q: His actual "feet on the ground" visits to Korea were really photo opportunities.

A: Yes. He took 13 photo-op trips to Korea, staying from 90 minutes to three or four hours.

Q: Where did he run the war?

A: He didn't stay overnight one night in Korea. He ran the war from the American embassy in Tokyo where he lived and from the Daiichi insurance building across from the Emperor's Palace in Tokyo. That was a fascinating sight for him and I think it made a great deal of difference. He reigned over the Emperor's Palace as the shogun who ran the occupation for about five years. He was, in effect, the emperor. And in that capacity, he became just ungovernable. There was nothing Washington could tell him to do.

MacArthur was thinking about his place in history. He was 70 years old when the war began. He had become the senior general and the highest-ranking general in the Army. There were only a few five-star generals left after World War II. He had taken the place of the emperor in Japan. He had been one of the two theater commanders in World War II and was given a lot of the credit for winning the war in the Pacific. Everything was coming up roses for him and there was just one thing left -- could he still become president? There still was that possibility. He toyed with the idea in 1948 when Harry Truman won miraculously.

Q: You say he actually courted his own dismissal in an effort to undermine Truman.

A: Yes. He wanted to not only undermine Truman but he wanted to create a groundswell of acclaim for himself so that he could ride in on that acclaim and return to the United States as a conquering hero -- as somebody who had been kept from winning the war in Korea by small-minded men. After all, Harry Truman was only a National Guard artillery captain when MacArthur was a general in France in World War I. And here the guy was president and his commander-in-chief. He had absolute contempt for Harry Truman.

Q: You write he was also obsessed with the "Red Menace."

A: He was obsessed with the Red Menace as many ultraconservatives were. They felt that there was a sellout of China by the American government, that somehow the Mao government who had won the civil war was permitted to win it by our mistakes and our neglect.

But it just wasn't true. Chiang Kai-shek and his armies were corrupt and inefficient. With all the supplies we gave him, he was just run out of China and left on Taiwan, which they then called Formosa. MacArthur was convinced that Taiwan was like an artillery shell that could have been fired back into mainland China to upset the revolution.

Q: I knew the guy had a monster ego and all that goes with it but I did not know that MacArthur had actually considered using atomic bombs on Chinese territory.

A: I think he toyed with the idea, not realizing that there would be no way the administration in Washington would give him permission to do it. He did not use the atomic bombs in World War II. That was Adm. Nimitz's theater. The Pacific war was divided into two theaters and MacArthur had the theater involving the Philippine islands and the island hopping that was done into Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

Q: Are you saying he had A-bomb envy?

A: He may have had A-bomb envy. He hadn't had a shot at it. He didn't end the war. The man who ended the war was the admiral.

Q: Please explain this "Operation Yo-Yo" where Marine Divisions sailed up and down the coast basically looking for an objective. How did that happen?

A: That was one of the most harebrained things MacArthur ever did in his life. Strangely, it followed what was probably the most brilliant tactical maneuvers he ever made -- Inchon.

He arranged for the landing at Inchon just north of Seoul and bottled up about 150,000 North Koreans, and it looked as though he had won the war. But he wanted to chase the North Koreans not only beyond the 38th parallel, which was the dividing line between the two Koreas, but he wanted to unify Korea top to bottom right up to the Manchurian border. And so he decided not to have the chase continue, which is what should have been done. Instead, he had his favorite general, who had been his chief-of-staff, Edward Almond, take the First Marine Division and some other Army troops, load them back on their boats and sail all the way around Korea to the other side. They were to sail around to the other side, land somewhere on the northeast coast and chase the enemy further north.

The only trouble was our intelligence was so bad because MacArthur had toadies who only told him what he wanted to know. They told him the Chinese wouldn't intervene, that there would be no problem and that they could land very easily. They loaded the Marines back up and they found tens of thousands of mines.

That was going to keep them from landing. Meanwhile, Bob Hope had arrived to entertain the troops. He landed by air and saw the whole convoy offshore. We have a cartoon in the book that was published at the time of Bob Hope waving at the American forces offshore. That is where they were stuck. That whole operation delayed the chase north six weeks to two months. By the time the Marines got up into the hills, winter had set-in and the Chinese had intervened.

While the troops were waiting to land, we had no minesweepers. MacArthur had to get old Japanese minesweepers -- which were illegal to use in the war -- but he got them anyway. And, while the mines were being swept and one Japanese minesweeper was sunk, the Marines went up and down the coast -- because if they had just wallowed there, they all would have been seasick. They called this "Operation Yo-Yo" -- up and down, up and down the coast of Korea.

Finally, they landed, but the Chinese had landed also and we didn't even know the Chinese were there. MacArthur had promised Harry Truman: "Organized resistance will be terminated by Thanksgiving. They are thoroughly whipped." Well, they were not thoroughly whipped and we didn't even know the Chinese had slipped in. MacArthur's intelligence sheep had said there was no chance of it. This was an intelligence failure of the largest sort you could imagine.

Q: I heard there is some dictionary that actually has a picture of MacArthur next to the word "hubris." Is that true?

A: I don't know, but MacArthur would certainly fit the term very well indeed. But he panicked at the time the Chinese invaded and he wanted to leave Korea altogether. He had sent the Joint Chiefs a 38-sheet plan on how to withdraw all U.N. forces and equipment from Korea to Japan. He wanted to have another Dunkirk -- a term we use after World War II for a complete abandonment and evacuation. And Gen. O. P. Smith said, "Impossible. We don't have to lose this war. We can stay in Korea."

Q: Reportedly, both after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and after the Chinese showed up in Korea, MacArthur had periods where he was virtually catatonic. Is that true?

A: Not after the Chinese presence in Korea, but after he first learned of the invasion of Korea. It is really strange; he suffered from an unexplained depression at those points.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Gen. George Marshall, who was chief-of-staff of the Army and a longtime rival of MacArthur, called him by scrambler telephone in Manila and said: "Pearl Harbor has been bombed. We are at war with Japan. They are closer to you than they are to Hawaii. You had better be on the alert. Get your planes up in the air. Get everybody on alert and be on a war footing." MacArthur did absolutely nothing. He sat on the edge of his bed and asked his wife to bring him his Bible. And he sat on the edge of his bed and read his Bible. He gave no instructions whatsoever. Nine hours after that phone call, the Japanese bombed Clark Field and destroyed most of our B-17 Flying Fortresses on the ground.

Q: Who was Maggie Higgins?

A: Maggie Higgins turns out to be the heroine of my book. I don't think I intended that when I started doing the research. I never met her when I was in Korea as a young lieutenant, but I should have liked to. She was 29 or 30 at the time the Korean War began. She had served as a war correspondent for the Herald Tribune in Europe in the last year of World War II. In Korea, she was a tough, go-getting reporter and wasn't above using, as one correspondent put it, "her little girl smile and her big girl body" to get the jump on the competition.

Q: And she was very successful in doing that.

A: She sure was. And she was successful with MacArthur, too. MacArthur liked her and gave her opportunities to cover the war that other people didn't have.

Q: And she didn't do the reporting from some embassy suite somewhere.

A: Oh no. She did the reporting right on the spot and got into a lot of dangerous places. The result was MacArthur's people in Korea wanted her evicted. They said there was no place for her in Korea because there were no ladies' rooms.

At one point, she was evicted from Korea and a Soviet newspaper picked-up the story and ran a cartoon showing her being evicted at bayonet point and the caption read, "MacArthur's First Victory."

Q: So what did Maggie do?

A: In Tokyo, she marched right up to the Daiichi Insurance building where MacArthur was holed-up and demanded to be let back into Korea. He started to tell her war stories and, before long, she had completely turned him around and she went back to Korea.

Q: It seems odd to some that, in Japan, MacArthur seemed to adopt many of FDR's policies and he was supposed to be very conservative.

A: He did bring in "New Deal" policies, social policies giving women the vote and so forth. Fiscally, he remained a conservative, but otherwise he was a social liberal and that was a very strange combination to have at that time. He was a very effective man in running the Japanese government; he just didn't run the American Army. He never visited the Army. He never was out on maneuvers with them. He saw the Army people once a year when they paraded in front of him in Tokyo.

Q: The book focuses on the 11 months of the Korean War, but you provide some interesting underpinnings of the political climate in Washington, Moscow and Peking. What was going on with Stalin and Mao and MacArthur's staff?

A: Stalin, for one thing, was very happy to have that war going on with surrogates, substitutes for his Soviets running the war. They would distract the Americans, he hoped, in Asia while he continued to do what he could to undermine Western Europe. So he wanted the Korean War to go on as long as it could.

He was very happy to have it continue, and he offered all the hardware the North Koreans wanted. He wanted them to pay for it eventually. But he sent them hardware and, at one point, he sent aircraft with pilots. The pilots were told to wear Korean uniforms and they were instructed not to stray below the Yalu River because, if they were shot down, he didn't want us to capture them. And we tried very hard in Korea to capture a Russian. We never captured a Russian. We once captured a Russian woman, who might have been a camp follower, but we never captured any Russians and that made Stalin very happy. I knew when I was on the troop ship going home in March of 1953 and heard that Stalin had died that the war would soon be over.

Q: Why?

A: Because now Mao was free to be himself and to take Chinese self interest as more important than Stalin's interest.

MacArthur would have liked to become president. He thought that maybe in 1952, if he had overwhelming support when he came home, he might be the Republican candidate for president finally. But the Republicans weren't really interested in him because he had not been back in the United States in nearly 15 years. He knew nothing of domestic politics and nothing of the United States. The irony of this is, the man who became the winning candidate in 1952 was the very young officer who he had had in the Philippines who was, he said, "The best clerk I ever had."