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A SUNDAY IN DECEMBER : The American Shogun : MacArthur's Greatest Victory Came in Peace

December 03, 1991|SAM JAMESON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — A legend with a military career that spanned 52 years; a man who stirred passions to both heights and depths; America's last hero; the general who defied his President and sought to expand an unpopular war.

The appellations--and the condemnations--of General of the Army Douglas A. MacArthur still bedevil historians more than two decades after his death in 1964. Yet, on one point--dimmed in the glory of his military triumphs and overwhelmed by the controversy of his dismissal by President Harry S. Truman in the middle of the Korean War--widespread agreement remains.

Historians see MacArthur's finest hour as his stewardship of the defeated Japan, which he ruled as "proconsul" for six years of a seven-year postwar U.S. occupation.

From the hatred and passions of battle, he came to Japan rejecting retaliation and offering renewal to a people who had not only lost a war but also a way of life.

Reforms that Japanese leaders admit no Japanese could have carried out were imposed, not only with the hope of destroying militarism but also with the intent of creating social justice and freedom. After regaining its independence, the Japanese government itself, in awarding him a medal, called his rule "the greatest of all examples of enlightened occupation administration."

When he left Japan after Truman fired him, a quarter of a million Japanese lined the road to the airport, noted MacArthur biographer William Manchester--even though the accompanying motorcade left the U.S. Embassy at 6:28 a.m.

A man who revelled in praise but always turned a deaf ear to criticism, MacArthur himself put the crowd at 2 million.

Emperor Hirohito went to the U.S. Embassy to bid him farewell. Although Hirohito had visited MacArthur many times while he was occupation commander, never before or since has a Japanese emperor, whose every action is determined by centuries of protocol and precedent, called upon a foreigner with no official standing.

Many of MacArthur's occupation reforms were wiped out after he left. Others were adapted to Japanese tastes. But standing as testimony to the achievement of MacArthur's major goal--to strip aggression from Japanese mentality--is the vitality, the prosperity, the peacefulness, and the happiness of the Japanese nation.

It is MacArthur's ultimate memorial. As Manchester wrote in "American Caesar," MacArthur's "achievements as proconsul . . . eclipse those on the battlefield."

Remote and imperial as a person, MacArthur, with what was often described as his "vibrant voice and Olympian personality," remained capable to the eve of his death at 84 of soaring oratorical inspiration and poetic beauty. Yet many a speech was filled with bombast and catered to the basest of emotions.

His plea for peace at the moment of triumph during the surrender ceremony aboard the battleship Missouri in 1945; his "old soldiers never die" address to Congress in 1951, and his 1962 farewell to West Point ("Always there echoes and re-echoes in my ears: duty-honor-country. My last conscious thoughts will be of the corps; and the corps; and the corps") held audiences spellbound and often left them in tears.

After the 1951 "old soldiers" speech, President Truman complained to his aides about "those damned fool congressmen crying like a bunch of women."

The same man advocated expanding the war in Korea and spoke of communism seeping into the highest echelons of government, laying the groundwork for McCarthyism. He even tainted his accomplishments in Japan when, in testimony to Congress in 1951, he declared:

"Measured by the standards of modern civilization, they (the Japanese people) would be like a boy of 12 compared with our development of 45 years (of age)."

It was a comment that soured many Japanese memories of him.

His judgments, too, ranged from the spectacularly insightful to the embarrassingly absurd. He alone among the U.S. military command picked Inchon for his successful comeback in the Korean War--and had to plead for approval of his plan. Yet he declared in 1951 that the capacity of the Philippines "for high moral leadership in Asia is unlimited."

A man who braved battle fire to visit his troops and landed unarmed and unescorted in a Japan where 2.6 million men still bore arms, MacArthur lived a cloistered life in Tokyo. He never went into the countryside. The extent of his travels in the capital was the daily trip back and forth between his home--what had been the residence of the U.S. ambassador--and his office in the Dai-Ichi Insurance Co. building, a distance of less than a mile.

He carried no money. Aides would pay and his wife, Jean, would reimburse them. His social life consisted of hosting occasional luncheons for visitors to Japan and watching movies at home six days a week. He doted upon his son Arthur to such an extent that the boy took an assumed name as an adult to live a life of anonymity.

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