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American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964

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The Western Way of "Peace," General Douglas MacArthur as Army Chief of Staff, 1931-1935
The Western Way of "Peace," General Douglas MacArthur as Army Chief of Staff, 1931-1935
by Bob Seals

This paper is respectfully dedicated to my maternal grandfather,
Private Lattie C. Sentelle, U.S. Regular Army, 6882836
Company K, 33rd Infantry Regiment,
Fort Clayton, Panama Canal Zone 1936.
An Army Regular in Khaki from the hills of East Tennessee.
"There's allot to be said for a career in the service."

"The President has just informed me that the civil government of the District of Columbia has reported to him that it is unable to maintain law and order in the District.

You will have United States troops proceed immediately to the scene of the disorder. Cooperate fully with the District of Columbia police force which is now in charge. Surround the affected area and clear it without delay.

Turn over all prisoners to the civil authorities.

In your orders insist that any women and children who may be in the affected area be accorded every consideration and kindness. Use all humanity consistent with due execution of this order."[1]

This order, given to the Army Chief of Staff, by the Secretary of War, on a sweltering July afternoon, was one, if not the, most difficult orders ever given to United States Army troops in it's 230 plus years of existence. Civilian authorities had lost control after three police officers and two demonstrators had been killed and wounded. Prescribing the use of force against American civilians, in the nation's capital city, was fraught with danger and dire political repercussions, to say the least. Troops, equipped with live ammunition, bayonets and "tear gas" grenades could have wreaked havoc upon the thousands of unlucky demonstrators, if soldierly good order and discipline were lost in the heat of the moment.

The above episode from 1932 would go down in history as the Bonus March incident and would do much to ensure defeat of a sitting Republican U.S. President, Herbert Hoover, and election of a populist Democratic Governor from New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The distasteful, but legal eviction of Great War Veterans, demonstrating for their Congressionally authorized service bonuses, would be but one of the many challenges faced by the U.S. Army, and its Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur, during the critical interwar years of 1931-35. During his four year tenure as Army Chief of Staff, General MacArthur would personify and illustrate many of the virtues found in the Western Way of War, as defined by Dr. Victor Davis Hanson in his notable book Carnage and Culture. To many this is a different concept; that is, to take a theory or historical paradigm used exclusively for warfare, a controversial one at that, and apply the same to a peacetime era; albeit a period fraught with danger and challenges as typified by the Bonus March incident. But in many respects this is one of the true strengths of the Western Way of War, the fact that it is as applicable in peacetime as in war.

Warfare is often defined by the dictionary as (1) the waging of war against an enemy, (2) a state of disharmony or conflict; strife, or (3) acts undertaken to destroy or undermine the strength of another.[2] Thus, as per the definition, even periods of peace often times have considerable disharmony, conflict or strife. In fact, the way a nation or army handles this "war," or conflict, during peacetime is one of the truest tests ever faced by an institution. This war, during peacetime, is never acknowledged with medals, campaign streamers, parades and speeches, but is supremely important and worthy of study and recognition. This paper is an attempt to illuminate one of the lesser known and acknowledged periods of war during peacetime and demonstrate why such periods are important to the Western Way of War.

The situation, late in November of 1930, as General MacArthur took the oath of office as the thirteenth U.S. Army Chief of Staff, could not have been more serious for the United States, and its Army. The year before, the 24th of October 1929, would go down in history as "Black Thursday" as the wildly inflated New York Stock Market collapsed, plunging the nation into a full blown economic crisis. The "Roaring Twenties," a time of pleasure and plenty after the First World War was over. President Herbert Hoover, with less than a full year in office in 1929, would continue to issue reassuring statements to the effect that the "fundamentals" of the financial system were sound and that the United States was "more prosperous and more industrious than ever before."[3] The Great Depression, as the economic disaster would be forever known, was the worst the United States had ever experienced. Exact figures as to the magnitude of the disaster vary but in very short order U.S. industrial production declined by half, new construction fell by over eighty percent and some ten to forty million workers were unemployed or lacked steady employment, out of a nation composed of only 122 million at the time.[4] Banks failed, individuals lost their homes and life savings, farms were foreclosed and families hit the road in search of a better life in California, or at least steady work that would keep the wolf from the door.

The United States Army faired little better during the depression, as always, a reflection of the society at large, on a smaller but more khaki or olive drab scale. Following a reoccurring American military history theme of wartime expansion and peacetime contraction, the Army, after expanding to a massive 4 million men during the First World War, had fallen back to more traditional skeleton like force levels. After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the National Defense Act of 1920, as approved by the U.S. Congress, had authorized a sound, but modest plan for the post-war Army. The Army, in theory at least, would be composed of three elements, a professional Regular Army, a part time National Guard, and organized reserves consisting of the Officer and Enlisted Reserve Corps. The Regular Army's authorized strength would be 280,000 enlisted and 12,000 officers with additional units and soldiers coming from the Guard and Reserves on the event of mobilization. Army strength had never matched the above authorizations and had been; in fact, on a slow, steady curve of decline from 1920. That year, Regular Army personnel figures peaked at 200,000 enlisted and 12,000 officers total, falling to 125,000 and 12,000 two years later in 1922.[5]

These crippling figures would remain fairly constant for many years, with only about 25% of officers and 50% enlisted authorized in almost all units. The Army was in many respects a relic of 19th century frontier days, spread across the nation in small, isolated posts, with some 34 posts having only a battalion or smaller force permanently stationed at that location. Training and readiness suffered, and making any sort of field training exercise above battalion level almost impossible. Shortages abounded, and as could be expected, the Army had to exist primarily on World War One surplus arms and equipment. Only meager funds were available for experimentation and procurement of expensive new weapons systems such as tanks and aircraft. Pay, and promotions, for the average soldier were dismal with rates little changed in over twenty years. A private earned the magnificent sum of 21.00 dollars a month, and had little to no hope of achieving the lofty rank of corporal, until well into his second enlistment, some 5 or 6 years into the future. By the start of the new decade in 1930, the United States Army had fallen to 17th in terms of strength worldwide, ranking behind such small nations as Portugal and Greece.[6]

Across the two protecting oceans, the situation, in respects, was just as grim in Europe and Asia. The economic depression was worldwide, and with the dawn of a new decade, political stability crumbled. In Europe, that year of 1931, as MacArthur assumed his duties, King Alfonso XIII of Spain was overthrown, and the Allies evacuated the Saar. In Asia, Japanese Army aggression in Manchuria precipitated a crisis that attracted world wide attention and diplomatic protests, but little to no concrete actions against Imperial Japan from the west. President Hoover would be urged by MacArthur and others in his administration to consider steps such as economic sanctions but would ultimately reject any measures against Japan, apart from protests and sending the 31st Infantry Regiment from the Philippines to reinforce the small American garrison in Shanghai. Throughout MacArthur's term as Chief of Staff global political unrest would continue as the Axis powers gathered strength. During the early 1930's Japan established the puppet state of Manchukuo with the "Last Emperor," Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, both Germany and Japan withdrew from the League of Nations, denounced the Naval Reduction and Versailles Treaties, and Italy's Mussolini began his war of aggression against one of the few independent nations of Africa, Ethiopia.[7] General MacArthur would travel twice to Europe during his term as Chief of Staff to observe Allied maneuvers and would declare the continent to be "troubled and confused."[8]

The Axis dictators would see only weakness and disorder in the democratic nations. Many were convinced, with some justification that the Allies who had won the First World War had lost the will to fight. Case in point was the impression made by the shameful Joad Resolution in Oxford, England, in 1933 that declared "That this house will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country." Little wonder that the Italian Duce remarked afterwards "These men are not made of the same stuff as Francis Drake and the other magnificent English adventurers who created the Empire. They are, after all, the tired sons of a long line of rich men."[9] The storm was gathering during those "wilderness years," to paraphrase Churchill, for those willing to look ahead.

Douglas MacArthur, at age 50 when appointed as Army Chief of Staff, was the youngest Chief of Staff since William T. Sherman held the post after the Civil War. General MacArthur, even at that point, was already one of the most intriguing, and capable, personalities in American Military History. He was the son of a celebrated Union general, Arthur MacArthur, who had won the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. His father would eventually run afoul of his civilian masters after the Spanish-American War, thereby not achieving a fourth star, and appointment in his own right as Army Chief of Staff.

Douglas MacArthur would literally go from the cradle, at Fort Dodge, Arkansas, to the grave, at Walter Reed Army Hospital, in the United States Army. First in his class of 1903 at the Military Academy at West Point, the most decorated officer to come out of World War I with two Distinguished Service Crosses and seven Silver Stars, he was described by no less an authority than George S. Patton Jr., after a battlefield encounter at St. Mihiel in 1918, as the bravest man he had ever met.[10] He ended the First World War as the Commanding General of the 42nd Infantry, the celebrated "Rainbow Division," composed of National Guardsmen from across the country. After the war, General MacArthur went on to success after success, serving as the Commandant of the Military Academy, Commander of the Manila Military District, Corps Commander, and Commanding General of the Phillippine Department. He was appointed by President Hoover as a full general, the thirteen Chief of Staff of the Army, on 21 November 1930, replacing General Charles P. Summerall.[11]

The Army Chief of Staff at the time, as per Army Regulations, had considerable authority and responsibilities. His duties included "command, discipline, training, and recruitment of the Army, military operations, distribution of troops, inspections, armament, fortifications, military education and instruction and kindred matters, but includes also in an advisory capacity such duties connected with fiscal administration and supply as are committed to him by the Secretary of War." Additionally, in the event of mobilization and war, the Chief of Staff, as opposed to our current system with layers of Joint and Unified Commands in the United States and across the globe, would become the Commanding General of all Army forces in the field.[12]

The United States, after the "War to End All Wars" was understandably weary of warfare and the military in general. A wave of anti-militarism and pacifism swept over both Europe and the United States. The era was marked by various international efforts, sincere but misguided, to prevent another slaughter in the trenches. These efforts would include the Kellogg-Briand Pact of Paris in 1928 outlawing war, the 1930 London Naval Conference and the 1932-34 World Disarmament Conference held in Geneva.[13] Never one to avoid a fight, General MacArthur stood firm against this tide of anti-military sentiment, willing to challenge presidents, politicians and the public.

In 1931 the new Army Chief of Staff faced a myriad of peacetime enemies, some rather benign, others much more threatening. One of General MacArthur's opponents, as he fought for the survival of the Army, was the sitting U.S. President, Herbert Hoover, the thirty-first man elected to the Presidency. The "Great Engineer" in the White House was an intelligent, sincere and thoughtful man. Hoover had proven himself as an efficient mining engineer and organizer to include noteworthy service during the Boxer Rebellion in China and on the Committee for Belgian Relief and American Food Administration during World War I. Although a Quaker by religion, he was not a pacifist, but had a considerable "abhorrence for war" that would lead him to support concepts such as the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war, and non-resistance to aggression from Axis Powers such as the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria.[14]

At the 1932 World Disarmament Conference in Geneva President Hoover had proposed to the fifty one nations in attendance that all offensive weapons of war, to include submarines, tanks, heavy artillery, chemical and bacteriological agents, and bombers, be outlawed and all standing land forces be reduced by a third.[15] He constantly sought to achieve economy by slashing the Army's budget, and manpower, by limiting responsibilities to defense of the Western Hemisphere; thereby disregarding the considerable American overseas possessions such as the Hawaiian and Philippine Islands in the Pacific. After 1929 President Hoover would intensify his cost cutting efforts with the Army share of federal government spending falling to 7.5% of the budget, half the pre-World War One amount.[16] Throughout Hoover's term of office MacArthur would be persistent in challenging both the President and Congress for increased funding for the Army, with little to no success. Ironically Hoover and MacArthur would both reside at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York after retirement, both supreme individualists, remaining on friendly terms until their respective deaths in 1964.[17]

With the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, it was commonly assumed that the new President would select a new Army chief of Staff; however, to the surprise of many he retained General MacArthur. Relations between MacArthur and Roosevelt would be strained from the beginning, perhaps due to the General's personal involvement in the Bonus Army incident. As the governor of New York, Roosevelt had once described to a confident that he considered the populist Huey Long and General MacArthur to be "the two most dangerous men in the country."[18] The stage would be set for a clash of powerful personalities, as FDR and the New Dealers sought to achieve even great economy at the expense of the Army. Lost in the flurry of the first 100 days of the new administration, and the blizzard of new agencies and projects to lift the nation out of the depression, were additional cost savings measures directed against the Army. Pay was cut by 15%, reducing a privates pay from $21 a month to an abysmal $17.85. Additionally, proposals were added to the Army appropriation bill to give the new president the power to "furlough" every officer in the force if so desired and cut additional personnel and funding as required. General MacArthur made the decision that time had come to challenge the President openly and he demanded an appointment with the President, "Unless I have word that I can talk with President Roosevelt by one this afternoon, I shall hand in my resignation as Chief of Staff at two and shall explain my reasons in full to the press associations at three." If nothing, the General most certainly had a flair for the dramatic. After their tempestuous meeting, during which MacArthur informed the President that when the next war was lost he wanted dying soldiers to curse FDR and not MacArthur, MacArthur offered to resign. After the drama, with General MacArthur dramatically vomiting on the steps of the White House, Roosevelt would back down and rescind many of the drastic measures to include the force reductions and officer cutbacks. [19]

The decisive point, during these peacetime battles of the depression, to MacArthur, was the officer corps of the Army. He would be willing to accept risk and shortfalls in the modernization and mechanization of the Army but not the officer leadership. As General MacArthur emphasized, in a letter released to the public, "Trained officers constitute the most vitally essential element in modern warfare…An army can live on short rations, it can be insufficiently clothed and housed, it can even be poorly armed and equipped, but in action it is doomed to destruction without the trained and adequate leadership of officers. An efficient and sufficient Corps of Officers means the difference between victory and defeat."[20]

In addition to Presidents, General MacArthur would battle other politicians as Chief of Staff. Contentious budget battles with Congress would be a hallmark of his tenure as Army Chief of Staff. These were battles that he would fight year after year but would most often lose. As Chief of Staff the budget would decline steadily from a high of 347 million, in 1931, falling to a low of 277 million in 1934, before beginning to rise from the pre-war ashes. MacArthur's chief congressional enemy during these years was Representative Ross Collins, a long serving Democrat from Mississippi. As the powerful chairman of the House Military Appropriations Committee, Congressman Collings would make the annual budget battle difficult for the new Chief of Staff. MacArthur would become increasingly bitter about his clashes with Congress, and Collins, reflecting at one point that "I have humiliated myself, I have almost licked the boots of some gentlemen to get funds…" Collins, like FDR, would propose cost saving measures also to include cutting certain costly Army pensions, to include the war hero General Pershing, and reducing personnel in order to purchase more arms and equipment. Collins and MacArthur would clash repeatedly, to include MacArthur walking out of an appropriations hearing after declaring he had been insulted and that "I in my profession am as high as you are in yours. When you are ready to apologize, I shall return."[21] MacArthur would return and testify but the hard feelings between the Chief and Congress would remain. The Army and Navy Journal would thank the Chief of Staff, after proposed officer cutbacks were defeated, "for seven, long dreary months General MacArthur fought the forces of destruction in the Congress."[22]

If General MacArthur achieved some peacetime success with Presidents and Congress, by preserving the Army's officer corps, he would be rather less successful with the third opponent he faced during his tenure, the American public. Perhaps the biggest public relations disaster for the pre-war Army would occur with General MacArthur at the helm as Army Chief of Staff.

In 1924 Congress voted the Adjusted Service Certificate Bill into law. The law authorized payment of a bonus, a dollar a day for every day served in the states, with a dollar and quarter each day served overseas, for all veterans of the First World War. The bonus would be paid in full in the distant year of 1945. Most veterans were due around $1000 or so, a significant sum of money at the time, given that a loaf of bread cost about 7 cents.[23] In 1932 Congress proposed to pay the Bonus rather than wait and an army of unemployed veterans, the Bonus Army, led by a former sergeant, Walter Walters, marched to Washington from across the nation in support of immediate payment. The payment bill would be eventually voted down at the urging of President Hoover. As June turned into July, many of the veterans refused to return home, and the patience of many began to wear thin. President Hoover, who had informed the veterans that he was too busy to meet with them, began to see the Bonus Army as a potential threat to the government. On 28 July 1932, after several policemen and veterans were killed and injured during an eviction protest, a formal request went to the President for assistance in keeping order from District of Columbia authorities. After receipt of written orders from the President, General MacArthur alerted the 12th Infantry and 3rd Cavalry Regiments at Forts Myer and Washington. MacArthur prepared to oversee this distasteful duty personally, over the objections of his aide, a future President of the United States.[24]

"General MacArthur decided that he should go into active command in the field. By this time our relationship was fairly close, close enough that I felt free to object…I thought it highly inappropriate for the Chief of Staff of the Army to be involved in anything like a local or street-corner embroilment….I remarked that there would probably be newspaper reporters trying to see him. I suggested it would be the better part of wisdom, if not valor, to avoid meeting them."[25] But, as decisive in peace as in war, MacArthur would not hide, as President Hoover, but would be on the scene, seen by all. "In accordance with the President's request, I accompanied General Miles and brought with me two officers who later wrote their names on world history: Major Dwight D. Eisenhower and Major George S. Patton."[26] A full account of the Bonus March incident is outside the boundaries of this paper, but by midnight on the 28th of July the unfortunate veterans had been forcibly evicted from their shanties with only minor injuries to all concerned. Recent historical evidence suggests that MacArthur may have not received a vital order to stop at a key point during the incident, due to the efforts of his Vice Chief of Staff.[27]

The fact is, overlooked by most, the day could have been much, much worse. With hundreds of troops armed with live ammunition, the potential for disaster, when attempting to disperse brick throwing demonstrators, was most definitely present. Major Patton, who had ridden during the incident as the Executive Officer of the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry, afterwards wrote "If, during this operation, a single shot had been fired many would have died, for in the dark on a flat plane [plain] fire discipline could not have been maintained, and there was no cover. It speaks volumes for the high character of the men that not a shot was fired."[28] MacArthur reflected also in his report to the Secretary of War that "Thus a most disagreeable task was performed in such a way as to leave behind it a minimum of unpleasant aftermath and legitimate resentment." After the immediate political fallout began the following day, MacArthur offered to resign as Chief of Staff, but Hoover declined to accept the resignation.[29] The Bonus March, of course, was a disaster for all concerned, the veterans, the Army, President Hoover, and General MacArthur. Since he was on the scene the legend was born of MacArthur on horseback, brutal, ruthless, firing upon hungry veterans peacefully protesting. As with most legends the truth is considerably different, and much more interesting, but the reality is the Bonus Army incident was a public relations disaster for MacArthur, and the Army, alienating the American public at large. General MacArthur would continue to challenge what he referred to as "pacifism and communism" where ever he found it, to include various college campuses and pulpits across America during the depression years.[30] Critics ranging the spectrum from columnist Drew Pearson to the American Legion would express resentment and bitterness towards MacArthur for years. This dissent and open debate between MacArthur and his critics, Presidents, Congressmen, and the public, is illustrative of the freedom and strength of a democratic society, key values of the Western Way of War.

In the end how does one access General Douglas MacArthur's tenure as Army Chief of Staff from 1931-35? Like most significant human endeavors, his term as U.S. Army Chief of Staff was a mixture of considerable success and failure; enough success to establish his place as one of the greatest Chiefs in history, with enough shortcomings to quicken the pulse of the legion that dislike General MacArthur.

On the positive side of the ledger General MacArthur made decisions that undoubtedly made the U.S. Army a more effective fighting force during the Second World War. Technologically speaking, newer and powerful weapons such as the M-1 Garand Rifle, the 105-mm howitzer, the B-17 Flying Fortress, and light and medium tanks were developed, perfected and adapted. Organizationally speaking, the Army was reorganized and strengthened by the adoption of a modern General Headquarters Staff in Washington, the four Armies and nine tactical corps plan, and an educational system to include the Command and General Staff School, the Army War College and Industrial College, all either revitalized or established. Plans were developed that would provide the initial framework for American entry into the war, to include the famous "Rainbow" series of plans dealing with threats from various nations. Stagnate, and glacier like, officer promotion rates were modernized, lowering the average age for a full Colonel to 50 from the near retirement age of 60 or so.

The Army Air Corps also progressed during those years to include the establishment of a General Headquarters for Air Forces in 1935. His modernization of uniforms, and the Army's awards and decorations policies, such as reinstating the Purple Heart, raised morale through out the force. But it was MacArthur's fighting for, and protection of, the officer leadership of the Army that was his most significant accomplishment as Chief of Staff. He fought for and eventually won, increases in not only the size of the U.S. Military Academy's Corps of Cadets but additional increases in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) , the Officers' Reserve Corps, and the Citizens' Military Training Camps (CMTC). It is interesting to note that a future U.S. President, Ronald Reagan would attend CMTC training and earn his Reserve Officers commission with the 14th Cavalry Regiment in Iowa.[31]

One will never know, a fascinating what-if of history, but perhaps officers such as Marshall, Bradley, Patton, Eisenhower, would have been placed upon furlough, and subsequent retirement, had not General MacArthur so ably defended the leadership of the Army during those turbulent early years of the Great Depression. MacArthur, always one to see the essence of the matter, stated in his memoirs "At a time when Hitler was still popularly regarded as a windbag, Japan publicized as a fake, and our government promising it would forever keep us out of war, we formed the central character of the United States Army of World War II."[32]

On the negative side of that ledger, and there is a downside to MacArthur's tenure as Army Chief of Staff, he did seem to not fully grasp the tremendous potential of mechanization, to include the airplane and tank, in the war to come. True, he supported establishment of experimental armored forces during the period but Army mechanization never progressed past brigade level. Additionally, his mischaracterization of the Bonus Army marchers as communists and criminals in 1932 did not add any luster to his or the Army's record, no matter how much a potential disaster was avoided. Pay for the troops, officer and enlisted, remained at peon like levels, virtually unchanged since 1908, thus the embarrassing spectacle of Army privates in 1935 earning the magnificent sum of 18.00 dollars a month while CCC recruits were paid 30.00 for that same month![33] But perhaps it was unrealistic to expect better pay during the depression with millions of Americans in soup lines battling daily to house, clothe and feed their families.

It is clear that General MacArthur was a bold, capable and controversial leader who was not afraid to challenge all his enemies, real and imagined, in his fight for the betterment of the institution that he held most dear, the United States Army. Only in a free and democratic system of government, with open debate and dissent, could an Army Chief of Staff speak his mind to his civilian superiors, to include a President, without fear of dire repercussions such as being beheaded, sent to the gulag, or run through a wood chipper. General MacArthur was politically aware but, at least in the 1930's, not a partisan supporter identified with one political party. He was just as willing to confront a Republican President as a Democratic President, and offer his resignation if he felt the occasion possibly warranted his dismissal by the Commander-in-Chief. Far from being one of the two most "dangerous men" in the country, as described by FDR, the leading MacArthur scholar of our time has stated that nothing in his letters, speeches or actions during the 1930's suggests that the general had either presidential or dictatorial ambitions.[34] MacArthur's ambitions would change over the years. Two decades later, in the wake of his dismissal from command in Korea by President Truman, he would come to be identified with the hard right wing of the Republican Party, willing to serve as President but not having the political savvy to be a viable candidate.

Many, then and now, would rate General MacArthur's tenure as Chief to have been on the whole successful, strengthening a small embattled Army for the coming storm. A retired officer, who was an institution himself, had this to say of the General's tour as Chief of Staff "I have only praise for General MacArthur as Chief of Staff. He has fully measured up to that high position. He has the clear conception rarely found of the functions of the Chief of Staff and the General Staff, itself. He thoroughly comprehends the requirements necessary to develop the Army, the National Guard and the Reserves into a unified fighting force for National Defense. He is progressive without being radical. His courageous presentations to high authority of his sound views and recommendations have been admirable. By his administration of his office he has won the entire confidence of the Army and Country."[35] This from General Pershing, a superior of MacArthur's during the Great War, and afterwards, who often had strong disagreements with the general.

Finally, the archivist of the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, had the following to say "MacArthur's period as Chief of Staff should be remembered as one of the high points of his career. He kept the officer corps together at a time when Congress and the President felt that the Armed Forces were the last priority during the depression…the officer corps was kept intact and was there to put together the army that won World War II."[36] The Great Depression turned out to be a time of great stress and challenges for not only the nation but the Army as well. During a time of economic woes, isolationism and pacifism, the U.S. Army was well served by General Douglas MacArthur.

"In the last few years, it has become popular to say that history is determined largely by sweeping inanimate forces of technology, the environment, gender, class or race. We play down the role of individuals—as if the notion that one person can shape history is old-fashioned. Fearless iconoclasts…really can make an enormous difference. They remind us that history is not faceless, but can still be changed by just a few brave people after all."[37] History is brilliantly illuminated with examples of the difference that one individual can make. We are reminded of the above by Dr. Hanson in a recent column. The Western Way of War, as articulated by Victor Davis Hanson in Carnage and Culture is just as applicable during those long, unglamorous, unstudied years of peace as well as war. Western values such as political freedom, capitalism, individualism, democracy, scientific inquiry, rationalism and open debate are as effective, and at times decisive, in peace as in war. Battles and war, naturally enough, are what military historians concentrate on and write of, but it is the years of peace, with their mundane training, drills, exercises, weapons development, bitter budgetary battles and distasteful duty which lays the foundation for success, or failure during war. Our example of General Douglas MacArthur, as the Army Chief of Staff during the crucial years 1931-35, is a stark reminder of how important the years of peace are to a successful Army.

The values expressed in the Western Way of War must be present, and effective, during peace to such an extent that a General can openly, respectfully disagree with his civilian superiors to include a Secretary, Prime Minister or President. This openness and freedom is the only way the West, and its unique way of war, can operate at maximum efficiency against all enemies. The healthy, respectful, give and take of ideas and opinions can only serve to ultimately create a stronger system of government, and war. General MacArthur was not on a traditional battlefield during his years as Army Chief of Staff but the enemies he, and the Army faced, were all too real; to include public apathy, declining budgets, hostile politicians, modernization pains and international strife.

The entire decade of the 1930's would be a lean one for the Army, witness soldiers training with sticks and trucks marked with signs marked tank, stark examples of a lack of funds and interest. It is to General MacArthur's everlasting credit that he maintained the integrity, morale and leadership of the U.S. Army during those tough years against the forces of apathy and economy. This was an Army that would expand, harden, and mature into the superb 8 million man force, of 91 divisions, that would completely destroy, on ground and air, the most implacable foes ever faced by our nation during World War II. As Dr. Hanson reminds us, the general public, and many scholars, are, on the whole, unaware of how unique, and lethal, our western societies are in war.[38] That supreme deadliness does not simply spring forth fully formed from the forehead of Mars, but is a result of years of effort during periods of peace. To General MacArthur's ever lasting credit, let it said that he fought the good fight for an Army during some very savage years of peace, 1931-1935.
* * *

Show Footnotes and Bibliography

* * *

Copyright © 2007 Bob Seals.

Written by Bob Seals. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Bob Seals at:

About the author:
Bob Seals is a retired Army Special Forces officer employed by General Dynamics at the Special Operations Mission Training Center on Fort Bragg. He lives on a small horse farm with his wife, a retired Army Veterinary Corps officer, and son, who both ride polocrosse and hunt with the Moore County Hounds. His duties include Stable Sergeant, groom and horse holder for his more accomplished family.

Published online: 11/24/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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