Franklin D. Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur
Similar Men Different Legacies
Rotary Club of Elmsford Speech
Richard J. Garfunkel
April 6, 2006
Good afternoon to all of you and thank you for having me to your lunceon. I want to extend my regards to Mr. Louis Del Rosario, whom I met through the Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner and Mr. Harold Kellner for inviting me here. Mr. Del Rosario and I had a very interesting conversation about General Douglas MacArthur, a man whom we both admire for his patriotism and commitment to the Filipino people. When Mr. Del Rosario asked me to speak, since I write and speak on the life, and times of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, I suggested that I talk about both men, their differences, their similarities, their association with each other and how history remembers them both.
My grandfather, Mr. John Kivo, a world traveler and a pioneering international businessman, who had opened up the Japanese artificial flower market to the United States in the 1930’s, was not only a great admirer of the General, but was invited by him to re-invigorate trade between post-war Japan and the United States. Therefore I was brought up with a great interest in the world, an admiration for General MacArthur’s efforts in the Far East and history in general.
Both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur, were two of the most dominating Americans of the first half of the 20th Century. At the tender age of 38, regarding national leadership, they were on their way to fame and adulation. But for both men, who reached the foothills of great success, the fates, and the G-d’s of chance, had a way of interfering. FDR suffered a devastating attack of Infantile Paralysis, known as polio and almost died at his beloved summer retreat at Campobello Island. He then entered into a long period of being bed-ridden, with resultant depression, then a long period of rehabilitation, new resolve and eventual triumph. MacArthur, who had left the bloody fields of France as a great hero, came home as just one of many officers from a war people wish to forget. Though he is still a rising star and is chosen to be the youngest Superintendent of West Point, and is recently married, he too enters into a long period of disillusionment with the army, which includes a forced departure from West Point, severe cutbacks in standing army, exile to the Philippines and the loss of his marriage. From early lives marked for greatest, to their middle age years of tragedy, disappointment and failure, both men rose to greatness. This is their story.
Their Early Lives
a) Franklin D. Roosevelt, the second son of James Roosevelt, and the first and only son of his second wife Sara Delano, was born to wealth in Hyde Park, NY. He was born at home to a loving family in a large estate they called Springwood, located just north of Poughkeepsie in a place previously called Crum’s Elbow. His young mother, who was half the age of her husband, adored him. He had a half bother, James “Rosey” Roosevelt, who was 29 years older. “Rosey” was an investment banker, acted like an uncle to young Franklin, who was home educated until the age of 14, and died a few years before he became President of the United States. Franklin was a healthy active child, who went off to the Groton School and was placed under the care of Headmaster Endicott Peabody. His father James, was wealthy, a world traveler and had brought young Franklin to meet President Grover Cleveland. He unlike the Oyster Bay branch of the Roosevelt Family was a Democrat. James Roosevelt, like Theodore Roosevelt, Senior, Teddy’s father and his fourth cousin, bought their way out of serving in the Civil War. Franklin traveled often to Europe and Germany, as a boy, for hopeful cures that his aging and unhealthy father sought. They traveled often to the baths at Baden, Germany. It was there that the future FDR developed his intense dislike for Germanic attitudes, manners and ethos. When he was 18 and at Harvard, his father died. His loving and possessive mother became a very strong influence in his life. Franklin was her only child and she would always be very protective of his interests and desires.
b) Douglas MacArthur was the son of a famous Army General Arthur MacArthur, who was called the Boy Major for his heroism at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, in Tennessee. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for that action in 1890 and he and his son Douglas became the first father and son to be awarded that highest medal. The only others were President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Ted Jr. Arthur MacArthur was from Massachusetts, volunteered for the Civil War from a Wisconsin regiment at age 16 and eventually remained in the Army for the rest of his life. He traveled for 30 years from, post-to-post, fighting Geronimo in 1885 and in the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. He married Mary Pinkney Hardy, known as Pinky. He retired as the highest-ranking General in the United States at age 64 in 1909 and died three years later at a dinner in his honor. His wife, Pinky, had three sons Arthur III, a distinguished naval officer (1876-1923) who died of appendicitis, Malcolm who died at age five, and Douglas. Pinky MacArthur was so concerned about her son that when he was at West Point she moved into the Craney Hotel right in the town of Highland Falls for those four years. There she could see whether the lights of his room were still on and he was studying. For years he was mortified over the ludicrous letters that she wrote to his superiors, demanding his promotion.
c) Unlike Franklin, who married at 23 years old and quickly had five children, Douglas waited until he was 42 years old when he marred the vivacious divorced socialite Louise Cromwell Brooks. He was married to her for 7 years, there was talk of some scandal, and when MacArthur was posted again to the Philippines in 1928, they were childless, and Louise Brooks filed for divorce.
Roosevelt and MacArthur were close to the same age, but they came from very different backgrounds, and grew to manhood under much different circumstances. They both had possessive, loving, hands-on, and domineering mothers. MacArthur’s father was a very important and active role model for him, wherein Roosevelt’s father, being sickly for years before his death when Franklin was 18, was a bit less of an influence. MacArthur grew up in many areas of the country. I was in the army barracks in Fort Dodge (Little Rock) where he was born and remained only a year or so. The army arsenal, as it was called, is now in modern Little Rock, where there is now a museum dedicated to him and other Arkansan military heroes. Franklin always considered Hyde Park his home no matter where he lived. He drew energy and vitality from the Hudson River Valley and always yearned to return to his Dutch Hudson River roots. MacArthur, who was the ultimate army “brat,” lived in many forts, ultimately applied and was admitted to West Point, where he had the highest grades since Robert E. Lee, and was first in his class. Roosevelt was a better than average student at Groton, and an average student at Harvard. He graduated in three years but remained behind to be the editor of the Crimson, before going on to Columbia University’s Law School. He was interested in politics and though a Democrat like his father, he did form a “Democrats for Roosevelt” in 1904 at Harvard. His great father figure, after his father’s death, was Endicott Peabody, the famous Headmaster and founder of the Groton School, and Theodore Roosevelt, who throughout his life, he called the greatest man he had ever met. He later would marry Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy’s favorite niece and his distant cousin.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur came to know each other through their joint work with the Departments of Navy and Army in 1916-7 before the entry of America into the First World War. Roosevelt, on one hand was a lawyer, elected to the NY State Senate at the age of 28 and was appointed Assistant Secretary of Navy. He had carved out an ambitious political career and life at a very young age. He emulated his famous cousin and followed him into the Department of the Navy. His early thoughts reflected an interest in becoming Governor of New York and later President of the United States.
As a young man he became the first Democrat in generations to be elected to the NY State Senate from Poughkeepsie. He took on an early political fight with Tammany Hall and campaigned aggressively for Wilson in 1912 and was rewarded with a position in the Navy Department. The new Secretary of the Navy was a land-loving North Carolinian newspaperman named Josephus Daniels, who happened to be a pacifist. Daniels gave his young enthusiastic assistant full reign at the Navy Department. Roosevelt took advantage of his position and pushed forward with many of his own initiatives. Eventually towards the end of Wilson’s term and before the President became sick and isolated, Roosevelt had alienated the Wilson over his supposed personal diplomacy with the British Foreign Minister. But by that time, the affects of Wilson’s stroke and debilitation, limited his concerns with the young Roosevelt’s actions. During the war Roosevelt met Lucy Mercer, who was his wife’s social secretary and an affair ensued. This relationship though short, remained a secret until the 1960’s, and affected his marriage throughout his life. Ironically the personal life of MacArthur was also tainted with scandal revolving around his first wife, a sexy divorcee whose antics embarrassed him often. Later after their divorce, he kept a beautiful Eurasian woman, Isabel Rosario Cooper, ensconced in both his apartments in Manila and in a hotel apartment on Washington’s Sixteenth Street (American Caesar, William Manchester page 17.) Finally when MacArthur was 54 years old and 4-star General, his “friend” rebelled against being a ”kept” woman, and in bed all day. She started speaking to reporters (Drew Pearson) and MacArthur, ever fearful of his mother’s wrath, had a friend pay her off at the Willard Hotel with a bankroll of hundred dollar bills. Eventually after a few more failed romances, and his mother’s death he wooed and won the much younger Jean Marie Faircloth. (He paid $15,000 for the letters from Pearson.)
MacArthur had carved out a remarkable early record. He was involved anti-terrorist activities in the Philippines and was recommended for the Medal of Honor in a fight with Mexican bandits, in Veracruz, while on a long-range reconnaissance mission. He was therefore elevated up the staff ladder immediately. When America declared war on Germany in 1918, he was ready for combat. Through his actions, he became the most decorated officer in World War I, while serving first under Leonard Wood and then as commander of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division. He was in the thick of action, and was awarded seven Silver Stars, the Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but General John J. Pershing personally made sure that he was given a lesser award. Asst. Secretary Roosevelt also traveled to Europe to get closer to the action and even volunteered for active duty, but President Wilson forbade any of this administration from enlisting. Roosevelt’s distant cousins, Teddy’s sons, all saw action, with young Quentin getting killed while in action with the Army Air Corps.
After the war and during the 1920’s both Roosevelt and MacArthur had their own challenges. His wife Eleanor confronted FDR over his affair with Lucy Mercer, and he promised a complete and irrevocable break with her. FDR suffered from an attack of Infantile Paralysis or polio in 1921 and eventually was crippled for life. He spent years of rehabilitation, in and out, of Warm Springs, Georgia and this theoretically enabled him to temper his seemingly boundless enthusiasm, which was quite often seen as arrogance. This long period of rehabilitation changed and mellowed FDR in more ways then one. He had always been used to success, had never been limited in his actions, had been an avid athlete, and now was completely dependent on others. This “dark period” for Roosevelt would serve as a vital crucible for him that would change his character, channel his thoughts, focus his energy and mold his future being.
In a sense MacArthur also felt the challenge of the 1920’s. His meteoric and heroic actions in the First World War were over before they almost began. He had finished the war in 1918 at the age of 38 as a great success and famous. But he, like others, in the huge wartime army, felt the sting of the necessary de-mobilization and cutbacks. The 1920’s were a period of pacifism, isolationism, meager military budgets, obsolete weaponry, disarmament conferences, and anti-war legislation (The Kellogg-Briand Act). Again the American public and their representatives felt that the two-oceans would keep America protected from threats coming from outside our Hemisphere. It was both a period of the “Banana Wars” where the Marines continually intervened in the affairs and social disorders of Haiti, Nicaragua, Santo Domingo, and Guatemala along with the emergence of “economic royalism” sponsored by United Fruit and their business rivals. It was an era of the big Navy and the concept, first promulgated by William McKinley, and now sustained by Harding and Coolidge of “Pax Americana.” The Caribbean was our sea and it was up to our Navy to protect and enforce our brand of economic peace and welfare. With regards to the Army, it was in full retreat. When Brigadier General William Mitchell, a far-sighted and heroic aviation theorist, warned of our vulnerability to future air attacks, senior army officers mocked him. His outspoken effort to promote modern aviation put him in direct conflict with both the brass hats of the Army and the black shoe Navy. After an unauthorized demonstration of airpower regarding the sinking of two captured and obsolete Central Power battleships off Hampton Roads, Virginia and his subsequent remarks on the subject, Mitchell came in direct conflict with his superiors at the War Department and their philosophy. For that action, he was brought in front of a court-martial for “conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.” MacArthur was dragooned to be part of the 11 man military tribunal. He was a friend of Mitchell, as was his father, and though he later talked of sympathy for Mitchell’s cause he never spoke out at the trial. Mitchell was convicted of insubordination regarding his outspoken criticism of the Army’s senior leadership by a secret split decision. MacArthur later claimed that he had voted for acquittal, and prevented his dismissal from the service. But the whole case, and sordid episode, haunted his legacy and relationship with future Air Corps personnel for decades. During this period MacArthur continued to advance and became one of the few bright lights and colorful officers in a rather dull Hoover Administration.
MacArthur had suffered politically when he was asked by President Hoover, in 1932, to break up the so-called “Bonus Army” of squatters who had created a shantytown on the Anacostia Flats in Washington D.C. These poor and hungry veterans of the First World War had come to Washington, with their leader, the former heroic and famous Marine General Smedley Butler. They were demanding an immediate bonus payment of an amount of money, which Congress had previously authorized, to be paid in 1945. Of course President Hoover was not happy with their encampment and their not so veiled threats. He claimed that there were communist agitators amongst the group of homeless veterans who had hiked and ridden the rails to gather in Washington. Finally after weeks of built up angst and tension on both sides, Hoover finally asked his Chief of Staff to clean them out. MacArthur, with Majors Patton and Eisenhower as his aides, cleared the vets with tear gas and tanks. The shantytown was burned to the ground and plowed under and away. But despite that unpopular action, and after Roosevelt’s landslide election victory in 1932, and inauguration, FDR had decided to re-nominate MacArthur to the post of Chief of Staff. He still believed heartily in MacArthur’s talent and leadership skills.
Of course Roosevelt and MacArthur were quite similar. The writer John Gunther pointed out that they were alike in many ways. Both were intensely patriotic, authentic patricians, and always were on stage. Each seemed dominated by an ambitious mother who lived to great old age. I would disagree personally regarding their mother’s ambition, but it is true they were strong and powerful personalities. There was a famous quote by Dwight Eisenhower, when he was appointed to head the Allied invasion of Europe, and MacArthur, when asked about his long-time assistant, said “He was the best clerk in the Army.” Eisenhower retorted that he has “spent seven years studying dramatics under MacArthur.” On the other hand Roosevelt told Orson Welles that there were two great actors in the world and when they met they were both in the room.
Ironically MacArthur was a distant cousin to both Winston Churchill (8th cousin) and Franklin Roosevelt (6th once removed). Harold Ickes quoted Roosevelt, as stating that Huey Long was one of the two most dangerous men I America. When Ickes asked if Father Coughlin was the second, FDR said, “No it was Douglas MacArthur!” FDR was aware of MacArthur’s tendencies and always tried to keep in him close or very faraway.
In actuality they had a long relationship that was marked by some arguments, some mutual admiration and much backbiting. FDR did say to MacArthur’s face, that, “I think you are our best general, but I believe that you would be our worst politician.” Many New Dealers did not like MacArthur. They thought of him as imperious and too conservative. But even though he did support much of the work of the early New Deal and especially the CCC, he was still a Herbert Hoover conservative at heart, and objected to many of the New Deal’s social programs. He was also baffled by FDR’s finessing skills. Roosevelt could charm anyone, even MacArthur. Once during a White House dinner, the General asked: “Why is it, Mr. President, that you frequently inquire my opinion regarding social reforms under consideration…but pay little attention to my views of the military?” His host replied: “Douglas I don’t bring those questions up for your advice but for your reactions. To me, you are the symbol of the conscience of the American people.” This MacArthur later said, “…Took all the wind out of my sails.” It meant, of course, absolutely nothing.
Later on when the government needed to cut spending and directed the money for other things, Secretary of War George Dern asked for a conference with FDR and took MacArthur along with him. Roosevelt was adamant about the cuts. The General, his voice trembling with outrage, said: “When we lose the next war, and an American boy with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat spits out his last curse, I want the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt.” FDR, livid, said, “You must not talk that way to the President!” Mac Arthur would remember long afterward that he apologized, “but I thought my army career was at an end. I told him that he had my resignation as Chief of Staff.” He turned toward the door, but before he could leave Roosevelt said quietly, “Don’t be foolish, Douglas; you and the budget must get together on this.” Outside, Dern said jubilantly, “You’ve saved the Army.” The General, sick to his stomach, recalled: “But I just vomited on the steps of the White House.”
Of course, their relationship continued with its ups and downs until he was basically exiled to the Philippines in 1935. When he finally retired in 1937 from the US Army he was made a Field Marshall in the Philippine Army. The Depression Years were obviously as tough on the military as they were on the country. There were many conflicting forces, pulling and pushing on the body politic. In those early years of the New Deal and in the depths of the collapse, there were few thoughts about a standing army. The country had never really supported much of a peacetime army. The rise of fascist dictators started to threaten the peace and eventually new alliances were formed as new issues arose in the world. The country was awash with different political elements and the far right and left seemed to be in agreement that they wanted peace at any price. Eventually as Hitler started to threaten the peace of Europe, opinion started to shift. Roosevelt was at the forefront of starting a slow, but decisive re-armament, especially regarding the Navy. Even despite isolationist pressure and the rise of the America First and the Liberty Lobby groups, led by powerful forces in Congress, and out like Charles Lindbergh, President Roosevelt understood what was ahead. He understood clearly what the threats were and started our long hard road to preparedness.
Eventually war would break out in Europe in September of 1939, and America could not avoid the threats to Western Hemisphere forever, and intense preparation started in earnest. Eventually after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, our bases stretching out to the Philippines were also vulnerable. Wake Island, Guam and the bases in the Philippines; Clark Field and Cavite were quickly under attack. MacArthur also had made some serious mistakes regarding the deployment of our air assets including our B-17 bombers. Many were destroyed on the ground. He did put up an aggressive layered defense against overwhelming odds, and he was widely admired for his stirring defiant stances at Bataan and Corregidor. Eventually without hope of being relieved, FDR ordered him to be evacuated and to take command of the Allied forces in Australia, and to start to re-build and create a force strong enough to stop and reverse the Japanese advance. FDR knew the country needed a hero after the defeats at Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, and the loss of the Philippines. Therefore he decorated MacArthur, stroked his ego, promoted him, and made sure the press made him the hero that the country needed. His mistakes were ignored and his promise of “I shall return” was trumpeted loud and clear across the land and the Fareast. He became the voice of freedom and liberation and a beacon of hope for both the people of the occupied Philippines and the Dutch East Indies.
It is a long an involved story, but eventually the wide Pacific was divided into two theaters of action. The Southwest Pacific was placed under MacArthur’s direct command and the Southeast Pacific was placed under, the Navy and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Nimitz commanded the Navy and the Marines from Pearl Harbor, and started the long road back starting with actions starting at Guadalcanal, and eventually Tarawa, the Solomons, the Marianas, Saipan, the Palaus and all the way up and through Okinawa and Iwo Jima. MacArthur had his own air force and limited navy, without aircraft carriers, and with less supplies, less men and less equipment and for sure less glamour, wound up doing a great job of defeating the enemy starting in New Guinea. MacArthur’s forces sustained much less losses then Nimitz’s frontal assaults. In their important conference in Hawaii, regarding the final phases of the Pacific War, MacArthur fended off Nimitz’s desires to have his forces first take Formosa and ignore the Philippines. He convinced FDR that this was a terrible idea, and that we owed our effort to the Filipino people.(Freeing 17 million Christians as he had articulated his argument.) FDR agreed! Nimitz forced, as a concession to both FDR and MacArthur, that they support his landings in the Palau’s at Pelleliu, to protect the Eastern flank of the Philippines. That was a catastrophic mistake. MacArthur was against that effort, but Nimitz demanded that the Navy take on those islands. That battle was fought too late to positively affect the protection of the Philippines, caused the loss of thousands of men unnecessarily and wound up being worthless.
MacArthur was right, and he vocally spoke out against the Navy’s use of Marine frontal assaults on these Pacific islands. MacArthur, because of his lack of aircraft carriers, established successfully, the island-hopping strategy of avoiding pockets of heavy Japanese resistance and letting them die on the vine once they were isolated and bypassed. During the long and brutal years of the Pacific War, MacArthur overcame the criticism that had dogged him over the lack of preparedness in the Philippines. His strategy was impeccable, our (his) losses were conservative in comparison with the Navy and Marines, and he accomplished miracles of movement, with less supplies and equipment, than is generally understood. His innovative use of the Army Air Force, under the command of Robert Eichelberger, was highly successful. He and his staff developed the tactic of skip bombing, and his use of landing craft, as a vehicle to outflank Japanese positions, was uniquely creative and successful.
In a sense, by the end of the war, MacArthur, as well as all of the American leadership in both the Pacific and European Theaters, had reached iconic status. Supreme commanders like Marshal, King, Leahy, Arnold along with their theater heads; MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower were idolized by the public. In Europe men like Bradley, Clark, Patton, Hodges and Simpson were also accorded great acclaim along with the Pacific naval commanders like Halsey, Spruance and Mitscher. Only in the Southwest Pacific Theater did MacArthur have no real rivals. Because of his ego, men under MacArthur were rarely known or publicized in the same way as their European Theater counterparts. Because of the public’s adulation with him, his bearing and presence, he was placed in charge of the surrender proceedings in Tokyo Bay and the eventual military and political command of conquered and defeated Japan.
By the time of VJ Day and the surrender of Japan, FDR had been dead for five months. Both FDR and MacArthur’s legacies would be incredibly enhanced by their actions in World War II. FDR’s image would suffer a bit in the years directly after the start of the Cold War. MacArthur rose to greater heights as the progressive post war leader of Japan. He would also get exceptionally high marks for his strategy and execution of the famed Inchon Landing in South Korea. Of course his subsequent actions in routing, encircling and pushing the remnants of the invading North Korean Army back to the Yalu River, which separated North Korea from China, was spectacular. But mistakes were eventually made in the coming winter along the Yalu, and MacArthur and his legacy suffered greatly with the unexpected attack of the Chinese Army. Unfortunately our troops were too strung out, our supply lines inadequate, and warnings from Washington about a huge Chinese build-up were ignored. Later rancorous conflict ensued between Truman and MacArthur, and the rest is history.
That is a story for another time. Both FDR and MacArthur emerged from the war as great national heroes. FDR, because of his sudden death on April 12, 1945, was accorded a heroes send off of almost unprecedented level. Not since Lincoln’s time was there such an outpouring of grief and sympathy. Even with, and despite a short period of revisionism in the 1950’s towards his actions at Yalta and with the Soviets, Roosevelt’s legacy continues to grow. He is the most written about individual in history and his monumental job as President and Commander-in-Chief has been admired in, and out, of our country by countless millions. His leadership, charm, innovation and boundless optimism have inspired people for decades. His overcoming the ravages of polio has been a remarkable story for almost 80 years. On the other hand, MacArthur, because of his public fight with President Truman and his re-call from Korea, has suffered greatly. He, unlike FDR was not seen as a modern man, but more of a vestige from the Victorian Age and the age of colonialism. Most Americans mainly forget his work in Japan, and his lack of influence during the Cold War kept him away from the public eye. Other then his famous speeches, the one in front of a joint session of Congress, after his re-call from Korea, “Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just Fade Away,” and his remarkable farewell address at West Point, “Duty, Honor and Country,” MacArthur lived out lonely years in a type of exile in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He was on the boards of a few corporations, was asked to moderate the fight between the Amateur athletic titans, the AAU and the NCAA but was rarely consulted. MacArthur, in a long three hour meeting with President Kennedy, warned him about future adventurism in Vietnam. Kennedy when asked about the meeting, stated that he was most impressed with the General’s grasp of the situation and its potential consequences. In conclusion, these two similar and differently motivated giants of the first half of the 20th Century helped mold our history and secure our legacy in its important leadership role that continues to move forward.
At the end of the half-century, FDR was still the icon of millions and his reputation, even after death, was still growing. Today he is still mentioned daily by friend and foe alike with the utmost of respect. In spite of his obvious mistakes, which include the abortive Court Re-organization Plan and the internment of Japanese citizens during the early days of World War II, he is recognized as the embodiment of the modern Presidency. Douglas MacArthur, a mere five years after FDR’s death, came to the real end of his active career in 1950 after his dismissal by President Truman. He enters into a long period of public exile, both self-imposed and a result of the change in values and style. Ironically MacArthur is still a highly revered individual in the Philippines, South Korea and Japan.
In retrospect both men came to the public arena with great promise. Their names, their early achievements, their personal struggles, and their ultimate triumphs reflected their great ability to recover from adversity and persevere. No matter how the whims of history re-write their story their names will still be strongly associated and emblazoned with the success and emergence of America as a great country and a powerful force for democratic change in the world.