Gen. MacArthur: 30 Years of Ass Kissing

From: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007), pp. 103-104:

The [NY] Times, center-liberal in its editorial page, enthusiastic as its homage to MacArthur seemed, was not nearly as fulsome in its praise of the general as Time magazine. Given the passion of its founder and editor, Henry Luce, for China and Chiang Kai-shek, Time was already closely connected to what was coming to be known as the China Lobby, those Americans who saw China and Chiang Kai-shek as one and the same, and believed the administration was sending inadequate amounts of aid to Chiang. Time, at the height of its political and social influence in the late 1940s and 1950s, was far more Asia First in its vision of the world than most other American periodicals of that era, in no small part because Luce himself was a mish-kid; that is, the son of a missionary who had proselytized in China. Chiang, perhaps other than Winston Churchill, was Luce’s favorite world leader, while Douglas MacArthur was probably his favorite general, because of their shared belief in the primacy of Asia and their parallel feeling that other internationalists paid too little attention to it. When Time put MacArthur on the cover on July 10, 1950, right after the North Koreans struck—and appearing on its cover was extremely important in those years—it was his seventh time, placing him in a dead heat with Chiang himself. The copy for the piece, even for a much favored general, set a new standard in journalistic hagiography: “Inside the Dai Ichi building, once the heart of a Japanese insurance empire, bleary-eyed staff officers looked up from stacks of paper, whispered proudly, ‘God, the man is great.’ General Almond, his chief of staff, said straight out, ‘He’s the greatest man alive.’ And reverent Air Force General George Stratemeyer put it as strongly as it could be put … ‘He’s the greatest man in history.'”

Not everyone agreed, of course. If he was successful in his courtship of publishers and editors, working reporters were often put off by MacArthur’s grandiosity and vainglory, and many of them came to despise the sycophantic ambiance of his staff. A meeting with him was not just a briefing—it was likely to be a performance as well, the energy and care put into it geared to the importance of the visitor. The problem with MacArthur, General Joseph Stilwell told Frank Dorn, one of his top aides, was that he had been “a general too long.” Stilwell was speaking in 1944, before MacArthur became the American-approved emperor of an occupied Japan. “He got his first star in 1918 and that means he’s had almost thirty years as a general.” Stilwell said, “thirty years of people playing to him and kissing his ass, and doing what he wants. That’s not good for anyone.”

Longtime U.S. senators have the same problem. At least it’s good to see that the behavior of the press hasn’t changed much—except for which cheeks they choose to kiss.

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Filed under China, Japan, military, publishing, U.S., war

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