09 June 2004

Faubion Bowers: Intoxicated by MacArthur

WWII Japanese translator-interpreter Faubion Bowers recalls his boss during the occupation of Japan:
I am often asked what it was like to work closely with Douglas MacArthur. I was his aide-de-camp. Actually, my official title was Assistant Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief. MacArthur never hired anyone and never fired anyone. The people around him just sort of drifted into their jobs. Once, when he was complaining to me about how the press always gunned for him--"It's only me and Patton they pick on "he moaned--I suggested very timidly that, "Perhaps, sir, it's the people around you that cause a critical press. He answered unequivocally, "Major, if it's right at the top, it's right at the bottom."

For the two years I was near MacArthur, I was absolutely intoxicated by him. He had a grandeur, a greatness, a magnificence that doesn't exist anymore. There was a de Gaulle, Churchill, Smuts, Nehru, Stalin and MacArthur, that kind of bigger-than-life, old-fashioned razzmatazz belonging to a past era, another century. Certainly MacArthur belonged to the 19th Century, instead of the 20th. All that invoking of "the Almighty," the grandiloquent vocabulary ("I would be recreant in my duty not to run for the Presidency"), the fulsome references to his "adored wife" (they didn't sleep in the same bed, and she always called him "General," even in private) and his public exaggerations regarding his son, whom he saw only briefly in the mornings and who was asleep by the time he got home in the evenings, were just that, exaggerations. The one and only time the General ever visited a hospital during his 6½ years in Japan was not to visit the wounded but to spend 10 minutes with little Arthur, who had broken his arm....

MacArthur always roused controversy. He brought it all on himself, and then whimpered that everyone was out to get him. His was a nature where pride was mortgaged to vanity. The Japanese liked him, because he kept himself aloof. The Emperor liked him, because he was deferential, excessively polite. MacArthur--a man who delighted in humiliating or trying to humiliate his superiors--was extraordinarily affable to Hirohito, the first time he came to call at the Embassy, September 26, 1945, when I was as terrified of his Japanese as he was scared of my Japanese. After the famous meeting, when the Emperor offered himself, his life, to free all the men in Sugamo Prison, MacArthur was terribly moved. He said to Jean, his wife, and me, "I was brought up in a republic, a democracy, but to see a man once so high now brought down so low, pains me, grieves me." And both Jean and I knew that he was actually speaking of himself. If defeat in war had humbled Hirohito, it took little Truman, with the stroke of a pen, to bring down the mighty, self-consumed MacArthur, who had deliberately insulted the President on Wake Island in 1951.

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