General Douglas MacArthur and the American Military Impact in the Philippines (Excerpt)

From “General Douglas MacArthur and the American Military Impact in the Philippines,” by Ronald K. Edgerton, Philippine Studies vol. 25, no. 4 (1977), pp. 421–425.


Having lived in the archipelago for years before the war, General MacArthur was deeply interested in Philippine affairs and confident that none better than he could direct the reconstruction of that devastated country. He had been Field Marshal of the Philippine Army and Military Advisor to Commonwealth President Quezon from 1935 to 1941. According to Joseph Ralston Hayden, his advisor on Philippine civil affairs, he felt himself “more competent than any other American, or than any other Filipino either,” to deal with the tasks of reconstruction.* “You do not need to tell me a thing about the political situation,” he advised Hayden, “because I am spending practically all my time upon those problems.” He intended to retain “full authority and responsibility” over the Commonwealth Government during liberation. He, MacArthur, would be “in control.”

In 1945 MacArthur had two potential competitors for control of the Philippine situation: the Commonwealth Government, and the American bureaucracy in Washington. Of the two he clearly feared the latter most. Throughout the war he opposed efforts by the OSS (Office for Strategic Services) to gather intelligence in his theater, preferring to confine all such activities to his G-2 staff. And when his own men began formulating plans for reoccupation, he rejected all suggestions that American civilians other than Professor Hayden be included in the operations. “Civil affairs and civil government will be in the hands of the Filipinos. If we send a big staff of outsiders in there to tell those people how to run their affairs, there’ll be another ‘1898.’ The guerrillas will go to war with them.”**

MacArthur’s antipathy toward civilian interference dated back to the beginning of the century when as a young man he had watched another “gang” of American officials replace his father’s military administration with a civil government. His father had been getting “on smoothly with the Filipinos, when that selfish man Taft came in.” Together with Dean Worcester and others, Taft had “made enemies of the Filipinos who were being converted into friends by his father.” Now in 1944-45, history was repeating itself with new actors playing the old roles. But this time Douglas MacArthur was not going to let Taft’s bureaucratic descendants steal the show again. The position which General MacArthur forged for himself – as supreme commander over Philippine affairs during liberation – did not go unchallenged in Washington. There in February 1944, at the initiative of the Secretary of War, an ad hoc committee was created to coordinate the plans of numerous civil agencies and those of the War Department for administering civil affairs in the Philippines. It was also empowered to define the powers and responsibilities of the Area Commander over civil affairs in the islands. Called the Philippine Ad Hoc Committee, it included John J. McCloy, assistant secretary of war; Abe Fortas, undersecretary of the Interior; and Major General J. H. Hilldring, Director of the Civil Affairs Division, War Department Special Staff.

Members of the committee were determined to have a hand in policy-making for the Philippines. General MacArthur was just as determined to prevent any such “meddling” by Washington officials. At the crux of the issue was the Interior Department’s plan to send a representative (possibly a High Commissioner) and some civilian experts to join the liberation forces. MacArthur served notice that if a High Commissioner did come out, “he would fix it so that he couldn’t do a thing. He would be a prisoner of the Army.” Nor would he welcome any civilian experts. He predicted that “if a cloud of carpetbaggers were sent [to the Philippines] … there would be another insurrection. Life would be cheap and some of them would be killed.” Furthermore, such officials would interfere in his relations as military commander with the Philippine Government and Filipino people. “They would cause trouble – people would go to them against him.” He alone would advise the Commonwealth Government for as long as he remained in the archipelago. “If the High Commissioner or his representative .. tries to do anything of that sort, I’ll put him on a boat and send him home and send a message to the President telling him why.”

Through the summer of 1944 the Ad Hoc Committee continued its efforts to circumscribe MacArthur’s autonomy. It sent a draft directive in August defining his powers and responsibilities over civil affairs. MacArthur objected to the draft and completely rewrote it, thereby raising a small tempest in the Departments of State, Interior, and Treasury. The differences between the committee draft and MacArthur’s reply were enumerated by Abe Fortas in a memo:

1. The Command eliminated the provision that the statutory relationship between the Commonwealth Government and the High Commissioner should be resumed when and ‘where civil functions might pass from military to Commonwealth authority, consistently with military necessity.

2. The provision ‘You will not deal with those who have collaborated with the enemy except for the purpose of removing them from political and economic influence over the people’ was eliminated.

3. The draft sent to the Command assumed that a returned Commonwealth President and cabinet would exercise the civil authority conferred by law over such areas as might be freed from combat conditions. The returned draft, however, provides that the theater commander will exercise supreme authority, civil as well as military, and may within his discretion “delegate’ civil functions to the Commonwealth Government.

4. The draft sent to the Command assumes, that governmental powers will be relinquished, when appropriate, to the United States High Commissioner as well as to the Commonwealth Government, as provided by law. The Command’s revision eliminates the High Commissioner.

Having listed these differences, Fortas concluded that the changes made by MacArthur would “have the effect of setting up a full-fledged military government and governorship in the Philippines of indefinite duration. “

Despite Fortas’ fears and objections, the Ad Hoc Committee’s final directive (dated 9 November 1944) accepted virtually all MacArthur’s demands. On the question of collaboration the committee no longer prohibited him from dealing with collaborators beyond removing them “from political and economic influence.” Although it asked him to remember that the ultimate disposition of all civil authorities,” it now agreed that “their immediate disposition is a matter for your determination.” On the question of MacArthur’s powers vis-à-vis Sergio Osmeña, the new Commonwealth President, they insisted that he pass on to civil authorities the. “responsibility and authority for civil administration.” But they vitiated any
meaning this provision might have had by agreeing that he should do this only when he saw fit! Finally, on the question of sending a High Commissioner, the committee bowed to the wishes not only of MacArthur but of President Roosevelt. In early. October 1944, the President sustained MacArthur over Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior. A High Commissioner, therefore, was not sent to the Philippines until Paul McNutt visited in July 1945, and arrived to stay in September, just after General MacArthur had left for Japan.

Having beaten back efforts from Washington to impinge on his authority, MacArthur left his other potential competitor, the Commonwealth Government, little recourse other than to comply with his wishes. But it must be said that the Philippine Government-in-exile had done little to strengthen its position. President Quezon had been planning to send only a half dozen men, hardly an adequate number to coordinate civil affairs during liberation.  And President Osmeña, in the opinion of one American intelligence officer, was coming back “hat in hand” with “no idea of what has been done, what was planned, or what should be done. ” As it turned out, Osmeña was cooped up in Tacloban, Leyte, and later in Manila, with little representation at the grass roots level. And when he did get an opportunity to travel somewhere he depended on American Army transport vehicles to get him there.

*Even Pres. Manuel Quezon, in MacArthur’s opinion, could not have directed the reconstruction effort as well. He told Professor Hayden on 4 August 1944, shortly after Quezon’s death, that Quezon was “right in the big things – but would have given a lot of trouble in ordinary matters.” He, MacArthur, “could control him in major policy – He would have followed me there” (MHC, Hayden MSS, Box 42).

**. Ibid. MacArthur’s comments about “a big staff of outsiders” referred to a proposal by Courtney Whitney dated 10 August 1943, recommending the acquistion of four “old Philippine hands” to plan for “Philippine nonmilitary activity.” The four were to have been Dwight Davis, Weldon Jones, George Malcolm, and Evett Hester. Charles A. Willoughby, head of G-2, took exception to Whitney’s proposal, calling the Whitney committee “so obviously an ‘All-American Committee that it is not likely to inspire the confidence of the Filipinos,’ but rather suggests a pointed racial discrimation (sic].” He eliminated Davis, Malcolm, and Hester (MacArthur was known to dislike Hester in particular), substituting Gen. Basilio Valdes, Dr. Hayden, Weldon Jones, Andres Soriano, and Carlos Romulo. This exchange between Whitney and Willoughby was part of an ongoing and very bitter feud between the two men. Both the Willoughby proposal of 15 August 1943 and Whitney’s of 10 August were rejected by MacArthur (National Archives and Records Service, Federal Records Center, Record Group No. 338, 11104/72, hereinafter referred to as NARS/FRC/RG … ).

Author: Ronald K. Edgerton
Professor emeritus of history at the University of Northern Colorado.

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