Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines: There Must Be a Day of Reckoning (Excerpts)

From “Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines: There Must Be a Day of Reckoning,” by Kerry Irish, The Journal of Military History 74 (April 2010), pp. 439-473.

Historians have differed over the years as to whether the conflicts between Eisenhower and MacArthur in the Philippines resulted in lasting ill feelings and estrangement, or were the normal irritations of two strong-minded men and were largely forgotten as the years passed…

The first substantive crack in the Eisenhower-MacArthur relationship appeared when the two men disagreed over what should be done about the lack of progress in the Mission’s work, especially as that failure was due to poor cooperation from the War Department in particular and the United States in general. Eisenhower early recognized that the promised support for the Mission’s work was simply not forthcoming. He believed that there was both ignorance and miscommunication involved in the impasse. Education was the answer and the teacher must be perhaps the grandest American military figure of the era: Douglas MacArthur. For Eisenhower time was crucial: MacArthur must return to Washington in 1936 and explain to officials the defense problems in the Philippines. Moreover, MacArthur could, Eisenhower was sure, obtain favorable clarification of the order to the Philippine Department mandating cooperation with the Mission. Although Major General Lucius Holbrook had just assumed command of the Philippine Department with orders stating “assistance to General MacArthur was the most important peacetime mission of your command,” Eisenhower saw the Philippine Department as obstructionist and had little confidence that the change of commanders there would make a difference. Eisenhower wanted MacArthur to speak to U.S. Army Chief of Staff Malin Craig and his civilian superior:

Jimmy [Ord] and I believe that if this whole matter were clearly explained to the American Chief of Staff and Secretary of War, that very substantial and effective assistance would be forthcoming.

For Eisenhower assistance would manifest itself in the form of weapons with which to arm the Filipino army: even obsolete weapons would give the Philippines a chance to defend themselves and inexpensively facilitate the American defense of its colony. But MacArthur refused to go to Washington in 1936. Ike was disappointed that his boss would shirk responsibility for the development of Philippine defense at this crucial time; incredibly, MacArthur seemed more concerned about his promotion to field marshal in the chimerical Philippine army than American support for the Mission…

Eisenhower’s frustration with progress on the defense plan came to a head at the same time as his dispute arose with MacArthur over the general’s decision to accept field marshal rank in the Philippine army. Eisenhower could not quietly abide this manifestation of MacArthur’s ego. The decision seemed full of self-importance at the cost of more efficient defense. Unbeknownst to Eisenhower at the time, MacArthur had negotiated this promotion with Quezon before accepting the job as Military Adviser. But in early 1936, it appeared that Quezon was offering the promotion. Indeed Eisenhower, Ord, and Captain T. J. Davis (MacArthur’s aide) were also to receive promotions and commissions in the Philippine army. Ike convinced Ord and Davis that accepting these promotions would hinder the Mission’s success. Eisenhower confronted MacArthur, saying, “General you have been a four-star general . . . This is a proud thing. Why in the hell do you want a banana country giving you a field-marshalship?” But the general just gave me hell.” A seething Ike wrote in his diary:

In the first place, we [Eisenhower, Ord and Davis] believe that in a locality where we are serving with so many American officers, most of whom believe that the attempt to create a Philippine Army is somewhat ridiculous, the acceptance by us of high rank in an Army which is not yet formed would serve to belittle our effort. Moreover, it would seriously handicap every effort on our part to secure necessary cooperation from commanders and staffs in the American Army. Secondly, we believe that in dealing with the Philippine Army Headquarters our position is unassailable as long as we purport to be nothing but assistants to the Military Adviser. If, however, we should accept military titles in the Philippine Army, the authority and soundness of our advice would be measured, in the minds of the Philippine Army officers, by the rank held. We believe this would create an anonymous [anomalous?] situation and would handicap our efforts to assist, advise, and direct the efforts of Army Headquarters and subordinate officials.

Here is Eisenhower’s concern for the impact that a particular action might have on the cooperation between the Philippine Department and the Philippine army, and between the Mission and the army it was trying to create. For Eisenhower, MacArthur’s action would hurt the building of an effective team and a strong alliance. MacArthur hoped that his new rank would inspire the Filipinos to defend their islands. But for Eisenhower, any action which hurt the creation of an effective team was contemptible. This idea, so much a part of Eisenhower’s World War II philosophy, did not come to him in the early days of that conflict, but was derived from his days as a football player at West Point and a coach of army football teams in the 1920s, and most important, from his mentor Fox Conner. Eisenhower’s Philippine sojourn, however, was crucial in the seasoning of this philosophy in that it allowed him to test his team concept in the real world of competing military branches and departments, political infighting in his own government, and in relations with a foreign culture and government. MacArthur simply failed to live up to what Eisenhower thought an American army officer should be.

There was also a significant difference between Eisenhower and MacArthur regarding work ethic. The American army in the Philippines, and indeed most foreign posts, had developed a lackadaisical attitude toward work. Eisenhower had run into this disturbing tradition in Panama in the early 1920s and made himself somewhat unpopular because of his insistence that officers take their jobs seriously. The American army in the Philippines may have been still more lackadaisical. One lieutenant colonel, writing in 1910, remembered fondly:

This post [Fort William McKinley] is like a big country club. A little work in the morning. Golf, polo, tennis, riding in the hills in the afternoon. The Club at sunset. Dinner in the evenings. A lazy man’s paradise.

The standards of the Philippine Department had hardly changed in twenty-five years. MacArthur, perhaps because he saw himself as semi-retired, fit right in. Eisenhower had to stand in the gap because of MacArthur’s absences, accepting responsibilities that would not normally be his. Among the duties MacArthur shirked was meeting consistently with Quezon. Eisenhower wanted MacArthur to meet with President Quezon at least once per week to secure agreement on the myriad details facing the Mission, but the general refused. Eisenhower surmised that MacArthur believed such meetings were beneath him. Clearly Eisenhower believed the Mission was suffering because of MacArthur’s ego, the opposite of the team approach that Ike favored. While Eisenhower sometimes enjoyed a leisurely afternoon playing bridge, there were long periods of intense work in the brutal tropical climate. In MacArthur’s absence, Ike, Ord, and the staff “had to run much of the routine business.” MacArthur and Eisenhower drifted apart as the Mission struggled on.

Disputes between Eisenhower and MacArthur ranged over a wide array of topics. Some, like the development of the Philippine army, were issues they could affect if not completely control; others were entirely out of their spheres of influence. In the summer of 1936 they argued over Kansan Alf Landon’s chances in the presidential election. MacArthur, citing a Literary Digest poll, believed Landon would win in November. Eisenhower, a Kansan with friends in his hometown of Abilene who kept him apprised of politics and a host of other local topics, thought Landon would not even carry his home state. Listening to one of MacArthur’s monologues on the election, Eisenhower disagreed with the general over Landon’s chances. MacArthur exploded, nearly hysterical; he blasted Eisenhower, who was dumbfounded at this response. Then MacArthur let slip that he had informed Quezon to shape his plans for a visit to the United States on the basis of a Landon victory. In November 1936, Eisenhower was proved correct and MacArthur had to “back pedal” to Quezon. But the general never apologized to Eisenhower. Ike though the entire incident “most ridiculous.”…

MacArthur, for Eisenhower, was the opposite of what a leader should be. These personality traits were already well established in Eisenhower, but his island sojourn with MacArthur emotionally and powerfully imbedded them still deeper in his mind. Ike knew there was little sense of “team” in the Mission, or in the relationship between the Mission and the U.S. Army, still less between the United States and the Philippines. MacArthur had indelibly impressed upon Eisenhower, through negative example, the necessity for a commander to accept responsibility for his actions and decisions. MacArthur could not admit to mistakes and so blamed aides when he made them. This MacArthurian character trait was often on Ike’s mind while in the Philippines. In writing Lucius Clay’s efficiency report in 1938 Eisenhower noted, “Willingly assumes responsibility.” Moreover, MacArthur would dramatically repeat the lesson before Eisenhower left the Philippines.

The general now found himself in an uncomfortable position. He had denied the realistic budget to Quezon, and verbally bludgeoned his aides over it. But the crisis was real, and MacArthur could not escape it in his penthouse or at the movies, a pastime he so enjoyed. In spite of the fact that he would appear to be a functionary of his aides, at some point he decided to use all of the arguments he had rehearsed in front of Eisenhower to convince Quezon that the new budget was necessary. The president would have been a “fool or a knave” if he had not now entertained doubts about his military adviser.

Quezon,as egotistical and ambitious as MacArthur,was neither fool nor knave. But he too was faced with a difficult choice: disavow MacArthur and stick with the original plan, or ask the National Assembly for more money using MacArthur’s arguments. Quezon would need a compelling argument for the Assembly, some of whom believed the whole plan was wrong-headed, that the Philippines were indefensible. MacArthur and Quezon turned to Eisenhower to draft the speech….

Now Ike set out to convince the Filipino legislature to increase the defense budget.

Eisenhower’s draft of Quezon’s speech emphasized the deteriorating world conditions, the Filipino desire for early independence (thus the necessity for a greater defensive capability), and the escalating costs of raw materials. Eisenhower also noted that more of the defense budget than originally planned was being spent on sanitation education, literacy, and vocational training. He also assured the nervous legislators that the standing army, a point of contention, had actually been reduced, and that the defense budget would not unduly impinge upon the people. He wrote:

Furthermore, regardless of the aggregate authorized for the full development of our National Defense, the annual appropriation will be adjusted each year to the annual revenue, so that all other authorized government services and activities may develop in harmony with the growth of the population and the expansion of our culture.

Clearly, if anything about the paragraph may be said to be clear, Eisenhower intended to leave the impression that the defense budget would not unduly encumber the Filipino people. What is interesting about the paragraph was that his ability to use words to obfuscate, so remarked upon while president, was not accidental but calculated; this talent was well established and useful during his Philippine years…

Always enamored with theater and prestige, MacArthur decided to parade his growing army down the streets of Manila. The general hoped that when the Filipinos saw what a grand force their money was buying, their morale would be boosted and they would begin to believe, as many did not, that they could defend themselves. But such a parade would cost an enormous sum. Quezon discovered MacArthur’s plans and asked Eisenhower about them. An astonished Eisenhower, who had assumed Quezon knew all about the parade, informed the president. Quezon grew angry. He called MacArthur and voiced his displeasure while Eisenhower returned to his office. The general again blamed his subordinates for exceeding his orders, subordinates who had told him there was no money for such a display. MacArthur’s massive ego, his belief that he was a man of destiny, would not permit him to admit a mistake. MacArthur told Quezon that he had merely suggested a study be done on the idea. This interpretation of what had happened was “certainly news to us,” Eisenhower wrote. Once again MacArthur had refused to accept responsibility for a mistake. Three decades later Ike recalled the impact of this event on him: “This misunderstanding caused considerable resentment—and never again were we on the same warm and cordial terms.” Though Ike’s son John argues that his father’s rift with MacArthur has been overblown, he admits that the most important thing Ike learned from MacArthur was to accept “blame for failure” while “giving credit for success to others.” These disagreements with MacArthur often ended in a heated exchange; Eisenhower remembered, “Probably no one had tougher fights with a senior man than I did with MacArthur. I told him time and again, ‘Why in the hell don’t you fire me? Goddammit, you do things I don’t agree with and you know damn well I don’t.’” As historian Carlo D’Este has noted, such an outburst risked his career. Men do not take such chances, or exchange such words, without lasting resentment. Both men hid their antipathy well, but it was real. Eisenhower later told Robert Eichelberger, who served under MacArthur during World War II, that the parade incident was the end of his respect for MacArthur…

Meanwhile Quezon and Eisenhower found several opportunities to discuss the army. The two men increasingly respected each other and found themselves chatting frequently, partly because MacArthur did not place a high priority on conversation with the Filipino president. Eventually Eisenhower and Quezon discussed their philosophies of government and other subjects. Eisenhower explained his views on taxes, education, and ethics, and Quezon did likewise. MacArthur learned of these discussions and of the growing respect between the two men and was not pleased. Indeed Quezon may have inadvertently precipitated the general’s jealousy when he sought to raise Eisenhower’s Filipino pay by 1,000 pesos per month and improve his living quarters. MacArthur now ordered Eisenhower to ignore many of the president’s invitations…

The Eisenhowers returned to Manila on 5 November 1938… Before Eisenhower had left for the United States, some Filipino legislators had talked about getting rid of MacArthur and asking Eisenhower to be the military adviser. MacArthur, prone to believe in conspiracies—particularly if they seemed directed against him—learned of this maneuvering and was convinced that Eisenhower was behind the movement. MacArthur now saw Eisenhower as disloyal and decided to reduce his responsibilities while retaining a lasting contempt for his subordinate. Ike believed MacArthur had rearranged his duties specifically in order to keep him from seeing Quezon. Eisenhower suspected MacArthur was afraid that he was losing “face” with Quezon and that Ike was growing in stature. Eisenhower was correct that MacArthur feared losing Quezon’s respect. But MacArthur should have known that Eisenhower had nothing to do with the maneuverings of a few Filipino politicians. Indeed, when Ike learned of this plot he confronted those involved, saying that unless they dropped the idea he would request a transfer home…

MacArthur’s scheme to separate Eisenhower and Quezon failed, and Ike’s decision to leave ran into both Quezon’s admiration for him and army red tape. Quezon and Eisenhower saw each other frequently. They both enjoyed playing bridge and conversation.139 Quezon pleaded with him to stay in the Philippines and provided him emoluments that irritated MacArthur. The U.S. Army informed Eisenhower that his tour would not end until February 1940; the four months Eisenhower spent in the United States did not count toward the four-year overseas tour. For his part MacArthur seems to have forgotten his ill-usage of Eisenhower. Though he had told Ike he was “free to seek other assignments if he chose,” in January of 1939 he indicated his hope that Eisenhower would ask for an extension of his tour of three months. Eisenhower was surprised.

Meanwhile, Quezon’s and MacArthur’s priorities separated. Severe labor unrest and political instability led Quezon to divert defense funds to the Constabulary, which had once again been separated from the Philippine army in late 1938. MacArthur ranted against Quezon for every slight and indiscretion, while Quezon’s doubt of MacArthur’s defense plan deepened. In agreement with Eisenhower, Quezon believed that only the United States could defend the Philippines and that it had the responsibility to do so until independence was granted. He further accurately believed that there was little indication that it would do so effectively. In early 1940, after Eisenhower had left, MacArthur admitted that defense of the Philippines was the “ultimate responsibility” of the United States. The Philippine defense force was but a reserve for the U.S. Army…

Ike’s talks and bridge games with Quezon continued. On the evening of 28 March 1939, Quezon called Eisenhower to Malacanang, the presidential palace. The president was disturbed over a problem with a General Staff letter, and problems with the officer corps. During the course of the conversation, Quezon was astonished to learn that Eisenhower was no longer MacArthur’s chief of staff. The conversation further revealed that it had been MacArthur’s idea to train the full complement of reservists in 1937, as opposed to spending money on officers and trainers and a more well-rounded military, and to make MacArthur a field marshal. Of course MacArthur had maintained that these decisions had come from Quezon. Now it was apparent to Eisenhower that MacArthur had simply lied. Before the conversation ended, Quezon promised to have Eisenhower reinstated, if it were possible, as liaison between himself and the Mission. It took some time, but eventually MacArthur’s unwillingness to communicate regularly with the government led a frustrated Secretary of Defense Jorge Vargas to insist that Eisenhower be reappointed to his old liaison job; MacArthur acquiesced.

As we have seen, Ike was determined to leave MacArthur and the Philippines once the general had removed him from his role as chief of staff. Even before this Eisenhower had vacillated between his interesting and challenging job in the Philippines and his longing to serve with troops, to obtain a field command. As the likelihood of war approached, and his disgust with MacArthur increased, that decision was constantly receiving confirmation.

In May, Major Clark delivered for Eisenhower. Ike never forgot the favor, and Clark would benefit from it in the years ahead. Ike’s new orders directed him to the 15th Infantry at Fort Lewis, Washington, effective no later than November 1939.155

Eisenhower was ecstatic.Quezon did not want Eisenhower to leave and literally offered him a blank check to stay. Many other Filipinos shared that sentiment.156 Eisenhower had turned down better-paying jobs in the past in order to pursue his dream of serving his country on the battlefield in a major war; he did it again now.

MacArthur protested as well, but Ike did not take him seriously. Eisenhower was determined to leave: “I don’t give a hoot who gets credit for anything in the P.I. I got out clean—and that’s that!”158 Finally, the Eisenhowers were allowed to leave the Philippines in November. Quezon arranged “a beautiful farewell luncheon,” and MacArthur was gracious as his one-time chief of staff boarded the President Cleveland and left America’s Far Eastern frontier.

Kerry Irish
Author: Kerry Irish
Professor of American history at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

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