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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 15

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
MacArthur Close‑Up
William Addleman Ganoe

published by
Vantage Press
New York, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 17
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p124  The Dogged Rebellion

Anticipating the oncoming convulsions, he described in detail at a session of the Academic Board the changes he was making in cadet regulations and, with his vigorous, calm fluency, the philosophy impelling him.

The expressions of the Old Guard went from resentful puzzlement to steadfast sulk. They evidently maintained an ominous silence because of the uselessness of protests. The book was on the press, and they could use only their oft‑repeated argument, which was summed up as: Change a jot and you change perfection; anything different will be for the worse.

But the DOGs were anything but silent. Their howls and my mail rose higher. The Supe was shamelessly lowering standards of discipline which had shown their outstanding effectiveness all the way back. He was fraternizing with cadets on equal terms, a most unseemly and degrading practice. He was not only coddling the plebes but was softening the upper classes. There were cries of: "I could take it. If they can't, they're not worthy of being cadets." There was also a little of the sadistic: "I got hell. Why shouldn't he?" They intimated they could not look with respect on anyone graduated under such a soft regime.

But the most frenzied tirades arose over the unbelievable privileges extended to the first classmen. They could rove all over the country and spend money like drunken sailors. What was the place becoming? A firemen's picnic?

It was fairly easy, though time-taking, to answer the letters. Since the scoldings ran along the same line, I could repeat certain ideas in my effort at rebuttal. But when a DOG would slam into my office with fire in his eye and growl, "What's the Supe trying to do?" I had my work cut out for me. I couldn't calmly dictate to a secretary. I had a snarling animal before me with its claws out. Since I grew more fluent in my set  p125 speech as time went on, I'd begin to roll out the explanation as the DOG's voice died down. I'd try to put him on the defensive by showing him that history proved that reactionaries and stand-patters never accomplished much.

He'd come back with something like, "I suppose our Presidents were stand-patters when they stuck to the Monroe Doctrine."

If I knew him well enough, I'd jokingly call him a mule in the mud. If that didn't stop him, I'd tell him he was accusing the Supe of tergiversation. Usually, he'd be too ashamed to acknowledge he didn't understand, and with a few mumbles he'd leave. If he ever looked up the word, he didn't come back or tell me or renew his complaints.

Things worked out fairly with the younger ones, but there were ponderous colonels with beetling brows who'd come in with the air of a Woodrow Wilson approaching a conference of ministers. To them I was just a hired lackey in the pay of a demagogue.

Such a colonel would "humph" and ask, "Do I understand that the Superintendent has committed himself to this egregious relaxation of discipline?" He would go on enumerating what he had heard, and usually would enumerate right, but would stop short of the lengths to which Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur had gone. When I assented and produced the whole list, he would look as if he'd stumbled on a corpse. And when I tried to give the reasons, I was treated to such gasps of interruptions that I had little chance to explain all the logic behind the changes.

Even I had, it's not likely it would have made any impression. I could see his mind was as closed as a bottle of pop and was ready to fizz if you monkeyed with it. I had to choose delicate, soothing phrases and finally suggest he might go in and talk to the Supe. Sometimes he'd blow his top and froth all over the place. The words might be different, but the idea was always the same: "Talk to that despoiler of West Point! I wouldn't be caught in the same room with him."

For this type of irreconcilable, the Supe came to make up with me a sort of ruse. As soon as I would discover that the  p126 old grad felt outraged over the changes, I would assume an attitude of deep thought, pick up a sheaf of papers, look important, ask him to excuse me a moment, tell him I must talk to the General, but please wait till I returned.

As soon as I was in the holy of holies, I would put my hand to the side of my mouth and whisper, "Old grad out here." He would snap on that quick light of conquest. I would go on to give the visitor's full name and all I knew of his past. With the papers, which hadn't left my hand, I would return to my desk and continue the conversation, but revealing grave preoccupation over big matters with the Supe.

It would be but a few minutes before MacArthur would swing toward my desk with his brisk strides. Also with gravity, he'd start to ask me an official question, when, quite by accident, he'd note the presence of the caller.

"Well, George, how are you?" he'd sing out cheerily as he stretched out his hand. "Come in and have a chat."

The visitor would invariably look more flattered than cantankerous and would disappear beside the Supe.

I could picture the scene accurately. There would be the general proffer of a "pill," the informal seating, the "What's on your mind?" as if he'd been waiting all year to hear; the charged, piercing listening and, finally, the pacing and unruffled unraveling.

The visitors would emerge with everything in their expressions from mollification to enthusiasm. One DOG, who'd been sharpest in his excoriation of the Supe and his changes, came out, sailed up to my desk, put his hand on my shoulder and barked, "Bill, he's the greatest man I ever met."

On the other hand, comparatively few DOGs could meet MacArthur and be inoculated with his peculiar vaccine. The remainder increased their outcries. But the Old Guard were smolderingly resistant and felt themselves to be objects of insult and neglect. Never before had a Supe so ignored them in seeking advice over any prospective innovation, but this one had gone on independently to conduct major operations of questionable character. To be sure, he had consulted them  p127 about anything strictly within their provinces, such as the curriculum and the teaching in their departments. But he had high-handedly ordered them away to civilian institutions, and was now suggesting that it be done three times a year. He was forcing on them nongraduate instructors against their will.

Were they going to have no say in the general administration of the Corps? Was all their combined experience to be flouted? Was he going to knock out the real supports of the place altogether? The long line of venerable Supes had been pleased to rest on such conservatively staunch advice and aid. But this youngster knew more than all of them. We must somehow get back to where we were, they thought.

The barrier of status quo ante on the academic side appeared to me so thick and solid, it was immovable. The rising antagonism seemed insurmountable. But not so to MacArthur. The stiffer the opposition, the more his brown eyes glinted and sensitive nostrils swelled at the challenge. He knew he was right, and that right must prevail without browbeating. To his side he summoned three main allies: individual persuasion, search into the developments of civilian institutions and touch with esteemed educators.

As I look back now, it seems incredible that talks with single members of the Board, except for a few professional explosions, should have been conducted in such apparent good spirits. But then I recall the grace and skill he exerted in not letting a discussion rise beyond fervent intellectuality.

His second method of sending academic board members beyond the walls of their smug sanctuary achieved more than might have been expected. Although the Old Guard professors were resentful at being sent to civilian institutions, they were softened by the warm welcome of their hosts, so that some collegiate advancements did rub off on them, and they could introduce changes as their very own.

The third method was probably the most outstanding illustration of his inventive persistence. When he had the proposed new curriculum in about the shape that satisfied him, he sent copies to eminent educators, the press, prominent army officers  p128 and, of course, the War Department. Ninety‑two of the most distinguished educators studied it. Forty-three gave it unqualified praise. Forty-eight approved, but with added suggestions, which he put into effect. The press was enthusiastic, and there were no averse criticisms.

Under this profound weight of public opinion and high educational approval, the last open resistance to a new curriculum gave way. Not only was he able to put it into effect to his own satisfaction, but the most obstreperous head of a department went so far as to do away with marks for the first few weeks of the plebe's studies, so that he could be inducted and adjusted.

To one who was not intimately exposed to the conditions surrounding MacArthur, his achievement would be almost impossible to estimate. To those of us who were in the midst of the pressures, it was a fantastic dream come true. I know of no one who would and could have bearded the lions in the way without any other weapons than his moral courage and mental acumen. Not once did he shrink or take a step backward. Not once was he arbitrary or obstinate. Even though he didn't sometimes consult the Board beforehand on military or administrative matters, he informed them afterward; and on all academic concerns he sought their advice and counsel, using cold principles against hot prejudices. He got his curriculum, but not the hearts of the Old Guard.

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Page updated: 20 Jun 16