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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 16

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,
please let me know!


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Chapter 18
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p129  The Inside of MacArthur

As the trying months wore on, I was in an exceptional spot to appraise Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur's qualities. I like to think of them in terms of the four P's: perception, perspicacity, prescience and principles.

His perception was all around you like a floodlight. You would feel your idea was bare no matter how lamely you let loose of it, and he had captured it even before you finished. His absorption and digestion of information were instant. Consider his almost verbatim repetition of a visitor's story and his ability to discover many more significant items than any of the persons who went with him on an inspection trip.

His rare perspicacity came constantly into play with problems and decisions. There was but one promenading analysis, at the end of which would hang a judgment so clear and easy yield be ashamed you hadn't worked it out. Every day he performed feats such as the rare disposition of the dog case and his keen distinction between errors of judgment and mistakes of neglect.

His prescience was uncanny. He would tell me how so‑and‑so would react or what would eventuate if we made certain moves, until my surprise shrank to nothing as affairs would come about as he predicted. A notable example was his fear for a cadet newspaper and the unhappy ending, as he had foretold.

Controlling this astonishing mental organism was a set of principles held to as rigidly as a spar by a man overboard. The one most apparent was his outward behavior. To him the word "gentleman" held a religious meaning. It was sacredly higher than any title, station or act of Congress. It was an attitude of life to be cherished in every gesture and spoken word. It comprehended and excused no letdown in its execution. It demanded a perfect self-mastery which he came as near to exhibiting  p130 as anyone I have seen or known. Flying off the handle, berating or bawling out were cardinal sins, which I not once saw him give way to. In times of stress or stinging irritation, his voice grew low, falling to a deep bass and intoning, with a control so strong, it held motionless everyone within its sound.

Even when he felt most painful chagrin, he did not shout back, scold or argue heatedly. In the only two instances where he had his most trying provocation — when he pounded the table after being heckled and gave his severe ultimatum to the officer who had neglected his censor­ship — his voice was grave but unmistakably forceful. It had more the quality of necessary resentment than personal ire. Immediately before and afterward, he had himself wholly in hand.

Once, a truly prominent civilian called on him and began berating him uncivilly for something the visitor objected to about the Academy. He hadn't gone far when MacArthur rose with dignity and said, in his sepulchral half-whisper, "Good day, sir." There was no mistaking the finality of tone and attitude. When the man started to bluster, he repeated, "Good day, sir." As the visitor picked up his hat reluctantly and moved toward the door, MacArthur said, "When you can assume the attitude of a gentleman, I shall be willing to talk to you." The man was highly influential, and I feared for the results. But evidently, he told no one and did not return.

Regarded on the same plane as ungentlemanliness was his abhorrence of treachery. He once told me of an occurrence in France when an officer from one of our Allies visited the Forty-second, and after accepting MacArthur's hospitality as a host, asked if he might speak to one of the battalions. Trustingly, MacArthur gave permission.

Later, one of his officers called up, "General, I think you better get down here and see what's going on." Immediately, he sped to the spot for the talk and was shocked to hear the speaker trying to beguile the unit into coming over to his nation's side and be brigaded with its troops, with an implication that American forces were below par.

MacArthur didn't wait. He burst in and took the floor, saying  p131 he was sorry to interrupt, but that something of the highest importance had come up to require the speaker's presence elsewhere. It was required elsewhere. Forthwith he escorted the betrayer to a waiting car and uttered no word until they reached the boundary of the Forty-second. There he bade his companion alight, and then spoke with no mild emphasis, "I hope never to see your face again."

That was all. He drove away, leaving the fellow there on foot.

"Chief," he finished, "I don't know how he made his way back. He may be standing there yet. But for the life of me, I can't seem to be much worried about it."

I thought over the occurrence and its unique handling, which was so in keeping with MacArthur's methods. He refused to make a scene before his men. He wasn't tempted, as many a person would have been, to rise up and denounce before everyone the rascality of the plea. With all his high-strung impulses, he held himself in check, not even berating the ingrate on the way to the border line. And in about ten words, he summed up a deserved and consummate loathing. Even in reproof and rebuff, he kept the lofty manners of a gentleman.

Similarly, he did not indulge in the common practices of men in power. Not once did I hear him threaten. He did not even approach the "if you do, I shall be compelled . . ." In fact, there were very few "ifs" about him. He uttered no orders which even remotely hinted at "you shall do this or else . . ." You acted, and he reacted, on the spot, and not in writing. He let you work out your own salvation unless you overstepped.

But under his peculiar spell, there was little overstepping. There was no desire to, as far as I could see. He filled you with such a wish to try to please him, there was no reason or place for ducking. It was a personal magnetism that held you at once close and at arm's length. Whereas you had no fear to let down your hair before him, you wouldn't think of slapping him on the back. Not that he forbade familiarity by any conscious effort. It was a kind of aura God had given him. He need not bull in to occupy the center of the stage. He was  p132 called from the wings by great and small who were not disappointed by his performance.

I have watched Newton Baker, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pershing and other lights content to listen and be caught under the spell of his logic and near eloquence. There were no "uhs" or "ohs" to halt or clog his almost classical sequences, which flowed steadily like a smooth river without the splash or splatter of rapids. It was the same delivery. He did not use different tones to fit persons high or low in the military or social scale. There was neither condescension nor fawning.

Listening in the next room, I could not tell if he were speaking to a major general or to Marty Maher. He maintained reverence for the dignity of an upright man, especially a brave one. I've seen him speak to a lowly private of the Forty-second with the affection and equality of a brother. In the whole two years I served under him, he gave no sign or made any gesture that I was a subordinate. With his staff, it was "we," as if we were a tightly knit family. He refused to use a buzzer to call me, because he felt he would be treating me as a servant. At no time did he take advantage of his position to coerce or scare anyone. He did not impose on us with grouchy moods or excited impatience. We grew to have the certainty we'd find the same MacArthur giving us the same reception, welcoming us, repeating our messages as he paced, and, with that brightness just short of a smile, coming to the clear solution. He had a way of touching your elbow or shoulder, upping his chin with a slight jerk and crowding into his eye such a warmth of blessing, he made you feel you'd contributed a boon to the whole human race. Far from a familiarity which could arouse the slightest recoil, his manual touch was a delicate blessing reserved to accompany warm and approving words.

As he talked, so he walked jauntily, without swagger. His gait and expression were carefree without being careless. Though he could not be outwardly unnerved, ruffled or befuddled by any situation or dignitary, there was no apparent effort to keep his calmness. You never sensed his saying to himself, "Now I've got to get myself in hand," because he was  p133 always in hand. It was impossible to knock him off balance. There was no hint of: "I'm going to show this guy I'm as good as he," nor was there any toadying, extra fussing or buzzing around with "Can't I get you this?" or "Would you want that?" He was just MacArthur, the same MacArthur who spoke to me in the office every day and made no effort to be something else than MacArthur. Somehow he didn't need to.

With all his straightforward approach, he was a master of finesse, which he used to keep within the bounds of decorum to avoid an impasse blocking some big purpose. He did not let it degenerate into skulduggery. Nor did he use it directly to advance himself.

Here is an example of his type of finesse.

We were discussing the Draft Law for World War I. He smiled and shook his head. "There was a time I felt it could never be enacted." Then he went on to tell me that when he, as a major a year or two before the war, had been on duty in the War Department, Secretary Baker had called him in and told him he was dissatisfied with the way the press was being antagonized either by the withholding of facts they should have or by releasing facts of little news value.

Baker said, "Major, I want you to have full and sole charge. Go in there and consider yourself attorney for the War Department."

When MacArthur repeated the mandate to me, he smiled wanly and said, "I knew neither the law nor the press. So at the very first meeting with the scribes, I said, 'Gentlemen, I know nothing about this job or your jobs. I'm going to throw myself on the mercy of the court. I'm going to take you around and show you everything. There will be no bars. You will know what to print and not to print for the best interests of the country. I am a lamb. I beg of you to protect me from myself.' "

He leaned down toward me.

"Chief, you never saw a more delighted and grateful group. I realized there was my opportunity. At that time, only two newspapers were favoring a draft law. So I began working on the others."

 p134  I found out later that by MacArthur's efforts only a few newspapers after six months were carrying editorials not favoring the draft, and he was doubtless the greatest single factor in having our first equable draft law passed.

Inventiveness was a continuing characteristic. Even in little things he was always analyzing and suggesting improvement.

Once he took off his cap and examined it. "Chief, the tilt is in the wrong place. It should go up in back and not in front." He put it on with the visor on the back of the head. "See," he said, "the average American has a prominent chin which tilts down in front. Why make him look longer there? Now notice. Isn't the contour more balanced?"

I had to acknowledge the symmetry.

With his inventiveness went an independence and self-reliance which, from words dropped here and there, made me feel those qualities were innate. Especially revealing was an incident which, he told me, took place before his graduation from the Academy.

It came time for him to choose a branch of service. "Chief," he said, "I had always wanted to be in a fighting branch. If my country went to war, I wanted to be up front. I knew I couldn't stomach the life of an engineer in stuffy offices figuring something on Rivers and Harbors. So I put in for the infantry. Somehow my father got wind of my choice and immediately got in touch. He told me not to be a fool, that the engineers would be increased and increased. Then, when war came along, I'd be one or two grades above my classmates who had selected the infantry. I'd be in better position for command. So I listened to him and took the engineers. And as he predicted, I gained enough in grade to get a transfer as a colonel of infantry in 1917. Thus, I could go overseas as Chief of Staff of the Forty-second."

The outstanding feature to me in his disclosure was his utter self-reliance on his own initial reasoning and judgment over such a momentous decision. He would go it alone, even though his father was a Lieutenant General of tremendous military background and the source of the best advice. The  p135 son's original choice was all the more indicative of his aversion to let others decide for him any course of action and his fearlessness in going against all precedent. No number‑one man had turned down the engineers for twenty-seven years, and before that only to get faster promotion through increase in the selected branch. But MacArthur had chosen the infantry in spite of increases in other branches. There was that self-sufficiency manifesting itself at an early age, a quality I had met so many times since. It was impossible for him to be a leaner. No one must be blamed if his decision turned out badly. It would be his own funeral.

"My father saved me," he went on, "from a puerile, impetuous choice which might have defeated for me any chance of being a fighting man. But following his advice, I got to be one. He was a man of great power and insight."

The son bent his head back almost horizontally and peered into the ceiling as if he were beholding his departed parent. A film came over his eyes.

His attitude toward his living mother was just as reverent. Even in his busiest moments, whenever she had to interrupt he would answer in tones of tenderness and endearment. One day, when we were discussing something that had come up about her, I indicated she ought to be thankful to have a son who responded so dutifully and gladly.

He turned to me, "Chief, I owe everything I ever was, am and will be, to her. My utmost devotion is small recompense."

There was an even more serious moment when he and I were discussing the country's unreadiness for World War I.

His face lost its hint of smile. "Chief, it was our inexcusable neglect beforehand which caused so much needless mortality — so many lives — so many lives!" His face knotted. "Men shot down," he went on, "who didn't have a chance — young, strapping youths who didn't know their weapons or how to protect themselves.

He turned his face to the window and pulled out his handkerchief.

He seemed to be recalling the faces of the heroic dead.  p136 Rather than being angry at those responsible, he was sorrowful over a condition. This trait was in keeping with his effort to correct faults rather than punish individuals — a means he used rarely and only when it was necessary for full justice.

Similarly, his abhorrence of destructive disloyalty was reflected in his scrupulous adherence to the wishes and orders of his superiors. In those tempestuous days, when he could well have been tempted to vary from the mandates of Secretary of War Baker and the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Pershing, he followed instructions to the letter, even if they were not quite to his liking.

And as he boldly presented his views to his superiors, so he wished his subordinates to act with him. He sought objections and weighed them carefully. I have entered his office excited with disagreement. I have even said, "General, you can't do this because . . ." He would glint with that expectant smile of stimulation, hear me through and then pace out an analysis. He won nearly all the time.

Once, when I presented new facts, he touched me on the shoulder and spoke as if he were congratulating me.

"Chief, you are right and I was wrong." He had no use for yes‑men.

"When you pound the desk," he commented once, "I know you're loyal." He at no time considered a difference of opinion as insubordination. He did not hold hidebound conceits. For in my continuous observation, I did not need to be a sage to realize he kept no files or pigeonholes in his mind. There was no saying to himself, "I'll just pull out the Johnson case. It fits here." There was no case to pull out, because he had banished it to take up another afresh. How he could completely wipe his mental slate clean, with no smudge or trace of a previous deliberation or decision, was a mounting mystery for me. Even his phraseology was different for each problem and solution. It was as if another MacArthur had just walked in. It was this element in his nature which balked at the set punishments for cadets: "Visiting during call to quarters — five demerits and  p137 ten confinements." How could an infraction be so exact for various and variable human beings?

Naturally, there was no need to keep in the files of my office a lot of cases as precedents. In fact, there was no MacArthur file, since each case was despatched vocally on the spot. If I weren't present, he'd inform me of its disposition. Mr. Boyle and I kept short and shorthand notes of the Supe's course of action, which we buried in the outer vaults just in case the body had to be exhumed. But it didn't have to be, since there was no need for precedents, as each case was taken up on its merits. He clung to his principle that rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.

Naturally, with his aversion to unjust rubber-stamping went his abhorrence of paper work. To him it was fraught with delay, cowardice and temptation to sharp practice. His desk was clean and kept clean. What personal letters he answered, he'd tear up immediately after dictation, and take delight in casting the bits in the wastebasket. Papers I'd bring him to sign, he'd correct, ask questions about or affix his signature to at once. His in‑box and out‑box were as empty as Mother Hubbard's cupboard, until he had them removed altogether. And his desk drawers were as clean as in a furniture store. No papers, letters or personal items went in them. The practice was a joy to my office, whose clerks had been compelled sometimes throughout the years to search violently in all the files for a missing document, only to have it dug up after burial in the Supe's desk. Letters of reprimand of those involving unpleasantness were beyond the pale. His contacts were face to face mostly and rarely over the phone.

Of all his traits, the one which made the greatest impression was his unwavering aplomb — his astonishing self-mastery. I had seen men who were so placid or stolid they were emotionless. But MacArthur was anything but that. His every tone, look or movement was the extreme of intense vivacity. In watching him hourly, you would have said, "I'd hate to be near when he loses his temper." But you needn't have worried. He didn't lose it. He saw to it he didn't lose it.

 p138  His keen sense of humor would have also hinted at anger at the other extreme. There was always a laugh ready to break through, if someone would only have the right sort of wit and humor and release it. Let the narrator beware of shoddy or flimsy jokes depending on a pun, a long flow to get to a small point, or a tale where sex or filth were dominant. Though MacArthur was no prude, he was clean in spirit. Let it be the Will Rogers or Mark Twain type, and he would give forth with the same boyish glee he showed when the team gained yardage.

Fate once gave me a rare opportunity to see him let go altogether. Ever since I can remember, I've been called everything from a nitwit to a fool — in a nice sort of way. Some people were good enough to raise the compliment to buffoon. I must tell this incident to get to MacArthur. . . .

His small staff gave him a congratulations party at the Club over his nomination to a permanent rank of brigadier general in the Regular Army. It was an informal family affair, where we had place cards with his picture in the center and presented him with a set of major general's stars as a prophecy. After the dessert they craved some kind of tomfoolery, and since I was the only fool present, they lit on me. Would I do an imitation? I did my Dunkard preacher act, which depended mostly on facial contortions. MacArthur didn't see the end of it. In the middle, he bent over the table, his shoulders shaking. When he sat back, he was using his handkerchief to wipe the tears. After that he had me do it on every appropriate occasion. Each time he'd be wiping his eyes after the start or would bend over shaking his shoulders. I doubt if he ever saw the burlesque all the way through.

Up to this point, it might appear that I am presenting a sort of eulogy, exerting myself to portray a paragon of perfection, if there is such a one.

Actually, I have striven to tell exactly what I saw of him and of his effect on me without embellishment. From what the other members of the staff voluntarily told me at the time, I feel confident they would agree with what I have described, absolutely.

 p139  Of course, he had faults. He himself would be the first to admit human weaknesses. To me the one which hurt him most was his social withdrawal. When he first arrived, he let me know that calling on the Supe in his quarters would be entirely at the desire and option of the officer. From the way he said it, it didn't take a diviner to understand he was averse to having his doorbell clanging and his privacy broken by having to chat about this and that to Tom and Dick.

It was like his other moves, original, independent, individual. He had cracked an iron-clad Army custom which had been obligatory ever since Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee had been a plebe. The incoming K. O. had always signified to the Adjutant the date after which he would receive members of his command. And that meant you'd better be received within a given time. For someone would keep a check list, and any absence would be sourly noted. If you didn't make it, you received a letter to "explain by indorsement hereon" why you failed. The excuse had better be good, or at least a reprimand would follow.

It was just as iron-clad for every officer to call on every other officer within a given time. At West Point it took several months to get around, and Sunday afternoons were ruined by having to dress up, ring door bells and produce effluvia, when all the time you wished you were on the tennis court or at a picnic at Round Pond.

"I wonder," said MacArthur, "how many hours have been wasted in this senseless, fruitless business of ordering people into other people's homes. How can it be useful when the large percentage of the callers and those called on undergo it as an affliction? The practice belongs to that category of the stupid who believe misery and military are synonymous. It is shot through with stiffness and falsity. It was first intended to create good-will and congeniality. It does mostly the exact opposite. When people are forced on each other and bored with each other, they're not likely to be fond of each other. We are not keeping abreast of the changing times. We have so long viewed an Army post as so different from the heathen, outside world, we cannot appropriate any of its advantages.

 p140  "This is a community like any other community, where its denizens should be able to choose their own friends as in any town or city. There's no necessity here to force the social congealment so necessary in the early West when the group within the fort had to fight as a unit. We have the same separate compartments as a university. Would it not be ridiculous for a president of an institution to order his professors to call on each other? Even if he had the right, he'd be laughed at or superseded, or both. What is there any more reason for me to order the same thing here merely because I have the right? Chief, rescind the standing orders for calling. Make it optional. I shall not be a party to the lowering of morale here."

By the move, he didn't lower it. Officers put their calling cards in the lower drawers and husbands and wives hugged each other with glee. No more would they be deprived of freedom on Sunday afternoons, and no more would they have to wait until the disliked Smiths were out so as to slip cards under the door.

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