Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 5

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!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 7

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p43  The Old Order Changeth

From what has been told, it would be easy to infer that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur had all the time in the world to devote to academic work and the curriculum.

Although he deemed them important, and hard nuts to crack while resentment and accusation were smoldering, there were other demands. Besides the military and athletic needs, and incursions of distinguished visitors, he was ruler over a government reservation of many square miles and actually governor of a fair-sized town, with all its necessary installations. There were by far more soldiers of the Regular Army in the detachments than cadets, and more valuable structures to be responsible for at the Point than in some small cities.

Even though these administrative duties were heavy, he did not once veer away from what he determined was his main objective — the education and training of the cadet. In order to focus on it more acutely, he had two sharp and sound ways of riding himself of lesser, annoying details.

One was his thorough subordination. Not before or since have I known a leader who put into practice so successfully the motto of Joseph H. Patterson: "Find your man, trust your man, inspire your man, and you will have your man." I doubt if he had ever heard of the advice, but I dare say he carried it out to Patterson's satisfaction.

The second was by deft shunting, as illustrated by the case of a dog.

Two irate officers rushed into my office with such exalted complaints that I had a hard time getting the facts. When they calmed down enough to tell me, it came out that Major X had a German shepherd dog, which he kept on a running leash looped over a clothesline. Colonel Y, next door, had come out of his quarters only to have the animal take a chunk out of his coat sleeve.

 p44  The Colonel thundered at me that he would not rest until the dangerous beast was banished from the Post. It would be the ridicule of a public pest — or worse, a peril if it had rabies. The dog might bite anyone without provocation.

The Major was not overawed by the Colonel. He came back vociferously that the dog was loved by his children, and hadn't bitten them or any of their playmates. When it wasn't in the house, it was on the leash attached to the clothesline on his side of the yard next his quarters. If someone came over on that side, it was his own lookout. A man's house was his castle and the yard belonged to that castle.

The Colonel pounded the desk. There were no castles on the Post! They were government property loaned to the occupant and belonged to one officer as much as another!

Over that the two became as boisterous as two quarreling children. They were going into a crescendo when I urged them to quiet down, at least for the looks of things before my clerks and before other persons who might enter.

When they were reduced to guttural mumblings, I suggested several compromises. Couldn't the dog be kept across the road in the rear of the line of quarters?

No, claimed the Colonel, the dog's barking would still be a neighborhood nuisance and the animal would be just as dangerous to anyone crossing the road. The Major didn't like the idea either. The dog would be too far away to control.

"It isn't controlled, anyway," cut in the Colonel.

"Besides," said the Major, "the children won't stand for it."

I knew what hellions his children were, and how the peace might suffer worse that way.

I suggested farming the dog out, keeping it indoors or muzzling it.

Outcries came from both. Muzzling and penning indoors were cruelty to dumb animals, contended the Major. The dog could get out or go without his muzzle, and still would be a menace, said the Colonel.

"Why don't you," I advised, "go home, wait till you are less stirred up? I'm sure sane men like you can come to some suitable compromise."

 p45  "We demand to see the Superintendent," said the Colonel. "He's the only one who can settle the question. He'll put the horrible creature off the Post."

I warned them that he had fully delegated such matters as these to me, because he wanted to be freed for more important ones.

"I suppose being bitten by a big dog isn't important," came back the Colonel.

I made another effort at settlement, saw its hopelessness, went in, warned the General of a dispute beyond my control and led in the contenders.

He greeted them in his usual cheery, offhand way, calling them by their first names. Then he went into his stance of tenacious listening. Once, when their acrimony became a bit soprano, he gave a sharp, "Gentlemen!" His finality threw a hush over the room, which he broke by asking softly, "We are gentlemen, aren't we?"

When the two contenders had finished their claims, he rose and began his pacing, repeating the contentions as if he were about to analyze them and come to a decision.

Instead, he said, "This is a plain case of nuisance. I am neither a qualified lawyer or judge, nor do I have under me a tribunal or mechanism for handling misdemeanors. We have courts at hand that are equipped to dispense justice in such affairs. I don't propose to degrade the office of Superintendent by involving it in every petty disagreement or disturbance. Engrossed in them, I must perforce neglect the major necessities of this office, which are gravely heavy now."

He turned and said to them with kindly crispness, "You have my full permission to take your case to the Justice of the Peace in Highland Falls, whom I will admit to this Reservation to make appropriate investigation and disposition of the matter. It is purely a civil action for civil authorities." He smiled broadly and nodded to them. "You have my blessings."

I have never seen two more downcast, nonplussed faces. They left with all gusto of complaint dying into frowns.

MacArthur's action would even have been a shock to me,  p46 so unprecedented was it, if I hadn't become used to expecting the unexpected. I had never known a commander of a military garrison who wasn't so jealous of his prerogatives that everything from garbage cans to screen doors were sometimes more important than drill or training. The idea of surrendering anything to the civilian would have been loathsome and degrading. What, an ordinary Supe might say, a mere civilian knowing more than I about handling post affairs!

After the dog contenders had left, MacArthur said to me. "Hereafter, Chief, you know what to do. You can quote my stand you have just heard for matters of this nature. The days have passed when the K. O. is a czar. Such wholesale control might have been necessary and proper in the remote forts of the Plains. It might have been necessary to regulate chicken coops and women's skirts. Little things might have developed into big things. The commander was the only one for many miles of a desolate country to enforce all the laws and regulations of an isolated group. He also had time for every detail, when an hour or so of drill in the morning completed the work of the day.

"In these modern times we have a complicated military machinery which demands our undivided attention. Instead of howling wolves and rapacious Indians, we have close beside us a highly civilized community, which has efficient organizations to relieve us of cluttering details. I don't propose to be turned aside by paltry ructions. I don't propose to go to the dogs."

We both laughed.

"Just because the law gives me jurisdiction doesn't mean I must pronounce judgment."

The news of the canine case, and the Supe's refusal to become involved in the time-honored minutiae, must have circulated, for that was the last of pets or pettiness to be brought into my office; and the Post went on as peacefully as before.

Though he may have discarded petty cases, he didn't ignore humble people.

I had to go to see him one day about the situation of Sergeant  p47 B. I have forgotten the details of the case, but I remember the general idea. The Sergeant had got himself in deep trouble through a faithless wife and an errant daughter. Even though the provocation was great, the offense was serious, and could be decided only by the Commanding General.

I explained that the man had twenty-eight years of service, been wounded twice, had a splendid record till then, and that his infractions were produced by heartbreaking conditions.

I think I must have made the story quite pathetic, for when I finished, the Supe reached quickly for his handkerchief to dab at the sprouting tears. He swallowed and asked, "Are conditions such now that he won't repeat?"

I assured him I had talked with the Sergeant, that his wife and daughter were in no position to cause more trouble, and I was certain he would go on as he had before.

"Chief, wipe the slate clean."

"But the regulations . . ."

He thrust his chin forward, in the way he had for emphasis. "Fudge the regulations!" he charged. "They're sometimes made to be broken for the good of the whole. Rules are mostly made for the lazy to hide behind. What earthly good will it do society to punish him at the end of a highly useful career? It's his family who should be punished, and they're out of my purview."

He paced a bit, repeating, "Rules! Rules! What damage have they caused! Some little thing goes wrong. Instead of mending the situation on the spot, we make a rule. Someone commits a nuisance on a beautiful lane. The K. O. yells to his adjutant to get out an order at once putting the lane off limits and placing a guard at its ends. Aha, he's cured that evil. Now, as a matter of fact, the transgression had never occurred before, and a hundred people who didn't commit nuisances are inconvenienced by the shutting off of a short cut. But it was easier for the K. O. to sit in his office and sign an order than to get wheels and his ingenuity moving to catch the culprit. I suspect he didn't have much ingenuity to use. He was content to make a lot of innocent people suffer for one guilty.

 p48  "We're not going to be embroiled in that sort of unjust mishandling. We're going to take up each individual case, good or bad, on its merits or demerits. We're not going to shirk."

"Just so we are consistent," I offered.

He shook his head sadly, "No, consistency is exactly what we don't want. Human nature is anything but consistent. It's man's attempt to impose straight lines and unyielding routine on his fellow man which has wrought unfairness and discomfort. It is man's effort to reduce other persons' lives to a mechanism which has caused disaffection and unrest, which has lowered methods into policies and policies into inflexible rules. Too many indolently dispense with a problem by sending out a form letter or looking up a precedent in a book, an action any child could perform. They refuse to exert their brains to study each infraction, each man, each situation as a separate entity." He paused, and then turned. "You see, some other man than Sergeant B, committing the same offense, might deserve court-martial."

He walked the floor silently, and then swiftly turned to me. "Chief, do we have form letters to explain by endorsement hereon?"

I told him there were certain recurrent delinquencies by officers of the Post, for which we had printed communications requiring only that the clerks fill in the name.

"Destroy them," he charged, "or use the backs for scratch paper."

And that was the end of any written material with even the slightest tinge of unpleasantness leaving Headquarters. There weren't any blanket orders or restrictive directives committed to type. Administration was conducted by phone or face to face.

I can hear him yet uttering his dictum: "To take up a painful matter by letter or other written communication is not only the rankest cowardice but the ruination of morale."

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 15 Jun 16