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 7

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 9

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p53  The Cold Carpet

The next case is also illuminating.

One of the progressive officers on whom Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur could depend for the furtherance of his principles, especially for broadening and liberalizing the cadet point of view, came in with the proposition of starting a cadet newspaper on the order of similar college sheets. It would be operated by the Corps, with its own staff of editors and reporters, and would exploit the cadet life and views in true fashion to the public. It would be fine for parents to see the way their boys were getting along.

This, I felt, was right up the Supe's alley. He had hinted to me about the narrowness of cadet life and its effect on the graduate. A newspaper would be a prime aid in expanding the outlook of the Corps.

But to my surprise, he didn't brighten and jump. He rose slowly and silently paced the floor before he expressed himself.

"Joe, I'm afraid of it. I like the general idea and am grateful for that kind of suggestion. But these cadets are immature, especially so now with only a plebe year behind them. If they make mistakes within the Academy walls, we can correct them and keep from washing our dirty linen in public. It will be impossible to keep this paper from circulating to the four corners of the United States. An inadvertent statement, seemingly innocent to the puerile mind, might do the Academy irrevocable harm. Already it is in a critical state, trying to erect something worthy out of the remnants. Even a press man of wide experience would have difficulty in presenting a true picture. I'm sorry, old man, I have to veto the idea."

Joe kept on coming back for a week or so, fortifying his plea with new specifications about the lift to the morale of the Corps.

 p54  Finally, more to appease him than to declare himself convinced about the newspaper, MacArthur said hesitatingly, "Joe, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll let you have your newspaper, provided we have a keen officer who will censor it to the last word and will allow nothing to go out which will have a statement or phrase which can be construed as hurtful to the administration or the Point."

"I think I have the very man, Captain Smith of my department."

"Send Smith to me."

When Smith came, MacArthur turned on his vibrating, bass whisper, rehearsing the situation as it had been shown to Joe. "Bill," he ended, "you realize you will be responsible, wholly and solely so, for every word that goes into this paper. You understand, I shall hold you responsible for any slip which might mean a reflection on the Academy."

"Yes, sir." Bill Smith saluted and left.

A half-dozen issues of the paper went out harmlessly. It was a new fad, and everybody hailed it with pleasure except the DOG's (Disgruntled Old Grads) and the Old Guard.

I was beginning to feel the Supe had been overcareful with Joe until I was rudely jolted.

I was in my office as usual one Saturday afternoon, just in case. There was to be a football game, and I was looking forward to breaking loose and seeing it, when Mr. Boyle, the dependable, who wouldn't see me working alone in the office, came in, his usually florid face white around the mouth.

"Colonel, you should see this!"

He handed me a fresh copy of the paper and pointed to an editorial. It took only a glance to see what he meant. The column started off, "We don't agree with the Superintendent's policies . . ." I didn't take time to read more, but that was enough.

"How many copies are out?" I asked.

"There are probably a number mailed, but I don't know whether they've gone out of the post office."

"Mr. Boyle, you go downstairs, see the Postmaster and stop  p55 every one of those copies if you must use every threat of the Superintendent or force by Military Police."

I didn't know how far the Supe's authority extended over the post office, and I didn't care much. The papers must be stopped.

I finally got MacArthur on the wire. "General," I asked excitedly, "you ought to get over right away."

"What is it, Chief?" he answered casually. "I'm about ready to pop off to the game."

"General, it's serious."

Can't you tell me over the phone?"

"No, sir, not this kind of thing. I've taken the liberty of ordering your car to your door."

"You seem to take me in charge," he chided, with lightness.

I read the whole article while he was on his way. It was a boyish attempt to follow the sarcastic smartness of a new vogue in some magazines. It talked loosely about the changes the new Superintendent was making, as if the cadets were a sort of Congress criticizing the Chief Executive in his policies. It was apparent the youthful editors had not meant insubordination, but they had written it just the same. If the Postmaster still had the copies, we were safe; but if any of them had escaped, the press over the country would make capital out of the young Supe and the consequent disorganized state of West Point.

I waited at the head of the stone stairway in the shadowy crypt of hallway. He tapped up in his usual jaunty way of being disturbed by nothing. I always felt he regarded any happening as of little consequence after the hideous blood and mud of France.

"Well, Chief, what's the tragedy?" he asked lightly.

I handed him the paper and pointed to the editorial. He read as he walked, his face darkening, his eyes staring. That was the only time I saw him livid. There were things of consequence, after all.

"Have copies gone out?"

I told him what I had done about the Postmaster, and hoped  p56 we were in time. "Bon," he said. "Send for Captain Smith." He didn't call him "Bill."

While we were waiting, he paced about and dilated on the far‑reaching, harmful effects of insubordination, as illustrated by the present predicament. Once the chain of command was snapped by evasion or outright disobedience, the whole team was impaired, if not defeated. It was like a halfback running the wrong way and being thrown for a loss, possibly over the goal line. These cadets, however innocent their motive — inspired probably by graduates inimical to the Supe's policies — must be taught the seriousness of such an act. He did not want to curb their imagination and zeal, but they must be shown where initiative leaves off and insubordination begins. But he was more indebted over the possible bad reputation to the Academy than over the unwitting acts of youngsters.

The picture of him then uttering so solemnly, even religiously, his unswerving devotion to loyalty to higher authority, came back to me vividly when he was summarily and rudely relieved in Korea after performing with more than distinction the most prodigious combination of military and administrative tasks in the nation's history. How could he suddenly in his old age go back on his ingrained habits — principles demonstrated continually through two World Wars, the office of Superintendent of West Point, the control of the Army as its Chief of Staff and the incumbency as Field Marshal of the Philippine troops? Would it not be almost a physical impossibility to do such a thing?

I was reminded of a similar reward given to Scott after winning the Mexican War and the high regard of the Mexican people. He was called home in disgrace by the perfidious Polk, and then Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Robert E. Lee said of him, "He is turned out as an old horse to die."​a But even there Scott was accorded a Court of Inquiry which wholly exonerated him.

I consulted a number of officers in the Service, who shook their heads unbelievingly. One said, "I know he would unhesitatingly have sacrificed himself if he could by doing so stop the useless slaughter of our soldiers."

 p57  Said another, "Imagine a coach telling his team not to advance beyond the fifty-yard line."

. . . But to come back to our story at West Point. When Bill Smith came into my office, he asked, "What's up, Colonel?"

"The Supe wants to see you."

"Saturday afternoon?"

"Saturday afternoon."

After I led him in and he had saluted, there was a heavy silence which for a full minute MacArthur didn't break. Neither did he ask Bill to be seated, nor did he smile casually or hold out his cigarette case. He rose before him as he looked him through with a hundred rapiers.

"Did you see this?" he asked, handing over the paper open at the editorial.

"Why . . . why, not all of it."

"Did you inspect that editorial?"

Smith scanned it hurriedly. "No, sir, this is the first time I've seen it. I would have stopped it if I had."

"Did you not tell me here in this office you would be responsible for everything appearing in this paper?"

"Yes, sir."

"Everything?" The word came out like a shot. "Why did you fail with this?"

"Well, sir, I had so much to do this week I didn't get around to it."

There was a short silence. Then came MacArthur's ultimatum: "Captain Smith, I am wiring Washington this very hour for your relief from the Academy. You will be off this Post without delay." That was all.

Up to then I hadn't heard him speak in that tone. There was no angry bellow. It wasn't even shrill or rasping. It was a velvety bass and the syllables were clipped like a priest intoning, staccato. I had never heard such stark force and finality.

Smith stood starey-eyed, the color oozing from his face. He gazed at MacArthur hopelessly, evidently realizing the edict was unalterable. He saluted, did a precise about face and left.  p58 That was the last I saw of him for many years — and the last of the paper for some time.

The stroke had fallen so astonishingly, I was almost as stunned as Smith. There was neither prelude nor postlude. In all there were less than thirtyº words spoken. In the briefest time, MacArthur had made sure of all the cardinal and pertinent facts. Once having that absolute certainty, he dealt in no belaboring, threatening, whining, scolding or rehearsing. He gave no suggestion of phrases I had heard in like situation from other commanding officers, such as: "Do you realize the vast magnitude of your offense?" — "I have a mind to court-martial you." — "You seem to have no comprehension of the harm that might come to the Academy" — "I should never have trusted you with so important a matter" — "You are weak and irresponsible." MacArthur's decree was as steely and swift as the guillotine.

After Smith was gone I must have gazed at MacArthur inquiringly, for I couldn't reconcile this last action with the tender, patient way he had handled the failure of the report. He turned to me with no mirth in his face, the football game apparently forgotten.

"You may wonder at my drastic action," he said finally. "I will allow for all sorts of errors of judgment when the motives are right, when a man is trying to the limit of his capacity. I will have every forbearance toward human frailties, so long as a person demonstrates his active endeavor and staunch loyalty. But I shall not under any circumstances brook mistakes of wanton neglect. In war they can cause loss of untold thousands of lives. In peace they can despoil whole segments of society. As you see today, the Academy's name is still in jeopardy."

Shortly, Mr. Boyle informed me from the screen that the papers had been stopped from going out. The General rushed to the doorway and called after him, "You have done a great service to the Academy." Returning, he sat down heavily. "It was a close shave, Chief." There was no trace of controlled  p59 anger. Throughout the whole episode he had not lost one iota of his poise or calmness.

The line he hewed so unwaveringly between errors of judgment and mistakes of neglect might give the impression that he was autocratic and stubborn. Another incident illustrates his open-mindedness to new facts and logical pleas.

It was when the first and third classes were having summer training at Camp Dix in New Jersey. In their midst was a cadet whom the Corps felt was unsuitable by character. Although Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.the Commandant and Tactical Officers felt the same way, they adhered to order and regulations, knowing that in due time the man would commit overt acts or have deficiencies which would properly cause him to be ousted from the Academy. But the third class (sophomores), in its zeal and immaturity, were more impatient. They met secretly one dark night in an unlighted and unoccupied building so that faces would be unrecognizable and witnesses unobtainable. The upshot was, the unwanted cadet was escorted out of camp with a warning not to return.

MacArthur, back at West Point, received evidence of the action before the Commandant had had word. His sense of propriety and fairness was so struck that he sent a messenger to Dix with an order to "bust" the Cadet First Captain, who was normally charged with the responsibility of adherence to regulations.

Another cadet officer came to Danford and said, "Sir, I don't believe the Corps will take this order. The First Captain was not to blame."

The Com had a hard time convincing the cadet that mutiny did no good to anyone and cited past examples. He then showed that, when a division in France failed, its commander was relieved even if he were not directly responsible for the shortcoming.

There was no mutiny, but the cadets still rankled over what they felt was an unfair punishment of a popular leader and number‑two man in studies.

Later, Danford told MacArthur the whole story, and added,  p60 "Because this cadet has been so outstanding, exemplary and loyal, and so soldierly and subordinate in his conduct ever since he was reduced to the grade of cadet private, I recommend that he be appointed an extra cadet Captain, so he may graduate with Captain's chevrons."

Though there was no precedent, MacArthur banged his desk and exploded, "Do it!"

The cadet Captain was Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George H. Olmsted, who became a Major General in World War II.

Some might accuse MacArthur of handling the Captain Smith and Cadet Olmsted cases at logical variance with each other. Hadn't both men shown neglect of duty? With Smith, all the facts were in at the time of the blow. With Olmsted, they weren't. And when they were, MacArthur softened accordingly.

In another incident he softened even more.

The Army had beaten the Navy in baseball. That doesn't sound like much, but to the starved Corps, which had witnessed defeat after defeat at the hands of its old rival of superior numbers, it was a glorious miracle. At midnight following the game, the cadets turned out en masse, clad in pajamas and with nondescript adornment. They paraded past the Supe's quarters and around the Post, ending at Fort Clinton, where they built a huge bonfire.

The officer in charge was Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.C. H. Bonesteel (now Major General). Instead of breaking up what in all such prior demonstrations had been considered beyond the pale of discipline, and ordering the cadets back to bed, he joined the party and made a warm speech of approval.

Next morning the Com had a conversation with MacArthur. Here it is, as Danford reported it to me:

MacArthur: "Well, Com, that was quite a party you put on last night!"

Danford: "Yes, it was, sir — quite a party!"

MacArthur: "How many of them did you skin?"

Danford: "Not a damn one!"

MacArthur: (with a bang on his desk) "Good! You know,  p61 Com, I could hardly resist the impulse to get out and join them!"

To predecessors of MacArthur, that would have been heresy.

As this incident shows liberality, another shows fairness taking precedence over self-interest.

One of the professors took up with me a situation concerning two of his instructors. He said they were not up to standard. I didn't ask him what that standard was, because it had been an inviolate custom to let each head of a department set what he chose to call his own standard. In this instance, he went on to explain that their personalities weren't on a par with his other teachers. They did their work all right, but they were, you might say, colorless. They lacked definition, so to speak. They ought to be relieved and replaced by two others. He gave me the names of the replacements, said he had corresponded with them, and they were happy over the detail. He left with a bland expression of accomplishment, for naturally he had no reason to believe his request would not be put through as similar ones had been in a routine way before.

When he left I felt stimulated. Here was a chance to co‑operate with one of the older professors and neutralize the growing antagonism to the Supe and his exceptional changes. Besides, the whole idea was along the lines of improvement of the Academy.

I laid the request before MacArthur in a sort of off‑hand way, as much as to say, "Of course this is already settled by precedent. I'm telling you only to keep you informed."

He bowed his head and peered at me from underneath his delicately penciled brows.

"What specifically have these instructors done?" His voice was suspiciously gentle.

"Not anything you can lay your hands on, the Professor gave me to understand."

"Has either of them committed an overt or even an unseemly act?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"Would the Professor have told you, had there been?"

 p62  Yes, sir, I think he would. I think he'd have fortified his case that way."

"There was no criticism of their work in the classroom or any particular actions on the Post?"

"No, sir."

"Chief, I smell several rats. I would be willing to wager that Mrs. Professor doesn't like the wives of the two instructors, or they are bad dinner companions. But even if that were not so, I wouldn't relieve them. Exactly what are we relieving them for?" He probably addressed the wall purposely to keep me from embarrassment. "For no possible reason," he went on. "Where is the justice? There isn't even decency. It's contrary to the Constitution, which allows every citizen to be confronted by evidence and his accusers. This is one of the most cowardly practices I've known in all my service. And this Professor would ask me to be a party to such cruelty? Ask him to step in here at his convenience."

He didn't tell me to tell the Professor his decision. He wouldn't shirk face-to‑face frankness.

"Johnson," he said after the Professor arrived, "I realize it has been a custom to relieve instructors merely at the request of heads of departments in summary fashion. It just so happens I cannot see my way clear to support that custom, if for no other reason than the injustice to the men relieved. However quietly the matter is handled, gossip and the fact they are sent away in mid‑term will reflect on their reputations and standing."

The Professor pleaded he was being singled out as the first to be denied the privilege. Besides, he felt the custom was good. It allowed the head of a department to keep a high standard, a standard of teamwork in teaching and morale. If some instructors spoiled that fraternal association, they should be got rid of. The department was more important than any individual.

MacArthur's question was low and gentle. "Did you not ask for them?"

"Why, yes, but you cannot predict how a man will turn out."

 p63  MacArthur was on his feet, his whole manner changing as he paced. "Sir," he pronounced in his low, clipped delivery, "anybody can work with world beaters, but it takes a real leader to develop the mediocre. You are a leader, aren't you?"

The Professor nodded furtively.

"You don't want to lower your standing in that respect, do you?"

"Why, no."

"Sir, we'll always have the mediocre with us. They are in the majority. We have a decided duty to develop them in order to leaven and better the whole. We dare not shirk that duty and take refuge behind questionable practices. We must not lazily strive for ready-made perfection. We must try to construct it." He turned with a smile, and modulated his tone. "I have every confidence," he assured, "that with your kind of personality you can elevate these two instructors till they'll be above par."

The Professor left with stony eyes and a bitter curl to his lips. I realized MacArthur had not, with all his tact, helped his cause with the DOGs and Old Guard.

What struck me was his innate unwillingness to win the sympathy of a member of that Guard toward his progressive reforms at the expense of even veiled injustice. He refused to pander, because he would be harming two subordinates whom he scarcely knew.

This delicate care for the feelings of his subordinates, wholly because they were his subordinates, pervaded all his acts, from which he did not deviate. Remembering now his treatment of those who had not clearly committed acts of wanton neglect, I cannot help but reflect on the rudeness of his relief from his Far Eastern Command. I would stake my life that the manner of recall would have been different had the tables been reversed and MacArthur been President. Even though he might have felt the relief was necessary, he would have taken into account his subordinate's peerless heroism and leader­ship throughout two wars for his country, and written him along these lines:

 p64  Dear –––––:

It has been on my mind for some time that you have extraordinarily served your country long beyond the age of retirement, during which time you've had to forego that leisure and enjoyment accorded to most men.

Your numerous missions have been completed superbly. I feel it is only fair to you that you should let a younger man take over the reins.

I will be glad to approve a letter requesting retirement.

This type of letter is based wholly on the many times I saw him treat even erring subordinates similarly.

Thayer's Note:

a A fuller quote on Scott's dismissal (part of a letter of Lee's), and further context can be found in Freeman, R. E. Lee, I.290.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 15 Jun 16