MacArthur's 10 Most Important Battles

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Douglas MacArthur was born on Jan. 26, 1898, and went on to become one of the most important Americans of the 20th century. He made important contributions to military strategy, political theory, educational reform, and world peace. Shadowing MacArthur is also a great way to shadow the republic’s rise to global prominence. In celebration of the man’s day of birth I thought it’d be a good idea to highlight the 10 most important battles he took part in.

10. Occupation of Veracruz (April - Nov. 1914). It seems tough to fathom today, in 2019, but the United States military invaded and occupied an important port city of Mexico less than 100 years ago. The Mexicans were in the throes of a revolution when American troops arrived in Veracruz, and one side of the Mexican conflict was allied with the Americans, so it wasn’t like Washington just invaded its neighbor for the heck of it. The Occupation of Veracruz was not like the Mexican-American War. Calvary in 1914 meant horses, not tanks. In MacArthur’s career, not his lifetime but just his career, the U.S. military went from horseback to air power.

9. Second Battle of the Marne (July - Aug. 1918). Like most of World War II’s famous American leaders, MacArthur fought in World War I. The Second Battle of the Marne was the last German offensive of World War I and it was massive. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died. Many more were wounded. MacArthur was there, leading from the front lines, and probably earning one of the many medals he accumulated throughout the war.

8. Battle of Chosin Reservoir (Nov.-Dec. 1950). Fought on the Korean Peninsula, take a quick moment to reflect on the rapid, violent change that catapulted the United States from regional hegemon in 1914 to world power less than half a century later. And MacArthur served in the military throughout the whole change. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir decisively ended MacArthur’s plans for reuniting Korea under one banner and established the two-country situation of the Korean Peninsula found today. One hundred and twenty thousand Chinese troops pushed 30,000 American, Korean, and British troops out of what is now North Korea and changed the trajectory of the Korean War once and for all. It also led to MacArthur’s political downfall, as his increasingly public calls to attack China’s coastline (with atomic bombs) angered Washington and eventually led Truman to dismiss MacArthur.

7. Battle of Sio (Dec. 1943-March 1944). A World War II battle, this one was led by MacArthur, too, and it saw the expulsion of the Japanese from Papua, which was then a territory of the British Empire rather than the independent country of Papua New Guinea. MacArthur concentrated on Japanese supply lines and Australian and Melanesian troops to smash the Japanese military in Papua and give Australia some breathing room (Papua is right next door to Australia). The most important aspect of the Battle of Sio was the capture of Japanese cryptographic information, which led to a breakthrough for Allied codebreakers and helped them throughout the rest of of the Pacific campaign.

6. Battle of Saint-Mihiel (September 1918). MacArthur’s World War I units were much smaller than an entire Allied force in the Pacific Rim, but they were no less successful. The Battle of Saint-Mihiel was the only American-led offensive of World War I and it bloodied the nose the retreating German forces (though it didn’t knock them out). A combined French-American force pummeled the Germans, and American commanders like MacArthur continued to lead their men from the front lines.

5. Battle of Unsan (Oct.- Nov. 1950). As MacArthur’s United Nations’ force pushed through Korea and ever closer to the Chinese border, Chairman Mao got increasingly anxious and eventually ordered a secret invasion of Korea. The Battle of Unsan was an accidental encounter between MacArthur’s forces and the Chinese Communist invaders. The forces of the United Nations were outnumbered and had to retreat. The losses kept coming, of course, and the Americans under MacArthur were pushed back to the 38th Parallel, where they remain today.

4. Battle of Corregidor (May 1942). Officially named Fort Mills, Corregidor was an island fortress in the Philippines that served as MacArthur’s last bastion of resistance to the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. Because the Japanese had such a tough time taking Corregidor, Tokyo’s scheduled assault and takeover of Australia, the Dutch East Indies, and British colonies was delayed, and allowed MacArthur and the Allies time to regroup and eventually retake their colonies from the conquering Japanese. The American and Filipino prisoners the Japanese took had to endure three years of horror in Japanese prison camps, but MacArthur reconquered the Philippines, the archipelago was granted independence on July 4, 1946.

3. Battles of the Meuse-Argonne (Sept.-Nov. 1918). Note the plural. These battles were about attrition and fought until the very end of the war, when Germany officially surrendered. MacArthur and his men fought alongside vengeful French troops in the deadliest battle in American history. MacArthur so impressed during World War I that he was given the position of Superintendent of West Point following the war. He took home two Distinguished Service Crosses, seven Silver Stars, one Distinguished Service Medal, two wounded chevrons, and three French medals of honor (two Croix de Guerres and an honorary appointment as commandeur of the Legion d’honeur).

2. Battle of Inchon (September 1950). Inchon was the feather in the cap of a long, distinguished military career. The communists had overrun the non-communists in Korea and the Americans were about to be pushed into the sea. MacArthur, who was busy setting up a democratic government in Japan (no easy task), urged the United Nations to attack at Inchon. After strong misgivings from various military strategists, the United Nations went ahead with MacArthur’s plan and the rest, as they say, was history.

1. Bonus Expeditionary Force (July 1932). Military vets were not always revered in the United States. In July of 1932 (during the Great Depression) tens of thousands of them marched on and then camped out in Washington to demand payment for their service in World War I. MacArthur was charged with removing the protestors (and their families), and he did so. After kicking them out of D.C., he burned the tents and any property that was left behind.

Further thoughts

Aside from contributing to military strategy and political theory (through his largely benevolent regime in conquered Japan), Douglas MacArthur was also responsible for reforming the American military academy’s educational system. One of the 20th century’s greatest Americans (along with Muhammad Ali), MacArthur once retired from the American Army (as a five-star general) so that he could become field marshal of the Philippine Army. MacArthur was the only foreigner to receive such an honor. He was also given the title Chief of Chiefs by some of Native American nations he lived with on the American frontier as a boy on the frontier (his father fought against Geronimo as a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army, and was also Military Governor of the Philippines before being relieved of duty due to public clashes with President Taft).

Have a good weekend.


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