Myths of MacArthur: Dugout Doug



Dugout Doug MacArthur lies ashaking on the Rock

Safe from all the bombers and from any sudden shock

Dugout Doug is eating of the best food on Bataan

And his troops go starving on.

Dugout Doug’s not timid, he’s just cautious, not afraid

He’s protecting carefully the stars that Franklin made

Four-star generals are rare as good food on Bataan

And his troops go starving on.

Dugout Doug is ready in his Kris Craft for the flee

Over bounding billows and the wildly raging sea

For the Japs are pounding on the gates of Old Bataan

And his troops go starving on…

Anonymous, 1942

Over the next few years we will be taking a look at General Douglas MacArthur, concentrating on his rule of Japan and his role in the Korean War.  A larger than life figure even while he lived, MacArthur has always sparked strong hate and love.  A number of myths have cropped up about Macarthur, and several posts will deal with dispelling these myths, so that we can look at him in the cold light of historical fact.  The first myth up is that of Dugout Doug.

The myth of Dugout Doug contends that MacArthur was a coward, who refused to share the dangers of his troops on Bataan, and fled from them, leaving them to endure defeat and brutal captivity, often ending in their deaths.

It is probably accurate to say that MacArthur was not a brave man.  In order to be brave, in a physical sense, one must know a fear of physical pain or death.  Some men simply have no such fear.  George Washington did not.  Throughout the French and Indian War and the American Revolution he constantly exposed himself to enemy fire while he led from the front, to the terror of his aides, who were brave men.  They marveled that Washington showed no sign of fear, and his only reaction to being fired upon was a look of minor annoyance.

MacArthur’s reaction to enemy fire was one of wry amusement.  From his earliest days as an officer he constantly exposed himself to enemy fire, to the amazement of those around him.  There is a wonderful scene in the movie MacArthur (1977), based on a true incident during the liberation of the Philippines, where MacArthur goes beyond a forward patrol into an enemy controlled area.  As one private whispered to another private, “Who ever heard of a four star general taking the point!”

On Corregidor, MacArthur exposed himself to frequent enemy bombing to the point of recklessness.  He visited his troops on Bataan only once, however, who gave him the lasting nickname of Dugout Doug.  Why?

The reason was not lack of physical courage but rather his inability to lie to his troops to their face.  Washington kept telling MacArthur that a relief force was on the way.  MacArthur relayed this news to his troops, but I doubt if he believed it in his heart.  A master strategist, MacArthur knew that neither the forces nor the logistics were there for a successful rescue of Bataan, and he could not bring himself to face his doomed men and lie about this while he looked at them.

When directly ordered by FDR to leave the Philippines, he came close to disobeying, something almost impossible to even contemplate for a career American officer, saying he would resign and join the troops on Bataan to fight as a volunteer.  He was convinced to obey only with great difficulty.  He refused to be flown out, taking a dangerous trip by a PT boat instead, to demonstrate that the Japanese blockade could be penetrated.  For the rest of the War his goal was to liberate the Philippines and to rescue the men who had fought under him on Bataan.

MacArthur had a great many flaws, overweening  vanity being first and foremost, but all the evidence indicates he was a complete stranger to physical fear and being a physical coward was literally impossible for him.

Published in: on August 31, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. I was wondering what you were going to do after the civil war. I would have never guessed an extended biography of MacArthur! I look forward to it.

    • Thank you inchworm! I have always found both his “pro-consulship” in Japan and his role in the Korean War fascinating, which indeed is a word that could apply to the entirety of Big Mac’s life.

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