Military Strategy and General Douglas MacArthur’s Impact

Douglas Macarthur, born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1880, rose from the ranks of the American army to become one of the most decorated officers and legendary military figures of the twentieth century. He was born into a military family, which included a father and brothers who had all served their country. Douglas MacArthur rose through the ranks of the military to become an American general known for his victories on the battlefield over the course of many decades. General Douglas Macarthur served in many conflicts during his distinguished service, including World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The current paper discusses his leadership skills, focusing on the island hopping strategy and how it has influenced succeeding military generations.

As a son of an army general, it can be argued that Macarthur began his military career with certain advantages. Nevertheless, he proved these advantages warranted through his hard work and stellar performances on his way to the top. Macarthur was among the top performers at west point and upon graduation, went on to become a junior general during the First World War. He, later on, returned to West Point as superintendent and with time rose to serve as the army chief of staff in 1930, a position he held for five years. His ten-year affair with the Philippines would begin in 1935 when he was dispatched there to develop a defense strategy for the country which would soon be a self-governing country (Leary 86).

It is during his time in the Philippines that the Second World War began. The Japanese had begun an ambitious plan to expand their control throughout Southeast Asia. From the start, the US and Philippine forces stood no chance against the Japanese; they were greatly outnumbered, had gathered little intelligence, and had not effectively planned for the war. Japan, on the other hand, had been planning the invasion for some time with reports indicating an influx of immigrants into the islands, including “men of military age-some, indeed known to hold reserve commissions in the Japanese army… and they were mapping the coasts.” (Manchester 170). The Japanese were well prepared for the invasion as they had a force of six million soldiers, which also contained some highly trained divisions that had combat experience (James 117). General Macarthur and his troops were easily defeated, and he had to organize a retrograde from Manila to the island of Corregidor. The Japanese later captured the fortified Corregidor bunker, but the general had been evacuated to Australia.

While in Australia, General Macarthur devised a strategy to recapture the islands of Philippines from the Japanese. It is during this time that, he and others, came up with the island hopping campaign, which they named operation cartwheel (Perret and Riggenbach 73). The strategy here was to capture the islands one by one and in the process help the allies close in on the Japanese and liberate the Philippines. This strategy involved sidestepping the Japanese strong points and instead, attacking secures strategic locations where they would encounter minimal resistance from the Nipponese army. The primary aim of this strategy was to cut off supplies for the Japanese while at the same time securing airfields for the Americans from which they could continue to launch attacks (Macarthur 184). The Americans coordinated a two-pronged attack whereby one division advanced northwest towards the Bismarck Archipelago, while the other division would sail through central Pacific towards the Marianas islands (Collier 480).

The island hopping strategy, used for the first time by the American and Australian forces, was characterized by the extensive use of submarines and aircraft to bypass the Japanese strongholds and attack areas with little-to-no Japanese occupation. The Japanese troops in islands that were cut off from the rest of the forces, such as Rabaul, would become useless as they could not help the rest and were left to “wither on the vine” (Roehrs and Renzi 122). Another advantage of this strategy is that they allied forces would gain ground and come closer to the Japanese, within strike range for the US bombers. It also allowed the US forces to reach their target quickly, and not use too much time, manpower, or supplies trying to capture every enemy base on the way. Furthermore, the Japanese forces would be caught by surprise and kept off balance (Roehrs and Renzi 119).

The island hopping strategy has been analyzed by many scholars of military studies and is considered one of the most effective strategies in modern warfare. Bypassing Japanese strongholds is considered a prime example of avoiding the enemy’s strengths and instead targeting their weak points. William Manchester (335) notes that the Japanese expected General Macarthur and his troops to hit Rabaul and they had begun digging trenches and wearing their Sennibari. This shows that through the island hopping strategy, the allied forces had successfully caused psychological confusion on their enemies. They used a combination of planes and submarines to paralyze the enemy by cutting off their supplies. The general knew that he was gaining momentum and he maintained this by using a two-pronged strategy to sustain attacks both on air and on sea. According to Sunzi and Giles (62), “the skilled general seeks combined momentum and does not rely on individual prowess; he knows how to chose his men for maximum combined effect.”

General Macarthur’s organizing skills in the battlefield can be seen in the steps he took to keep his soldiers healthy in the monsoon-soaked, and insect and disease infected jungles of New Guinea (Robinson 124). While Japanese soldiers were dying of malaria and dysentery, Macarthur came up with a system of training as well as medicine and repellants designed protect his soldiers from the rough conditions. The general sought ways to keep his troops strong and healthy in what could be described as among the worst locations to fight in. This is in line with McNeilly (114) argument that “if you look after the health of your men…your army will avoid all the usual diseases. This is a sure recipe for victory” while the number of debilitated men on the allied side was negligible, the Japanese were dealing with a crisis which became a significant consideration to their overall war effort.

General MacArthur did much to shape the Pacific war by devising and authorizing the island hopping strategy. The use of a combined assault on air, land, and sea as used by MacArthur to overwhelm the Japanese has become an essential part of modern warfare. Strategists also rely on the element of surprise, focusing on the weak points and cutting off the enemy’s supplies in order to weaken them and eventually overrun them. These are strategies employed by MacArthur and his team during operation cartwheel. It can also be seen that the allies took advantage of the momentum gained from airstrikes to occupy strategic positions from where they could push the Japanese back. All the strategies employed by MacArthur are critical in securing victory even in modern warfare.

Works cited

Collier, Basil. The Second World War, A Military History. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1978. Print.

James, D C. The Years of Macarthur: Volume Iii. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. Print

Leary, William M. Macarthur And The American Century. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. Print.

MacArthur, Douglas, and Douglas McArthur. Reminiscences. New York [u.a.]: McGraw-Hill, 1964. Print.

Manchester, William. American Caesar, Douglas Macarthur, 1880-1964. Boston: Little, Brown, 2008. Print.

McNeilly, Mark R. Sun Tzu And The Art Of Modern Warfare: Updated Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2015. Print.

Perret, Geoffrey, and Jeff Riggenbach. Old Soldiers Never Die. [Ashland, Or.]: Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2008. Print.

Robinson, Patrick J. The Fight for New Guinea: General Douglas Macarthur’s First Offensive. New York: Random House, 1943. Print.

Roehrs, Mark D, and William A Renzi. World War II In The Pacific. 2nd ed. London: ME Sharpe, 2004. Print.

Sunzi, and Lionel Giles. The Art Of War. Laguna Hills: Race Point Publishing, 2012. Print.

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