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General Douglas MacArthur | The Nation

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General Douglas MacArthur

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Since I knew General MacArthur or only a brief three months while he was Supreme Commander in Japan, it may seem presumptuous of me to comment on him. I do so only because I bear witness to a side of the General that is little appreciated, it was cqepened to me in an unexpectedly understanding relationship.

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Roger Baldwin, who spent three months working under MacArthur in Japan after World War II, remembers the general fondly.

On his invitation, I had come to Japan as a private citizen to assist the Japanese in protecting their new civil libertles. Challenged to transform a feudal, militaristic nation into a peaceful democracy, General MacArthur had embarked on what he called a crusade. I found at once in him qualities that a great military career had concealed -- a profound commitment to democratic libertles, an instinct for the equality of peoples, a respect for the sensitivities of the defeated Japanese and a reformer's zeal

Relations with the Japanese were so skillfully handled that they led into a veritable revolution. Popular forces were released for complete political freedom, for a democratic economic order with full trade-union liberties (and a vast distribution of land to farmers, and for the emancipation of women. These among many other reforms shook up Japanese institutions from the Emperor to the police.

I witnessed the first test of the new order, under the new constitution renouncing militarism and establishing democracy, when the first election brought to office a Christian Socialist Prime Minister. This election won the General's warm approval, and the spirit that welcomed the results of a free elelction accepted the principles of civil liberties without question. Not once did I have reason to differ with the General. It is largely to his credit that Japan today has the most effective system for protecting citizens' rights of any nation outside the West.

General MacArthur took profound pride in the renunciation of war in the new Japanese constitution, remarking to that it was a "shining example which all nations eventually must follow." Stanchly internationalist, he favored a peace treaty long before it came, with a Japan ready, he said, to join the United Nations. "The Japanese," he added, "have already joined it in their hearts."

On the personal side of 'General MacArthur, as revealed in my conferences, I found nothing to bear out the often-cited impression of vain egotism. He was ever responsive and considerate, as eager to listen as to talk. I heard from many that his appearance of vanity in public was in reality a mask for self-consciousness. He was eloquent even in private conversation but a very easy man to converse with. His rhetorical public prose struck me as just a studied elaboration of his natural eloquence.

I am aware that General MacArthur impressed people quite differently, and doubtless he was a contradictory character. A friendly fellow-general once remarked to me that he had about him a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That may help explain his appeal to both reactionaries and liberals. But however one judges his historic role, none would deny the impressive impact he made on all by powerful human qualities: his deep dedication to whatever he undertook, his sense of justice, his high principles and his firm ideals. It was a privilege to witness their expression in the memorable days of his one historic civilian role. It was the role in which, as a man of peace, he said he hoped most to be remembered.

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