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Episode 14 – Dwight D. Eisenhower versus Douglas MacArthur

Today’s clash is from the Military bracket which means, that I will only be judging the contestants based on any military activities they conducted and not based on Eisenhower’s presidency. 

Dwight David Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890 in Denison, Texas, to a long-time American family who immigrated to the US in 1741 from Karlsbrunn, Germany. His original name on his birth certificate was David Dwight but his mother switched the names when he was two to avoid confusion with his father David Jacob Eisenhower. Dwight was the third of seven boys, all of whom had the nickname Ike. There was Big Ike and Little Ike and all sorts of other Ike’s. Dwight was the only one to continue to use that through adulthood.

His parents were Menonites and interestingly enough, pacifists. In 1891 the Eisenhower’s moved to Abilene, Kansas with a total of $10 in their pockets. Of his humble beginnings Dwight Eisenhower said in 1952, “I have found out in later years we were very poor, but the glory of America is that we didn’t know it then. All that we knew was that our parents – of great courage – could say to us ‘Opportunity is all about you. Reach out and take it.’ “

The were deeply religious and the beliefs were a cornerstone of their everyday life. Dwight’s parents also encouraged them to stand up for themselves, very important in a family of seven boys. Hard work was also imperative not only within the family but in the community, they grew up in. 

Little Ike as he was known had a terrible temper. After a temper tantrum on Halloween 1900, his mother said to him, “He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city.” When he was 76, Eisenhower wrote, “I have always looked back on that conversation as one of the most valuable moments of my life.”

When in school, his favorite subject, much to the chagrin of his mother Ida, was military history. According to his soaring biography, Eisenhower: Soldier and President, Stephen E. Ambrose wrote, “He talked history to his classmates so frequently that his senior yearbook predicted that he would become a professor of history at Yale (it also predicted that Edgar would become a two-term President of the United States).

Dwight was set on making the navy a career, so in 1910 he took an exam but did not score high enough to get into the Naval Academy but did do well enough to get into West Point. His mother was disappointed that he was to become a soldier due to her pacifist beliefs. She cried as he boarded the train, he was emotionless.

At West Point, he did well, not exceptional. This was of course the class the stars fell on. Two hundred sixty-five men entered in 1911, 164 graduated. It wasn’t that it was so tough, it was incredibly monotonous. It was also an institution that sought to break down nonconformists. Eisenhower was one who wouldn’t be broken. Out of the 164 graduates, he ranked 125th in discipline. 

Sports was his outlet and he was a fine football player until he suffered a major knee injury. When he became a general, he was well known for using analogies from his favorite sport like, “pull an end run” “hit the line” and “get that ball across the goal line.”

His first assignment after graduation was at Fort Sam Houston, Texas as a Second Lieutenant. It was an easy assignment as the US was not at war and was considered somewhat isolationist. It was also the place where he would meet the love of his life, Mary Geneva Doud, better known as Mamie. They would be married on July 1, 1916 when she was 19 and Dwight was 25. They would remain together until his death in 1969.

Less than one year later, April of 1917, the United States entered World War I. At first, Eisenhower was assigned to train the men of the 57th Infantry but was switched to joining the 65th Engineers which was an early tank division that was to head off to combat in Europe. His orders were changed yet again, making Ike the commander of Camp Colt in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Here he would train thousands of men and officers. Eisenhower was well liked and admired for his leadership abilities. On October 14, 1918, his twenty-eighth birthday he received orders that on November 18th he would be sent to France to lead an armored unit. He was excited.  That elation was short-lived as the Germans surrendered on November 11th. 

The time between the wars was difficult on Ike. It was a school-like atmosphere where he learned more and more about mechanized vehicles alongside his soon to be long-term friend, George S. Patton Jr. The two were about as different as can be. George was from a wealthy and aristocratic family which was diametrically opposed to Eisenhower. Yet, they became friends and comrades who were both fascinated by tanks. Still, it was not a great time to be a military man as by 1935, the USA had not fighting units and its army was ranked 16th in the world.

The Eisenhower’s moved from one assignment to another, like Panama and the Phillipines where he was to work under General Douglas MacArthur again. Ike had served under the general when he was involved in clearing the Bonus Baby army from their encampment in Washington DC, a job he disliked greatly.

While in the Philippines, Eisenhower and MacArthur developed a distaste for each other which was to carry on for years. This dispute on how the Philippine army should be used and how the Americans should behave around them. It has been said that his time there would help teach Ike how to deal with the large ego’s he would have to command in the upcoming global war.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was assigned to the General Staff in Washington to make plans for the war against both Japan and Germany. He served under General George C. Marshall who saw in Ike, a capable and extraordinary talent.

Eisenhower’s first assignment was to be the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force of the North African Theater of Operations. He was to head both Operation Torch in North Africa opposing German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. At first, things didn’t go well but over the coming months, Ike became more and more comfortable with his command. 

Next, Eisenhower was the commander of the successful invasion of Sicily followed by Operation Avalanche, which led to the invasion of Italy. While it was a tough slough with the German’s putting up a fierce defense, the Allied troops were making major headway. 

The men who served under Eisenhower admired the general. One incident shows his deep concern for them as shown by Ambrose in his biography of the man. “Eisenhower spotted a large villa. ‘Whose is that?’ he asked. ‘Yours, sir.’ Someone replied – Butcher had arranged it. Nodding at another, even larger villa, Eisenhower asked, ‘And that?’ ‘That one belongs to General Spaatz.’

Eisenhower exploded. ‘Damn it, that’s not my villa! And that’s not General Spaatz’ villa! None of those will belong to any general as long as I’m boss around here. This is supposed to be for combat men – not a playground for the Brass!’ “

It was after his time in Italy, when in December of 1943 that US President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to make Eisenhower the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He was also head of Operation Overlord, the invasion of France through the beaches at Normandy. 

The invasion planning was extremely stressful and caused Eisenhower to have to go toe to toe with men like Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, Bernard Montgomery and even his boss, FDR. He was so unsure of the success of the plan that he wrote a speech in case it failed. “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame of fault attaches to the attempt. It is mine alone.”

But we know that they were a success and the coming months, from June 1944 until the ultimate victory over Nazi German in May of 1945, 11 months, were in large part due to the generalship of Eisenhower. His ability to work with the different generals under his command led to the victory.

One thing I was pleased to hear is that Eisenhower had the forethought to document the horrors of the Nazi death camps and make sure that evidence of the Holocaust would be strong enough to avoid what we now know as Holocaust denial. 

After the war, like MacArthur in Japan, Eisenhower was the military governor of the American occupation zone, which was predominantly Southern Germany. This lasted until he returned to Washington DC in November of 1945.

After the war he became the President of Columbia University in New York City in 1948 but that wasn’t a very good fit. By 1950, Eisenhower resigned but the resignation was rejected. He took leave to become the Supreme Commander of NATO. Ike left the military on May 31, 1952, 37 years after he graduated from West Point.

While I know this is only the first part of the Eisenhower story, as he would become the President of the United States after the campaign of 1952, it is the end of his military career and since we are in the military bracket, time to move on to the next contestant.

Douglas MacArthur was born to an old and distinguished Scottish-American family on January 26, 1880. His father Arthur MacArthur Jr was a United States Army General who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in the Battle of Missionary Ridge during the US Civil War. Douglas and his father are the only two father-son pairs that were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The family, which was originally known as the MacArtair’s was so old and honored that is was said that “There is nothing older except the hills, MacArtair and the devil.” We know of the family as far back as the Crusades of the 11th and 12th century. Another interesting fact about the family and in particular Douglas, is that he is an eight cousin of Winston Churchill and a sixth cousin, once removed of Franklin D. Roosevelt, both of whom are in the tournament. 

Early on, it was expected that Douglas would go into the military as his father in 1893, when the boy was only 13 said, “I think there is material of a soldier in that boy.” MacArthur’s wish was to get into West Point but surprisingly, even with the backing of his grandfather, Arthur Sr who was a judge and the endorsements of thirteen governors, senators, congressmen and bishops, he could not get an appointment to get interviewed. Then it got worse as he failed a preliminary physical exam which showed that he had a curvature of the spine. 

The famous Milwaukee physician, Dr. Franz Pfister corrected the spinal abnormality at the behest of Douglas’s very domineering mother, Pinky. She was so intent on her son getting everything she wanted for him that when he eventually did get to West Point, Pinky moved there. She even rented a room at Craney’s Hotel which overlooked the campu where she could see Douglas’s room to make sure he was studying when he was supposed to. This type of helicopter mom was to influence MacArthur’s personality for the rest of his life.

As to his personality, I want to share a quote from the preamble of the book, The American Caesar by William Manchester, a monumental biographical work that I highly recommend. He writes, “He was a great thundering paradox of a man, noble and ignoble, inspiriting and outrageous, arrogant and shy, the best of men and the worst of men, the protean, most ridiculous, and most sublime. No more battling, exasperating soldier ever wore a uniform. Flamboyant, imperious, and apocalyptic, he carried the plumage of a flamingo, could not acknowledge errors, and tried to cover up his mistakes with sly, childish tricks. Yet he was also endowed with great personal charm, a will of iron, and a soaring intellect. Unquestionably he was the most gifted man-at-arms this nation has produced. He was also extraordinarily brave. His twenty-two medals – thirteen of the for heroism – probably exceed those of any other figure in American history. He seemed to seek death on the battlefields. Repeatedly, he deliberately exposed himself to enemy snipers, first as a lieutenant in the Philippines shortly after the turn of the century, then as a captain in Mexico, and finally as a general in three great wars. At the age of seventy he ordered his pilot to fly him in an unarmed plane through Chinese flak over the length of bleak Yalu. Nevertheless, his troops scorned him as ‘Dugout Doug’.”

This man, who, in 1941, returned to active duty to serve as commander of the United States Army Forces in the Far East, had served as Superintendent of the Military Academy at West Point, president of the American Olympic Committee in 1928, Chief of Staff of the US Army in the 1930’s, led the United Nations Command in the Korean War and overseer of Japan from 1945 to 1951, was a real momma’s boy.

During his time at West Point, he was the target of hazing early with special attention paid on him and fellow classmate Ulysses S. Grant III as sons of past generals. One of his other classmates, Oscar Booz didn’t handle the hazing and eventually died of tuberculosis, linked to the incident. A congressional hearing was held where MacArthur testified.

While at West Point, he not only played left field for the baseball team, he had the third highest academic score in the Academy’s history. Douglas graduated first in his class out of 93 other senior cadets. From there he entered the US Army Corps of Engineers as a second lieutenant.

In 1905, he joined his father in the Far East where he began to learn about the people he was to defend, the Filipino’s and the people he was to wage war against, the Japanese. According to Manchester, Asia was where he wanted to be as surprisingly, he despised Europe, despite his family coming from there. 

This disdain was to stain his reputation, not with the Europeans but with other American military men. Churchill thought him to be the “glorious commander,” Montgomery thought him to be the US’s best soldier and Lord Alanbrooke said of MacArthur that he was “the greatest general and the best strategist that the war produced.” General Marshall dislike Douglas but admittedly thought him to be “our most brilliant general.”

It was said by George C. Kenney, the commander of the US Army Air Force in the Southwest Pacific Area during World War II, that “Very few people really know Douglas MacArthur Those who d, or think they do, either admire him or dislike him. They are never neutral on the subject.” Some of his men despised him but others like Jonathan Wainwright, who was left behind in the Philippines when the Japanese took control and spent four rough years in a POW camp said, “I’d follow that man – anywhere – blindfolded.”

Admiral Daniel Barbey wrote, “MacArthur was never able to develop a feeling of warmth and comradeship with those around him. He had their respect but not their sympathetic understanding or their affection… He was too aloof and too correct in manner, speech, and dress.” MacArthur has an aristocratic air about him. Thomas Carlyle wrote of him “the hero of old has had to cramp himself into strange places: the world knows not well at any time what to do with him, so foreign is his aspect in this world.”

An amusing viewpoint of Douglas’s presence came from a cadet who was at West Point when MacArthur was superintendent, “He’s the only man in the world who could walk into a room full of drunks and all would be stone-sober within five minutes.”

With all these personality issues, what cannot be denied was that Douglas MacArthur was a brilliant military an. From his time during the Veracruz expedition where his name was put forward for a Medal of Honor, to his service during World War I where he was involved in several offensives he was brilliant. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he was given his fifth, sixth, and seventh Silver Star along with yet another nomination for the Medal of Honor. 

In the time between the great world wars, MacArthur became Chief of Staff for the army which put him into a major conflict that was considered highly controversial. In 1932, at the height of the Depression, Douglas was in charge of clearing the Bonus Army of veterans from World War I who were demanding that their promised bonuses be paid immediately instead of waiting until 1945, when they came due. There were 43,000 protestors, with rumors that they were led by a group of Communist agitators which turned out to be false. The brutal attack on the men, women and children led by MacArthur along with his aides, George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower would haunt the future president. He thought it wrong for Douglas to lead an attack on fellow soldiers. Eisenhower said, “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there. I told him it was no place for the Chief of Staff.”

His actions during World War II though were legendary. After having to abandon the Philippines in the wake of the Japanese invasion, he slowly but surely guided the plan to take back all of the territory the enemy had captured. For the next three long year, he planned each step with his staff, especially Admiral Nimitz. 

After the war, he was the supreme commander of Japan where he deftly decided to work with the Emperor and the existing Japanese government bureaucracy. MacArthur was greatly admired by the people and by 1949, he handed the power back to the Japanese. 

When North Korea invaded the South on June 25, 1950, Douglas MacArthur was unanimously given the position of Commander of the UN forces. With smashing victories early on, it seemed that they made the right choice. Then the Chinese began to send in troops which MacArthur initially dismissed. This was to cause great losses and lost ground which tarnished his reputation.

This eventually led to his downfall as other allied nations were against the thought that, yet another world war could breakout because MacArthur wanted to ramp things up, including using the nuclear option. President Truman had no choice but to relive his general of his command. In April of 1951, he and his family returned to Washington DC, eventually settling in at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. 

Douglas MacArthur died on April 5, 1964 at the age of 84. He served his country and the world from 1903 until 1951, 48 years. He goes down in history as one of the greatest commanders of all time.

Now on to the tough scoring. To be honest, I have no idea how this is going to play out. 

Using the scoring system for Battle Ground History, something you can find on the website of the same name, we start with the 15 points for length of time in service to his country or people. Eisenhower served his nation and the world for 37 years while MacArthur for 48. Douglas gets 15 while Ike gets 12.

Next up is how they affected the rest of the world in their time for 20 points. It is really hard to differentiate between the two men in this category as we have MacArthur leading through the Asian zone with Eisenhower leading the European side. My sense hear is to go with Ike 20 to 18 as he had to deal with more egos and countries than MacArthur and had to navigate through tougher issues. 

Next up is their lasting effect on world history. If we add the Presidential time of Eisenhower, this would be a slam dunk but we can’t. Still, his time as commander of NATO, whose existance was in doubt until he took command, gives Ike the advantage, although very slim, 25 to 23.

Last up is the big prize, the 40 points for how they affected their country of the better. Each man had an enormous affect on his country as they won a horrific war that cost the lives of tens of millions of people. I can’t differentiate the difference, so I give both men the full 40 points.

Let’s now tally up the scores. In the tightest battle in this podcasts history, we have Dwight David Eisenhower moving on to the next round over Douglas MacArthur by the score of 97 to 96. Ike will face off in the second round against Khalid ibn al-Walid.

I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. Please rate the podcast on your favorite podcatcher be it Stitcher, Google Play, iTunes, Spotify or any other one so that more people can be made aware of it. That and head on over to the battlegroundhistory.com website for more content on today’s battle and join us on Facebook at Battle Ground History.

So, as always, remember we are not the makers of history, we are history.

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