When MacArthur Met the Emperor

Japan officially surrendered on September 2nd, 1945. What happened next was an equally interesting story.

General Douglas MacArthur had landed at Atsugi airbase two days before; since the VJ day, he had been asked by President Truman to oversee the occupation of Japan. It was a daunting task. On his drive to Yokohama from Atsugi, tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers greeted him with their bayonets out in one final act of symbolic defiance. Seventy percent of Americans thought Emperor Hirohito should be persecuted; there were protests outside MacArthur’s headquarters by American servicemen and calls in Australian and Russian press to that effect.

However, MacArthur understood that for the transition to be smooth, the imperial rule must persist. Yet, he didn’t make the customary call to the palace; instead, he waited for the emperor to make the first contact. On 27th September, Hirohito finally crossed the palace moat to reach MacArthur’s headquarters at the Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Company — requisitioned for its relative intactness and its proximity to both the palace and the American embassy. In The Man Who Saved Kabuki, Shin Okamoto wrote:

MacArthur greeted the emperor at the entrance to the reception room, shaking his hand and saying, ‘You are very, very welcome sir.’ The emperor kept bowing lower and lower until MacArthur found himself shaking hands with him over the emperor’s head. Only the emperor, MacArthur and Okamura, the interpreter went into the reception room. Then the door to the reception room was opened and Lt. Gaetano Faillace, of the military camera corps, took a now famous photograph of the emperor and MacArthur from outside the room.”

Faillace was given one shot, but he spoke up and asked for three. Faillace also adviced MacArthur against a seated picture on a soft couch. First two photos were less than ideal — their eyes were closed in one, and the Emperor’s mouth was gaping open in the other. But even the perfect, final shot posed its own problems: at this juncture, Hirohito was still  akitsumikami or manifest deity (he would not renounce his divinity before the coming New Year’s Day), and everyone was supposed to avert eyes from the veiled imperial portraits in government buildings.

Thus, printing the photo was deemed sacrilegious, not least because of the general’s extremely casual attire and his even more pointed body language. MacArthur’s office itself had to intervene to Japanese censors to have it printed. It ran on 29th September. He had to intervene again when the photo appeared in the New York Times alongside an unprecedented interview with the Emperor — where he criticized his government on failing to declare war on US before Pearl Harbour — and police tried to confiscate the papers.

Outside Japan, too, the general’s informal appearance shocked many. Even Life clutched its pearls and wrote, “MacArthur did not trouble to put on a tie for the occasion”. As for the contents of their 40-minute tete-a-tete, nothing was made public; the two men would meet 10 more times during MacArthur’s sojourn as the American Proconsul. The general never paid a return call to the palace.

General Douglas MacArthur

When President Obama fired General Stanley McCrystal yesterday, the Americans were reminded of another painful episode in American history — the firing of General Douglas MacArthur by Harry Truman. “When you have nothing to say, take refuge in history” notes one aphorism and that’s precisely what I am going to do: the stories were pretty similar; the extremely bureaucratic ways of the Truman administration, which was then struggling with the nascent Cold War, annoyed more gung-ho MacArthur.  The general believed Truman was unfit to be his commander-in-chief while the latter thought the general was “Mr. Prima Donna, Brass Hat”.

The first bone of contention was with Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, whom the general was specifically asked by the White House to stay clear of. Communist forces under Mao Tse-tung had taken over China, chasing Chiang’s Nationalists off to the island of Formosa (now Taiwan). As the conflict in Korea grew, Truman felt that courting Chiang might prompt the entry of Red China and the Soviet Union into the Korean peninsular. MacArthur, however, believed Chiang could be a valuable ally, if not an ideal one: “If he has horns and a tail, so long as Chiang is anti-Communist, we should help him,” he declared. “We can try to reform him later,” he added.

In late July, MacArthur visited Formosa under his own initiative, and was photographed (above) kissing the hand of Madame Chiang. Madame Chiang looked both shocked and delighted, but Truman was incensed and more incensed were the etiquettists. The fact was that MacArthur was shown not only kissing a gloved hand, but also wearing his hat and grasping a pipe in his left hand. The question of whether this was proper for a gentleman was passed around and furiously debated until the-then Due de Levis Mirepoix, the world’s foremost authority on manners and the writer of La Politesse, Son Role, Ses Usages delivered the verdict that it is okay.

Truman probably couldn’t care less. In September, he met the general for the first and the only time. When he decided to dismiss the hero of the Pacific Treater in April, 1951, the Army, including MacArthur was the last to know. The public outrage was unprecedented; newspapers reacted furiously, with the New York Times lamenting “Asia apparently will be surrendered to Communism.” City councils adjourned. The American Legion was outraged, and in California Truman was hung in effigy. Truman’s approval ratings pummeled to low 20s, and he decided not to seek a second term.

MacArthur, on the other hand, returned triumphant. Half a million greeted him on his arrival in San Francisco; New York threw him the biggest ticker-tape parade ever, with five million people turning out to see MacArthur. The general gave an address to a defiant Congress; the speech which was interrupted by fifty ovations ended with the iconic line, “Old Soldiers never die, they just fade away.” In fact, that’s what happened to the general. His subsequent presidential candidacies came to nothing, and the only American ever to become a de facto emperor slowly fade into oblivion.

The above photo is in a poor condition. If anyone has a better version, please send it my way. 🙂

“I’ll be darned”

On April 12, 1951, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was chatting with two French generals and a handful of press representatives on a hilltop near Coblenz, Germany when a reporter informed him that President Truman had fired General Douglas MacArthur, who was fighting the Korean War in the Far East. Associated Press correspondent Dick O’Malley: “General, have you heard the news about Gen. MacArthur?” . Eisenhower: “No, what happened? M: “He’s been relieved of his Far East command by President Truman and replaced by General Ridgeway.” Eisenhower turned away and said, “I’ll be darned.”

The moment was captured by American military magazine, Star and Stripes’ Francis “Red” Grandy, who was anticipating a similar kind of reaction. Although his editors were worried that the photo might offend the general, it ran on Page 1, two columns wide two days later. The photo was picked up by several major news services and published in newspapers across the U.S. It later won many prizes and reappeared not only in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but also in a volume of the best news pictures of a quarter-century published in Life magazine and on Eisenhower’s own obituary.

In fact, Ike served as MacArthur’s aide for grueling nine years during the 30s in Washington and the Philippines. He disliked MacArthur for his vanity, his theatrics, and for what Eisenhower perceived as “irrational” behavior, which culminated in their falling out over the Bonus Army March. MacArthur, who finished top in his class at West Point looked down at Ike, who finished at the bottom and detested resources being diverted from the Pacific theater to Europe under Ike.

Ticker-Tape Parades


Fresh off their 27th World Series win, the New York Yankees will take a victory lap through lower Manhattan this morning. It will be their record-setting ninth trip down the so-called “Canyon of Heroes,” the skyscraper-lined stretch from the island’s southern tip to City Hall. And if past ticker-tape parades for sports champions are any guide, they can expect to be showered with up to 50 tons of confetti and shredded paper.

The stock ticker — a machine that tracked financial data over telegraph lines and stamped it on strips called “ticker-tape” for the sound the printing made — had barely been around two decades before Wall Streeters realized that throwing its ribbony paper out the window was a fun way to celebrate. They first did it on October 29, 1886, inspired by the ceremony to dedicate the Statue of Liberty. The practice was still a novelty ten years later, when the New York Times reported that office workers had “hit on a new and effective scheme of adding to the decorations” at a parade for presidential candidate William McKinley by unfurling hundreds of ticker-tape reels out the window.

By 1899 two million people turned out to make Admiral George Dewey, hero of the Battle of Manila Bay, the first individual honored with a ticker-tape parade. Former President Teddy Roosevelt got one in 1910 upon returning from his African safari. But it wasn’t until 1919, when Grover Whalen was made New York City’s official greeter, that ticker-tape parades took off: from 1919 to 1953 he reportedly threw 86 of them, many at the urging of the State Department. The luminaries he feted in his early years included Albert Einstein in 1921 — the only scientist ever honored with a ticker-tape parade — as well as the U.S. Olympic team in 1924 and Charles Lindbergh in 1927. By then, of course, the tradition had spread: thousands of Chicagoans showered boxer Gene Tunney with paper that year when he arrived in the city to defend his world title; Boston and St. Louis have also held ticker-tape parades, though New York remains their epicenter.

However, all were not happy. A 1904 letter to the editor urged the New York Times to speak out against the “evil” practice, suggesting that parade horses spooked by falling ticker tape might plow into the crowd on the sidewalk and cause “disaster.” A few years later, an overzealous reveler reportedly neglected to tear the pages out of a phone book and instead threw the whole thing out the window; it struck a passerby and knocked him unconscious. By 1926, New York Stock Exchange officials had grown concerned about the cost of tossing miles of ticker tape out the window any time someone important came to town: they considered buying confetti to distribute to employees but decided against it. In 1932, another irate Times letter-writer demanded that lobbing paper be “promptly and strictly banned,” to be replaced by tossing flowers or waving handkerchiefs, the more dignified customs of “civilized cities” in Europe and South America.

In 1945, V-J Day prompted the most lavish ticker-tape parade in history–5,438 tons of material were flung on New York City’s streets. On Aug. 14, 1945, three thousand street-sweepers worked through the night to clean it up, only to have their efforts undone when the merriment continued the next morning. A few months earlier, General Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Forces were celebrated at the same canyon. The April 20, 1951 parade honoring ousted General Douglas MacArthur was the biggest parade thrown for an individual. [Above, photo by Mark Kauffman].

Queen Elizabeth (and her uncle Edward while he was still Prince of Wales) and Pope John Paul II received a ticker-tape parades  and so did the Yankees, the Mets and the Rangers. The Apollo 11 astronauts were also honored, but by this time, the Stock Exchange was upgrading to electronic boards, leaving them little use for ticker tape, and the parades dwindled. There were only a handful in the 1970s and 1980s. John Glenn saw a fete in 1998 honoring him for becoming the oldest person to go into space, at age 77. Coming 36 years after his first one, it put him in an elite club of multiple-parade honorees, including Amelia Earhart, Dwight Eisenhower, and Charles de Gaulle. Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, a polar explorer, had three ticker-tape parades. That is a record for one individual.

[Excepted from Laura FitzPatrick’s article in Time Magazine].

Wrong_Way_CorriganNew York Post cover, featuring the tickertape parade to honor “Wrong-Way Corrigan”.

MacArthur Comes Ashore


General Douglas MacArthur and photographer Carl Mydans both experienced jarring twists of fate in World War II’s Pacific Theater before arriving at this moment. MacArthur was driven from the Philippines by the Japanese in March 1942, declaring emphatically, “I shall return.” Two months earlier, Mydans, covering the war for LIFE, had been taken prisoner in Manila; he was held for nearly two years before being repatriated in a POW exchange.

MacArthur made good on his pledge in October of ’44. Above photo, taken during American landings at Luzon-Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines, is invariably used to commemorate “the return.” Many insisted that the picture was staged–an allegation Mydans disputed through his life. He would point out that MacArthur was usually uncooperative with photographers and insist that the general only did the walk once.

The picture was not posed but it was actually taken three months later, at a different beach than that of the original landing side at Leyte. Mydans was on the landing craft with MacArthur, and he rushed ashore on the pontoons army engineers put out so that MacArthur would not get his feet wet. But then he saw MacArthur’s landing craft turn away parallel to the shore. Mydans ran along the sand until the craft headed inwards, and as he had expected: “I was standing in my dry shoes waiting.” His photograph showed MacArthur sloshing towards the camera in his open-necked uniform and signature dark glasses, accompanied by staff officers and helmeted troops.

See MacArthur’s various landings here.

Bonus Army March

bonus army marches on washington

The news media called it a ‘Bonus Army’–the assemblage of some 43,000 marchers including 17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups, who protested in Washington, D.C., in spring and summer of 1932. They demanded their bonus cash-payment redemption of their service certificates granted to them eight years earlier via the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. These bonds had the maturity of twenty years, and could not be redeemed until 1945. However, the coming of the Great Depression destroyed the economy, leaving many veterans jobless.

The march, which set the precedent for the political demonstrations and activism that took place in the U.S. since, was nonetheless brutally suppressed by U.S. Army troops under Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton. Though probably all were legitimate veterans, MacArthur was convinced that at least 90% of them were fakes. And he refused even to read the President’s direct orders that he not use force. This brutality disgraced Herbert Hoover and contributed to him losing the presidency. However, his successor Franklin D. Roosevelt still refused to redeem their certificates and offered them work in building highways. In 1936 Congress overrode Roosevelt’s veto to allow the veterans to redeem their certificates early. The Bonus Army’s greatest legacy was the G. I. Bill of July, 1944, which helped veterans from the Second World War secure needed assistance from the federal government to help them fit back into civilian life, something the World War I veterans of the Bonus Army had not received.

With the advent of photojournalism in the 30s, the march of Bonus Army was well documented especially by veteran Army Signal Corps photographer Theodor Horydczak who chronicled their camp site on the Mall. The most iconic photo of the event (above) was taken on July 28th 1932,  the day when the forceful police evacuation of the marchers began. It was taken by Joe Costa of the N.Y. Daily News as one of the patrolmen was taking the flag out of the hands of the marchers. The ultimate amalgamation of defiance, tension and struggle, the picture was one of many Costa took as bricks flew all around him and even hit him.