MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE PRESIDENT

For nearly a year, from spring 1943 to early 1944, General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, conducted a series of highly confidential meetings with his most trusted aides. This would have been unremarkable but for the fact that the meetings had no military purpose. Instead, they were part of a concerted, coordinated effort, involving numerous active-duty Regular Army professionals and many hours of the commander’s time, to win MacArthur the White House in 1944. Even as MacArthur crafted grand strategy and directed extensive military operations in New Guinea, he was secretly scheming to fulfill his dream of becoming president and removing from office Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man for whom he felt mostly antagonism and contempt.

MacArthur began his sotto voce campaign by maneuvering for the 1944 Republican presidential nomination. Ever since his days as the army’s chief of staff in the early 1930s, MacArthur had been cozy with the political right, and he had nursed presidential ambitions for at least that long. He was especially popular with isolationists—who seemed oddly indifferent to MacArthur’s moderate internationalist views—and midwestern conservatives who opposed Roosevelt’s New Deal.

MacArthur had nursed presidential ambitions since at least the early 1930s.

By 1942 MacArthur was a national hero, having become a powerful symbol of defiant resistance during the disastrous U.S. military campaign in the Philippines. There, after Japanese forces surrounded the island of Corregidor, MacArthur and his family and a small group of aides had broken through the enemy blockade in a PT convoy and made their way to Australia, where, on the president’s orders, he was to organize the Allied counteroffensive.

Stoked by self-promoting, fantastical communiques from his headquarters in Melbourne and, ironically enough, pro-MacArthur propaganda pumped out by the Roosevelt administration, the general’s legend with the American public grew to Bunyan-esque proportions, morphing into a politically potent cult of personality.

From New York to North Carolina, new parents named their baby boys Douglas MacArthur. Streets were renamed after him, as were parks, buildings, and even dams. The town of MacArthur, North Carolina, received a new post office on the strength of its name alone. A Democratic senator urged FDR to rename Corregidor—the fortress in the Philippines that MacArthur had abandoned in 1942—MacArthur Island. State legislatures, governors, and politicians from all over the country fell and .

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