October 20, 1944: MacArthur Returns to the Philippines

Mine eyes have seen MacArthur
With a Bible on his knee,
He is pounding out communiqués
For guys like you and me,
And while possibly a rumor now,
Someday ’twill be a fact,
That the Lord will hear a deep voice
Say, “Move over God, it’s Mac!”

Anonymous Marine on Corregidor (1942)


The most controversial of American commanders in World War II, MacArthur has always roused strong emotion.  Reviled by some as a supreme egotist and an overrated general, and hailed by others as the greatest general in American history, MacArthur will be fought over in history books from now until Doomsday, a fate which I think would not have displeased him.  However, I suspect critics and admirers alike can agree on one thing.  Seventy years ago MacArthur had the supreme moment of his life:




I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil — soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed, to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring, upon a foundation of indestructible, strength, the liberties of your people.

At my side is your President, Sergio Osmena, worthy successor of that great patriot, Manuel Quezon, with members of his cabinet. The seat of your government is now therefore firmly re- established on Philippine soil.

The hour of your redemption is here. Your patriots have demonstrated an unswerving and resolute devotion to the principles of freedom that challenges the best that is written on the pages of human history. I now call upon your supreme effort that the enemy may know from the temper of an aroused and outraged people within that he has a force there to contend with no less violent than is the force committed from without.

Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike. Strike at every favorable opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of divine God points the way. Follow in His Name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!

Douglas MacArthur

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  1. MacArthur’s failure to be prepared for the Japanese attack on the Philippines is just boggling. Then there was his failure to move supplies to Bataan….One failure after another.

    Then there were moments of stunning brilliance, too. He deserves the controversy, and (rightfully) it will never end before the Last Trumpet. An endlessly infuriating and fascinating man.

    But, yes, the return to the Philippines was one of those great moments in military history. Also, hats off to the Filipinos, who fought the Japanese like wildcats after Corregidor fell. Most people forget that the Philippines were the only Western colony where there was a strong anti-Japanese resistance movement.

  2. “MacArthur’s failure to be prepared for the Japanese attack on the Philippines is just boggling. Then there was his failure to move supplies to Bataan….One failure after another.”

    Hind sight is 20/20. Please excuse the sarcasm. However, I’m sure that you would have done everything perfectly and not had any of the mistakes that others made during this time of war.

  3. My Filipina wife was born in a free Philippines thanks to men like MacArthur. Only if he had done nothing would he have not made mistakes. In person I would have perhaps disliked him intensely. Yet nevertheless, he was a great man.

  4. “Hind sight is 20/20. Please excuse the sarcasm. However, I’m sure that you would have done everything perfectly and not had any of the mistakes that others made during this time of war.”

    Leaving half the USAAF to be destroyed on the ground in the Philippines 8 hours after learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor is something reasonably avoidable by an even marginally-competent commander.

    Ditto not ensuring that your available food supplies at Cabanatuan aren’t transferred to your planned place of retreat–which is especially inexcusable since the retreat to Bataan was a part of the standard defense plan for the Philippines.


    American and Filipino soldiers paid dearly for these easily-avoided mistakes.

  5. Great man, great faults.

    Despite being fired (he didn’t command America’s first no-win war) by Truman, he (my opinion) went out on top.

  6. These are all valid criticisms. But as a man of Filipino descent, I can attest that most Filipinos remember MacArthur not for his mistakes but for his bravery and valor. Indeed, MacArthur is more fondly remembered over there than here in America. Most Filipinos of the World War II generation felt that he genuinely cared about the Philippines.

  7. Well said Nathan. MacArthur did love the Philippines and without his personal intervention it is likely that the islands would have been bypassed and almost all the Filipino and American POWs held by the Japanese would have perished by the end of the war, as two out of three already had by the time of liberation.

  8. MacArthur’s persona was simply too political to fit well within the American military tradition. The interesting thing about his mistakes in the Philippines is that they derived from his consideration of political factors, such as a harebrained idea that Philippine neutrality was a possibility. If MacArthur had stopped being political MacArthur in the first two weeks of the war Bataan would have been better prepared. Such preparations would have delayed the surrender by months, and while it likely would have had no impact on the overall war it might have led to fewer overall POW deaths.

  9. MacArthur’s main error in defending the Philippines was trying to defeat the Japanese landings on the beaches. His troops, most of them raw, under armed and ill-supplied, were simply not capable of standing up to the regular Japanese army in open combat. This caused a redeployment of supplies to areas near the troops guarding the beaches, when every minute after December 7th should have been utilized to get the supplies to Bataan. Additionally, American defensive plans were predicated on a garrison of 47,000 instead of the 80,000 troops that got to Bataan. To be fair to MacArthur, a defense of the Philippines was always predicated on American resupply of the garrison within weeks of an attack. Instead, Marshal and Roosevelt decided to write the Philippines off. It was a wise decision as a major attempt to resupply and re-garrison the islands would have been a disaster at that stage of the War, but MacArthur and his men viewed it as a betrayal, especially since an opposite message was broadcast to the garrison and the world by Washington.

    We’re the Battling Bastards of Bataan,
    No Mama, No Papa, No Uncle Sam,
    No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
    No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,
    And nobody gives a damn!

    Frank Hewlett

  10. The interesting thing is that nearly all of the Orange war plans in the 20’s and 30’s advocated a write-off of the Philippines. Nearly all envisaged that any early mission to use the U.S. fleet to resupply and reinforce the Philippines would be destroyed by the IJN. Once or twice the U.S. Army was able to get some input into the Orange war plans, and their protests at abandonment always led to a resupply mission being added to the plans as a mere option, only to be dropped the next time the Army wasn’t giving input.
    The Navy (and the Army too) understood that real defense of the Philippines was out of the question given the prewar political support of low defense expenditures. After the war it was obvious that a strong military presence in the Philippines coupled with active reserves in the U.S. would have prevented the war in the first place.

  11. TomD, if you get the chance to visit, hope it goes well. A 300-foot memorial cross stands on Bataan, from which you can see Manila Bay and Corregidor. For Filipinos, the memory of Bataan is as sacred as the Alamo or Thermopylae.

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