Myths of MacArthur: Dugout Doug

Dugout Doug MacArthur lies ashaking on the Rock

Safe from all the bombers and from any sudden shock

Dugout Doug is eating of the best food on Bataan

And his troops go starving on.

Dugout Doug’s not timid, he’s just cautious, not afraid

He’s protecting carefully the stars that Franklin made

Four-star generals are rare as good food on Bataan

And his troops go starving on.

Dugout Doug is ready in his Kris Craft for the flee

Over bounding billows and the wildly raging sea

For the Japs are pounding on the gates of Old Bataan

And his troops go starving on…

Anonymous, 1942

Over the next few years we will be taking a look at General Douglas MacArthur, concentrating on his rule of Japan and his role in the Korean War.  A larger than life figure even while he lived, MacArthur has always sparked strong hate and love.  A number of myths have cropped up about Macarthur, and several posts will deal with dispelling these myths, so that we can look at him in the cold light of historical fact.  The first myth up is that of Dugout Doug.

The myth of Dugout Doug contends that MacArthur was a coward, who refused to share the dangers of his troops on Bataan, and fled from them, leaving them to endure defeat and brutal captivity, often ending in their deaths.

It is probably accurate to say that MacArthur was not a brave man.  In order to be brave, in a physical sense, one must know a fear of physical pain or death.  Some men simply have no such fear.  George Washington did not.  Throughout the French and Indian War and the American Revolution he constantly exposed himself to enemy fire while he led from the front, to the terror of his aides, who were brave men.  They marveled that Washington showed no sign of fear, and his only reaction to being fired upon was a look of minor annoyance.

MacArthur’s reaction to enemy fire was one of wry amusement.  From his earliest days as an officer he constantly exposed himself to enemy fire, to the amazement of those around him.  There is a wonderful scene in the movie MacArthur (1977), based on a true incident during the liberation of the Philippines, where MacArthur goes beyond a forward patrol into an enemy controlled area.  As one private whispered to another private, “Who ever heard of a four star general taking the point!”

On Corregidor, MacArthur exposed himself to frequent enemy bombing to the point of recklessness.  He visited his troops on Bataan only once, however, who gave him the lasting nickname of Dugout Doug.  Why?

The reason was not lack of physical courage but rather his inability to lie to his troops to their face.  Washington kept telling MacArthur that a relief force was on the way.  MacArthur relayed this news to his troops, but I doubt if he believed it in his heart.  A master strategist, MacArthur knew that neither the forces nor the logistics were there for a successful rescue of Bataan, and he could not bring himself to face his doomed men and lie about this while he looked at them.

When directly ordered by FDR to leave the Philippines, he came close to disobeying, something almost impossible to even contemplate for a career American officer, saying he would resign and join the troops on Bataan to fight as a volunteer.  He was convinced to obey only with great difficulty.  He refused to be flown out, taking a dangerous trip by a PT boat instead, to demonstrate that the Japanese blockade could be penetrated.  For the rest of the War his goal was to liberate the Philippines and to rescue the men who had fought under him on Bataan.

MacArthur had a great many flaws, overweening  vanity being first and foremost, but all the evidence indicates he was a complete stranger to physical fear and being a physical coward was literally impossible for him.

More to explorer


  1. Two questions I hope will be answered in the coming articles; (I am of two minds on the man)

    Why did he not take out the Japanese planes stuck on Formosa (after he knew of Pearl Harbor the day before) instead of waiting until they crushed Clark Field and the B-17 fleet?

    Why did he reject Operation Rainbow and think he could protect all of Luzon’s many miles of shoreline with his tiny army of poorly armed scouts (mules and WWI rifles etc) against the Japanese modern war machine?

    I eagerly await your well-researched info on the man–including the Truman/Manchuria brouhaha.

  2. MacArthur deserves a fair amount of blame for his planes being caught on the ground at Clarke, although the air commander Brereton was not blameless. I think a strike on Formosa with the B-17s would have accomplished little other than getting most of the B-17s shot down. The air odds were simply too great.

    In regard to the Japanese invasion, I think MacArthur was initially uncertain how many Japanese troops were being used, especially considering their offensives in southeast Asia. As it happened, the Japanese did invade with around 43,000 men in their main effort on December 22. MacArthur ordered the fall back to Bataan on December 24, which was executed brilliantly, although supplies were brought in only for 43,000 men instead of the 80,000 American and Filipino troops that ultimately garrisoned Bataan. There is much to criticize in MacArthur’s generalship overall in this campaign, although it must also be kept in mind that he was operating in a hopeless military situation once Washington made the decision not to try a risky reinforcement of the Philippines.

  3. Thanks Donald. That is pretty much what I garnered from research, though many of the problems on Bataan were the unexpected masses of civilians joining the troops in the retreat. Many of the invaluable supplies were left behind, spread over those many rapidly deserted beachfronts.
    It appears that MacArthur (like his father) was loved by the Philippine peoples (and Scouts) but not so much by his American troops, who (IMO) failed to comprehend the more important need for his command to retreat to safety in order to prosecute the larger war. Wainwright did a heroic job in his place.

  4. I will be interested in reading your opinion of his conduct of the Korean War,Did he want us to fight the Chinese or did he blunder into the fight?

  5. Mac thought the Chinese were bluffing. He was not alone in that estimate. He also underestimated the military capabilities of the Communist Chinese, judging them by the woeful standards of the Nationalists during World War II. He should have been more careful, since, as usual in his career, he was at the very end of a long logistical chain, and Truman was trying to fight the War with the absolute minimum of US troops.

  6. trying to fight the War with the absolute minimum of US troops.

    That’s become a rather bad habit, hasn’t it?

  7. I should probably expound on that. I’m referring in general to what seems to have become since the end of WWII our habit of trying to win wars with the minimum of effort instead of the maximum. I think maybe Dennis Miller once made a joke along the same lines. The punchline was something about a conflict not being worth our full attention if it wasn’t worth nuking somebody over.

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