On this day in 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur lands in Japan to oversee the formal surrender ceremony and to organize the postwar Japanese government.
The career of Douglas MacArthur is composed of one striking achievement after another. When he graduated from West Point, MacArthur’s performance, in terms of awards and average, had only been exceeded in the institution’s history by one other person—Robert E. Lee. His performance in World War I, during combat in France, won him more decorations for valor and resulted in his becoming the youngest general in the Army at the time. He retired from the Army in 1934, only to be appointed head of the Philippine Army by its president (the Philippines had U.S. commonwealth status at the time).
When World War II broke out, MacArthur was called back to active service—as commanding general of the U.S. Army in the Far East. Because of MacArthur’s time in the Far East, and the awesome respect he commanded in the Philippines, his judgment had become somewhat distorted and his vision of U.S. military strategy as a whole myopic. He was convinced that he could defeat Japan if it invaded the Philippines. In the long term, he was correct. But in the short term, the United States suffered disastrous defeats at Bataan and Corregidor. By the time U.S. forces were compelled to surrender, he had already shipped out, on orders from President Roosevelt. As he left, he uttered his immortal line, “I shall return.”
Refusing to admit defeat, MacArthur took supreme command in the Southwest Pacific, capturing New Guinea from the Japanese with an innovative “leap frog” strategy. MacArthur, true to his word, returned to the Philippines in October 1944, and once again employed an unusual strategy of surprise and constant movement that still has historians puzzled as to its true efficacy to this day. He even led the initial invasion by wading ashore from a landing craft—captured for the world on newsreel footage. With the help of the U.S. Navy, which succeeded in destroying the Japanese fleet, leaving the Japanese garrisons on the islands without reinforcements, the Army defeated adamantine Japanese resistance. On March 3, 1945, MacArthur handed control of the Philippine capital back to its president.
On August 30, 1945, MacArthur landed at Atsugi Airport in Japan and proceeded to drive himself to Yokohama. Along the way, tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers lined the roads, their bayonets fixed on him. One last act of defiance—but all for naught. MacArthur would be the man who would reform Japanese society, putting it on the road to economic success.