On this day in 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur moves his command headquarters to Tokyo, as he prepares for his new role as architect of a democratic and capitalist postwar Japan.
Japan had had a long history of its foreign policy being dominated by the military, as evidenced by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye’s failed attempts to reform his government and being virtually pushed out of power by career army officer Hideki Tojo. MacArthur was given the task of overseeing the regeneration of a Japan shorn of its imperial past. As humiliating as it would be for the defeated Japanese, the supreme allied commander in the South Pacific would lay the groundwork for Japan’s rebirth as an economic global superpower.
The career of Douglas MacArthur is composed of one striking achievement after another. When he graduated from West Point, only one other person, Robert E. Lee, had exceeded MacArthur’s performance, in terms of awards and average, in the institution’s history. His performance in World War I, during combat in France, won him 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 forced 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 was awarded supreme command in the Southwest Pacific, capturing New Guinea from the Japanese with an innovative “leap frog” strategy. True to his word, he returned to the Philippines in October 1944. 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 September 2, 1945, MacArthur signed the instrument of surrender on behalf of the victorious Allies, aboard the USS Missouri, docked in Tokyo Bay. But the man who oversaw Japan’s defeat was about to put it on the road to its own kind of victory.