The Best Defense

General MacArthur's interesting role in the fall of the Philippines in 1942

By "Tyrtaios"

Best Defense book reviewer


Fighting for MacArthur: The Navy and Marine Corps' Desperate Defense of the Philippines by John Gordon arrived mysteriously at my post office box in town yesterday

My quick perusal of the book (which I will begin to read next week in more detail), would be disturbing to anyone had the information it contains been researched and made available while General Douglas MacArthur was still alive, to say nothing of the embarrassment to those that allowed MacArthur to continue to command after such a startling defeat, a road early-on toward that defeat which essentially followed the General's flawed plans for the defense of the Philippines, in view of the changing situation confronting him.

I should note that the author in his zeal, delves into a lot of minute details that seem to clutter the story he wants to tell, which is primarily about the Navy and Marines role in support of the Army commanded by MacArthur. However, the Army is not overlooked, and the over use of details aside, for anyone interested in historical backdrop surrounding MacArthur, as well as his performance in the Philippines, I would say the book is an important contribution toward such.

Although most know that MacArthur along with his chief of staff Sutherland should have shouldered much of the blame for losing the. What I found intriguing was MacArthur's early on rosy picture he was painting to Washington, and then later outright lies in message traffic to Marshall who seems to have somewhat taken it all in stride, knowing MacArthur as he did, instead of weighing the evidence provided by a very competent Admiral Thomas Hart who was also sending his candid assessment of the situation to Washington.

Moving along quickly, the author's research notes that as MacArthur finally, too late in the game began to accept the situation, MacArthur started to scapegoat Hart (whom he pretty much forced into retirement), when in actuality, it was MacArthur that should have "faded away." I had heard about Admiral Hart only peripherally and that he had been fired, only accepting the Admiral's firing as the way of things in the naval service for those in command that lose. Perhaps it is about time I find out more about this man who seems to have had his finger on the pulse as events were unfolding in the Asian-South Pacific theater even before being attacked in the Philippines, and the measures the Admiral was wisely taking, while the Army was to some degree under MacArthur, not coming to grips with reality that would contribute to disaster later.

Also of interest to me, as Hart early-on understood the desperate time line all forces in the Philippines were facing, the Admiral directed that tunnel construction be sped-up on Corregidor, and began transferring food stocks there 10-days prior to the Army who only then seem to have began facing the reality the Japanese were tightening their hold around the island of Luzon. This action, and other decisions by Hart, along with quick thinking Navy and Marine leaders, would later see the Navy and Marines better fed than the Army as a result. But, would lead to resentment by Army personnel pointing a finger at the Navy as not supporting the effort, not realizing their command had let them down and the Navy had in fact shared much with them early-on prior to the evacuation to Corregidor, to include salvaged weapons and ammunition.

Additionally, the 4th Marine Regiment which had been evacuated from China a few months earlier, started their men on 2-meals a day early-on, and Hart followed with direction for all naval forces to do so also several days later, while the Army continued to chowed-down, which would also contribute to outright starvation during the siege on Corregidor later . . . All the while, MacArthur stunningly only visited up front with his troops once!

To be fair, the book does point-out there was a lot of bad luck, poor equipment in inventory, along with skill training against a war tested Japanese invading force, as well as that fog of war that contributed to the fall of the Philippines. However, my quick thumb through of the book revealed some very facinating messages back to Washington by MacArthur that hindsight aside, would seem to go to the question of the MacArthur's mental state and his competence as a senior general officer that history really shouldn't overlook because I believe it goes to MacArthur's eventual same early attitude toward the unfolding of the situation in Korea that seems to parallel his understanding of the situation around him in the Philippines earlier.

"Tyrtaios" was a professional private who retired from the Corps at the pleasure of the Commandant as a lieutenant colonel.

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The Best Defense

Fixing the Army (II): Let's downgrade 4-stars and end the regimental system

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on November 18, 2011.

By "Petronius Arbiter"
Best Defense department of Army affairs


  • Downgrade all Army general-level commands to LTG commands. CSA and VCSA would be only 4-star generals in the Army. Army Generals serving in COCOMs could be 4-star. Doing so would help empower the CSA as the commander of the Army. The Army is roughly 60 percent the size it was in the Cold War, but with near-same institutional structure and greater rank structure. If there is concern that 3-star corps commanders could not work for 3-star major commanders, it worked well in WWII. There just needs to be a pecking order of 3-star generals. They will know and they will understand and being the professionals they are they will work together. This would greatly assist in streamlining the Army structure. For every star there is a needed staff of military and civilians to provide staff work. This reduction would greatly streamline the Army and would make it more efficient, taking out layers of bureaucracy.
  • Downgrade existing Army special staff billets from LTG to MG, example Dir Army budget to MG, etc. Leave principle Assistant Chief of Staff, G1 to G8 alone. Other services may have to do same in order for Army to compete in the Pentagon.
  • Now that the National Guard Bureau has a 4 star seat on the JCS, insist that the NG replace "U.S. Army" on the uniform with "Guardsman." They are now close to the 6th service. As such, reduce or eliminate Title 10 support to the NG. All NG budgetary and personnel issues should be Title 32.
  • Refer to Soldiers by rank and not pay grade, not all Sergeants are Sergeants; PV1/2 are Privates, SSGs are Staff Sergeant, MSGs are Master Sergeant, etc, and LTCs are Lt Colonel and Colonel (06) are Colonel. Refer to no one as a pay grade. It is disrespectful to do so. No professional wants to be called by or referred to as a pay grade.
  • Expedite soldier valorous awards so that heroism is recognized rapidly. Over three years to award a MoH is absolutely ridiculous, especially in this information age with fast moving communications. Sgt. Basilone, WWII USMC, along with three others, received his MoH 7 months after his action while still serving in the area of operations and they had no internet. The latest USMC award of the MoH took two years to approve. Even that is too long. If it is the veracity of the action that they are concerned about, I think history will tell you that war stories get more questionable with age. Go with the witness statements at the time of the action, not months later. They will be more accurate.
  • Assess the necessity for the manning of the Acquisition Corps (AC) with senior officers as is currently staffed. May be wrong here but the AC seems terribly top heavy. This must be a product of industry only wanting to deal with GOs or senior officers, otherwise lower level officers could easily accomplish the task. Do all those contracting GOs count in the AC and what do contracting commands command?
  • Acquisition Corps (AC) officers should not be the requirements generators for developing systems. A tanker should develop a new tank rather than an AC officer who wears Infantry brass from a long ago experience. An AC officer wearing MI brass should not be the principle developer for Infantry weapons systems. There are many, many examples of how this should not be done. Knowledge and hands-on experience are the key ingredient in developing new materiel, not knowledge of programmatics. Build in the programmatic experts into the system but not at the requirements generation level.
  • What does the regimental system do for our Army? Either give it a function or eliminate it. It means little to most Soldiers. Only value I see is to give some old General, Colonel or Sergeant Major some honorary position in his waning time.
  • Since 75th Ranger Regiment is not an Infantry Regiment do not allow Infantry personnel in that organization to declare 75th Infantry as a regimental affiliation. But, if we eliminate the Regimental system from a personnel perspective, don't have to worry about this. This may only be applicable to officers as most enlisted men in 75th Ranger Regiment stay in that organization until they are very senior.
  • Re-instill drill and ceremonies so that units can at least have confidence in unit abilities to conduct a pass in review at ceremonies. Oh, and when supervised properly, it is a tremendous discipline builder and junior NCO developer, but most officers don't know that. It is a great way to instill confidence in NCOs and discipline in Soldiers. A lost trade I think . . . unfortunately, and still needed.
  • Settle on a uniform set and let it alone. There are great frustrations in the Army the last several years over this. In particular, the combat uniform has seen 4 versions in 10 years and they still can't get it right. The dress uniform is a real joke, especially the Class B uniform. Even the GOs gripe about it. 2 CSAs agocould have stopped it but he did not. His predecessor made so many horrific decisions about everything, especially uniforms, that the Army has been unstable ever since. I guess the bottom line on uniforms is there are no standards. Think CSA Dempsey was on his way to fix all those items but he was there only a very short time. He would have fixed it.

Robert Couse-Baker /