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The American Experience
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program image No soldier has ever captured the American imagination like Douglas MacArthur. He led Americans into combat for a half-century, through glorious victories and soul-numbing defeats. Courageous and supremely egotistical, he battled anyone who dared question his military judgment -- even the President of the United States.

THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents MacArthur, a compelling portrait of a complex man from producer Austin Hoyt (Reagan) and co-producer Sarah Holt. Drawing on archival footage and first person interviews, MacArthur tells the story of a true American hero. He was America's most decorated officer during World War I. During World War II, he recovered from a humiliating defeat to make a triumphant return to the Philippines. In the Korean War he engineered a bold invasion only to suffer a bitter reversal at the hands of the Chinese. Fired by Harry Truman in one of the most controversial presidential decisions in history, he returned home to the greatest hero's welcome ever.

Yet even in the midst of the acclaim, something was missing. "The sad thing for him is that those achievements were never enough," says historian Michael Schaller. "He always felt that those above him denied him the recognition that he rightly deserved and I think nurtured lifelong grudges against anybody in a position superior to him."

"I regard him as probably the greatest soldier we've ever had in all American history," says General Vernon A. Walters, USA (retired). "His only problem was that he didn't fully understand that in the United States, it's the President who makes national policy."

A magnetic, dignified presence, MacArthur was also vain and suspicious. "He was a tremendously great man with tremendously great weaknesses," recalls Faubion Bowers, an aide to the general. "He was a paranoid. Everything was an arrow in his heart, and yet he could charm anyone."

"Wherever MacArthur was, he was the center of attention," adds marine historian Edwin H. Simmons. "All eyes were always riveted on MacArthur. He was a great actor. When you speak of the theater of war, he was the producer, the director, the star actor, and he played it to the limit."

In 1899, nineteen-year-old Douglas MacArthur enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point. He already had his own image of the ideal soldier: his father. Arthur MacArthur was a Civil War hero who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and became the military governor of the Philippines. Douglas would devote himself to living up to his father's example. To be a MacArthur, he knew, meant being brave, a scholar, a gentleman, and wary of interference from Washington. "You must grow up to be a great man -- like your father and Robert E. Lee," his mother had whispered to him at bedtime.

Douglas MacArthur distinguished himself on the battlefields of World War I. He was wounded, gassed, cited as "the greatest front-line general of the war," awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, and was known for leading his troops into battle carrying a riding crop.

In 1922, MacArthur, age 42, married Louise Cromwell Brooks, a divorced socialite ten years his junior with two children -- and a fortune. The unlikely union between the high-flying flapper and general ended seven years later. When he was Army Chief of Staff, he brought to Washington Isabel Rosario Cooper, a 27-year-old actress of Scottish and Filipino ancestry known as "Dimples," who had become his mistress in Manila after his divorce. In 1937, the 57-year-old MacArthur wed again, this time to Jean Faircloth, a 37-year-old from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who called him "Sir Boss."

That year President Franklin Roosevelt, fearful of provoking the increasingly aggressive Japanese, cancelled MacArthur's appointment as US Military Adviser in the Philippines. He remained on the Phillipine payroll but retired from the Army. As war appeared imminent, FDR recalled MacArthur and put him in charge of US forces in the Far East. Within hours after their attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked Manila. MacArthur withdrew his troops to Bataan and Corregidor. Three months later, under orders from Roosevelt, he fled the Philippines with Jean and their four-year-old son Arthur, declaring "I shall return." His quest to keep his word became one of the greatest sagas of World War Two.

The General's last campaign was as commander of the UN forces in Korea. He bridled under the constraints of the nuclear age -- limited war. In the spring of 1951, following a series of confrontations, President Harry Truman relieved MacArthur of his command. He died in Washington, DC, in 1964.

"He is not just unlike most other men, he's unlike most soldiers," says biographer Geoffrey Perrett. "There is an element in MacArthur's temperament that is really that of the writer, the poet, the artist who has somehow ended up in uniform. And he believed only a handful of people really counted in history. And his role in life was to be one of that handful of people."

A fascinating look at the private and public worlds of a preeminent modern military leader, "MacArthur" is both an intimate biography and a sweeping view of America at war in the 20th century.


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