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The American Experience
The Film & More
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David McCullough, Series Host: Hello. I'm David McCullough. Welcome to the American Experience. The United States of America is a nation born of war, a bloody eight-year struggle for independence. Our first larger-than-life hero and first president was a soldier. And a long line of soldier-heroes followed --Andrew Jackson, Grant, Lee, Pershing -- until the onrush of the Second World War. Then, miraculously, from a tiny professional army that the country had pretty much forgotten, came an array of general officers as remarkable as any in our history -- Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, Stillwell, Bradley, and the most conspicuous and, some felt, the most brilliant of them all, General Douglas MacArthur.

What follows is a two-part film biography of MacArthur, an American life story ranging over much of the world, and that begins at a army post in New Mexico in the 1880's, far removed from the tumultuous century to come. But then MacArthur himself often seemed like a figure from another time, this man who was such a force in altogether three major wars. There was nothing simple about him. He was vain, haughty, theatrical, an incurable poser, and given to oratorical flourishes of a kind only he could have gotten away with. He was also, most importantly a born leader, fearless, intensely patriotic, and highly ambitious, indeed, supremely conscious of himself as a "man of destiny." But, as Shakespeare reminds us, big wars make ambition a virtue. That Douglas MacArthur was one of the most interesting and important figures of the century, there is no question.

Part I of MacArthur, written and produced by Austin Hoyt.

The American Experience: MacArthur

NARR: In the winter of 1942 the eyes of the world were fixed on a tiny outpost in the Philippines where America's most famous general was under siege. His command post destroyed. His army near starvation. Reinforcements no where in sight. "The end is near," the Japanese commander taunted Gen. Douglas MacArthur, "You are advised to surrender." A MacArthur, he knew, never surrendered. He was prepared to die as a soldier. Ordered to abandon his army, he felt betrayed by enemies in Washington. His lonely quest to rescue his men became one of the great sagas of World War II. A journey\ less lonely because of a family who shared the war years with him - a wife he married at age 57 and a son who he hoped would one day be a soldier. He was welcomed home as no American had ever been - a hero as well to Australians, Filipinos, South Koreans - even the Japanese.

MICHAEL SCHALLER, Historian: The sad thing for him is that those achievements were never enough. He always felt that those above him denied him the recognition that he rightly deserved and I think nurtured lifelong grudges against almost anybody in a position superior to him.

VERNON A. WALTERS, U.S. Army: I regard him as probably the greatest soldier we've ever had, in all American history. His only problem was that he didn't fully understand that in the United States, it's the president who makes national policy.

NARR: Douglas MacArthur became so controversial that he stirred political passions Americans had not known since the Civil War.

FAUBION BOWERS, Aide to MacArthur: He was like old Grecian statues, larger than life. And such absolute self-confidence. He had such dignity, such presence. He was a tremendously great man, with tremendously great weaknesses. He was a paranoid. Everything was an arrow in his heart, and yet he was a magnetic person who could charm anyone.

EDWIN H. SIMMONS, Marine Historian: Wherever MacArthur was, he was the center of attention. All eyes were always riveted on MacArthur. He was a great actor. When you speak of theater of war, he was the producer, the director, the star actor, in that theater and he played it to the limit.

GEOFFREY PERRET, Biographer: He is not just unlike most other men, he's unlike most soldiers. 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.

continue to Part One: Destiny...