Degree Name

Master of Arts (Hons.)


Department of History and Politics


With the loss of his army in the Philippines in 1942, General Douglas MacArthur had, in his own eyes at least, let down the family honour and disgraced the long and successful MacArthur military history. The case can be put that, because of that disgrace MacArthur was mentally stressed and that stress distorted his judgement during the conduct of the 1942 Papuan Campaign. It can consequently be argued that, because of his need to make amends and to save face in the eyes of his peers, his judgement was distorted, causing excessive casualties during the fighting in Papua. American and Australian officers suggested that the Japanese be sealed off, bombarded and starved into submission at Buna, to minimise further loss of life. However, MacArthur needed a quick victory.

MacArthur's erratic, contradictory behaviour and need for self-promotion had its origins in an emotionally complicated upbringing, as he developed in an atmosphere of military gallantry and leadership, influenced by his famous father General Arthur MacArthur. He was raised by a doting, smothering and powerful mother, who maintained an influence over MacArthur right up to her death in the mid-1930's. Douglas was part of a 'military caste', his life dedicated to the military and with a great sense of duty to his country, to military protocol and all that went with being a graduate of West Point Officers' College.

The need to live up to the expectations of his parents motivated him to become an outstanding student at military college, America's youngest general with a career of high achievement, culminating in the position of Chief of Staff of the Army. After retirement, he was appointed to raise an army for the Philippines, but through misconceived planning and negligence he failed to forge a strong force.

When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the result was a quick routing of MacArthur's army and a long siege on the Bataan Peninsula. Defeat became inevitable when no relief force was forthcoming. Finally, President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to Australia to become Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific Area. MacArthur demonstrated agitation at his loss of face, the disgrace of the family name and his personal failure. He was determined to fight his way back to Bataan and relieve the abandoned men, thereby justifying his reason for leaving them.

In Australia, he found few trained men and little equipment with which to carry out the reconquest of the Philippines and before he was ready to counter-attack, Papua was invaded. While clearing Papua of the Japanese, the conduct of his command was marred by an erratic behaviour pattern resulting in semi-hysterical and intemperate orders being given to his commanders. He did not listen to the opinions and explanations of experienced Australian officers and surrounded himself with cronies from the Philippines.

In the end, it was the Americans and Australians on the ground who paid the price for MacArthur's mental aberrations, manifested by his need to satisfy his ego, placate his feelings of guilt and regain his loss of face.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.