Born on an army base in Arkansas, Douglas MacArthur came from a proud military lineage. His father had been a Union general in the American Civil War and MacArthur sought to follow in his footsteps. Highly gifted academically, he qualified for West Point in 1899. Despite the bullying culture he found there, MacArthur worked hard and scored 98 per cent when he passed out, serving as First Captain during his final year.
He took up a position in the prestigious engineering corps and his first assignment, in 1903, was to the Philippines, then a US colony. This was followed by an extensive tour of Asia accompanying his father, who remained a senior army officer and had pulled strings to secure his son’s appointment as his secretary. They returned in 1906, Douglas MacArthur having become fascinated by the continent and convinced of its importance for US foreign policy.
From 1912 until America joined the First World War in 1917, MacArthur worked in Washington, first with the Chief of Staff and then in establishing the army’s Bureau of Information. It was during this period that his remarkable administrative talents began to be noticed. However, the arrival of war persuaded him that he should attempt to obtain a posting to France. The 42nd ‘Rainbow Division’ – a mixed unit composed of National Guard regiments from across the USA – was his idea. He, therefore, secured a position as its Chief of Staff. Despite the staff role, MacArthur served with distinction and bravery throughout his time in the trenches. He was decorated by both America and France.
After the war he was appointed Superintendent of West Point, where he was able to introduce reforms to tackle some of the bad practice he had experienced for himself. In 1922 he married and was transferred to the Philippines. Promoted to Major General in 1925, he commanded IV and then III Corps. Depressed after separating from his wife in 1927 (they divorced in 1929), he threw himself into the leadership of the 1928 US Olympic Committee.