I’ve always had a soft spot for Douglas MacArthur and think, rightly or wrongly, that he is one of history’s most maligned and least understood commanders. Here is a soldier who reached the top of the heap, Chief of Staff of the US Army, before WW2, who retired to his beloved Philippines, and who was recalled back to duty after Pearl Harbor. Together with Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall, he was a key figure in implementing a style of occupation we can still (and should) be learning from today and halting the postwar advance of communism.
His final address to the cadets at West Point on 12 May 1962 is a classic that provides a focal point for the essence of what the military is:
“… your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable – it is to win our wars. Everything else in your professional careers is but a corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment; but you are the ones who are trained to fight; yours is the profession of arms – the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be Duty – Honour – Country…“
This is not an Americanism – it is a universally applicable reminder that, indeed, there is no substitute for victory. It does say how that victory should be achieved, or under what conditions, or in what environments. Simply, it’s about doing our jobs and not letting the bad guys win. To achieve this, we may have to change our ways and, this is where Douglas MacArthur is commonly held to have failed. Personally, I think that’s debatable given his mandate and mission. Regardless of nation, the same applies to us in the current environment – it’s a different environment with a different adversary and we have to adapt to the nature of that adversary. That’s the real bitch of being the good guys: we have to adapt to what the bad guys are doing – we can offer them all the MBTs and attack helicopters we like, they are just not going anywhere near our comfort zones. To succeed, to be victorious, we need to get into THEIR comfort zones…and to do that, WE need to change, adapt and evolve or, just like Gunny Highway used to growl, “…improvise, adapt, overcome…”