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MacArthur's Speeches: "The Noblest Development of Mankind"

MacArthur's tenure as Army Chief of Staff from 1930 to 1935 was surely one of the most trying times in his life. Despite his vigorous efforts, the tides of economic depression and isolationism proved overwhelming, and under his stewardship the American armed forces reached all-time lows in strength. And as MacArthur repeatedly warned to anyone who would listen, allowing this to happen while autocratic, expansive regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan were gaining strength was doubly dangerous.

The following speech, delivered less than two months before the end of his tenure as Chief, contains what MacArthur biographer Geoffrey Perret calls "the Apostle's Creed of MacArthurism, the essence of his militant faith." Addressed to the annual reunion of MacArthur's Rainbow Division in Washington on July 14, 1935, the speech makes it perfectly clear that MacArthur could imagine no higher calling than his own.

Mr. President and gentlemen of the Rainbow Division, I thank you for the warmth of your greeting. It moves me deeply. It was with you I lived my greatest moments. It is of you I have my greatest memories.

It was seventeen years ago -- those days of old have vanished, tone and tint; they have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is a land where flowers of wondrous beauty and varied colors spring, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed into fuller bloom by the smiles of yesterday. Refrains no longer rise and fall from that land of used-to-be. We listen vainly, but with thirsty ear, for the witching melodies of days that are gone. Ghosts in olive drab and sky blue and German gray pass before our eyes; voices that have stolen away in the echoes from the battlefields no more ring out. The faint, far whisper of forgotten songs no longer floats through the air. Youth, strength, aspirations, struggles, triumphs, despairs, wide winds sweeping, beacons flashing across uncharted depths, movements, vividness, radiance, shadows, faint bugles sounding reveille, far drums beating, the long roll, the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry -- the still white crosses!

And tonight we are met to remember.

The shadows are lengthening. The division's birthdays are multiplying; we are growing old together. But the story which we commemorate helps us to grow old gracefully. That story is known to all of you. It needs no profuse panegyrics. It is the story of the American soldier of the World War. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many years ago and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world's greatest figures -- not only in the era which witnessed his achievements but for all eyes and for all time. I regarded him as not only one of the greatest military figures but also as one of the most stainless; his name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen.

The world's estimate of him will be founded not upon any one battle or even series of battles; indeed, it is not upon the greatest fields of combat or the bloodiest that the recollections of future ages are riveted. The vast theaters of Asiatic conflict are already forgotten today. The slaughtered myriads of Genghis Khan lie in undistinguished graves. Hardly a pilgrim visits the scenes where on the fields of Chalons and Tours the destinies of civilization and Christendom were fixed by the skill of Aetius and the valor of Charles Martel.

The time indeed may come when the memory of the fields of Champagne and Picardy, of Verdun and the Argonne shall be dimmed by the obscurity of revolving years and recollected only as a shadow of ancient days.

But even then the enduring fortitude, the patriotic selfabnegation, and the unsurpassed military genius of the American soldier of the World War will stand forth in undimmed luster; in his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man; he has written his own history, and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory I am filled with an emotion I cannot express. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful and disinterested patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and right. He belongs to the present -- to us -- by his glory, by his virtues, and by his achievements.

The memorials of character wrought by him can never be dimmed. He needs no statues or monuments; he has stamped himself in blazing flames upon the souls of his countrymen; he has carved his own statue in the hearts of his people; he has built his own monument in the memory of his compatriots.

The military code which he perpetuates has come down to us from even before the age of knighthood and chivalry. It embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong. Its observance will uplift everyone who comes under its influence. The soldier, above all other men, is required to perform the highest act of religious teaching -- sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when He created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instincts can take the place of the divine annunciation and spiritual uplift which will alone sustain him. However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.

On such an occasion as this my thoughts go back to those men who went with us to their last charge. In memory's eye I can see them now -- forming, grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain of the foxhole, driving home to their objective and to the judgment seat of God. I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory.

Never again for them staggering columns, bending under soggy packs, on many a weary march from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn. Never again will they trudge ankle-deep through the mud on shell-shocked roads. Never again will they stop cursing their luck long enough to whistle through chapped lips a few bars as some clear voice raised the lilt of "Madelon." Never again ghostly trenches, with their maze of tunnels, drifts, pits, dugouts -- never again, gentlemen unafraid.

They have gone beyond the mists that blind us here and become part of that beautiful thing we call the Spirit of the Unknown Soldier. In chambered temples of silence the dust of their dauntless valor sleeps, waiting. Waiting in the chancery of Heaven the final reckoning of Judgment Day: "Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die."

Our country is rich and resourceful, populous and progressive, courageous to the full extent of propriety. It insists upon respect for its rights, and likewise gives full recognition to the rights of all others. It stands for peace, honesty, fairness, and friendship in its intercourse with foreign nations.

It has become a strong, influential, and leading factor in world affairs. It is destined to be even greater if our people are sufficiently wise to improve their manifold opportunities. If we are industrious, economical, absolutely fair in our treatment of each other, strictly loyal to our government we, the people, may expect to be prosperous and to remain secure in the enjoyment of all those benefits which this privileged land affords.

But so long as humanity is more or less governed by motives not in accord with the spirit of Christianity our country may be involved by those who believe they are more powerful. Whatever the ostensible reason advanced may be -- envy, cupidity, fancied wrong, or other unworthy impulse may direct them.

Every nation that has what is valuable is obligated to be prepared to defend against brutal attack or unjust effort to seize and appropriate. Even though a man be not inclined to guard his own interests, common decency requires him to furnish reasonable oversight and care to others who are weak and helpless. As a rule, they who preach by word or deed "peace at any price" are not possessed of anything worth having, and are oblivious to the interest of others including their own dependents.

The Lord Almighty, merciful and all-wise, does not absolutely protect those who unreasonably fail to contribute to their own safety, but He does help those who, to the limit of their understanding and ability, help themselves. This, my friends, is fundamental theology.

On looking back through the history of English-speaking people, it will be found in every instance that the most sacred principles of free government have been acquired, protected, and perpetuated through the embodied, armed strength of the peoples concerned. From Magna Charta to the present day there is little in our institutions worth having or worth perpetuating that has not been achieved for us by armed men. Trade, wealth, literature, and refinement cannot defend a state -- pacific habits do not insure peace nor immunity from national insult and national aggression.

Every nation that would preserve its tranquility, its riches, its independence, and its self-respect must keep alive its martial ardor and be at all times prepared to defend itself.

The United States is a pre-eminently Christian and conservative nation. It is far less militaristic than most nations. It is not especially open to the charge of imperialism. Yet one would fancy that Americans were the most brutally blood-thirsty people in the world to judge by the frantic efforts that are being made to disarm them both physically and morally. The public opinion of the United States is being submerged by a deluge of organizations whose activities to prevent war would be understandable were they distributed in some degree among the armed nations of Europe and Asia. The effect of all this unabashed and unsound propaganda is not so much to convert America to a holy horror of war as it is to confuse the public mind and lead to muddled thinking in international affairs.

A few intelligent groups who are vainly trying to present the true facts to the world are overwhelmed by the sentimentalist, the emotionalist, the alarmist, who merely befog the real issue, which is not the biological necessity of war but the biological character of war.

The springs of human conflict cannot be eradicated through institutions but only through the reform of the individual human being. And that is a task which has baffled the highest theologians for 2,000 years and more.

I often wonder how the future historian in the calmness of his study will analyze the civilization of the century recently closed. It was ushered in by the end of the Napoleonic Wars which devastated half of Europe. Then followed the Mexican War, and the American Civil War, the Crimean War, the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Boer War, the Opium Wars of England and China, the Spanish-American War, the Russo-Japanese War, and finally, the World War -- which, for ferocity and magnitude of losses, is unequaled in the history of humanity.

If he compares this record of human slaughter with the thirteenth century, when civilization was just emerging from the Dark Ages, when literature had its Dante; art, its Michelangelo and Gothic architecture; education, the establishment of the famous colleges and technical schools of Europe; medicine, the organization of hospital systems; politics and the foundation of Anglo-Saxon liberty, the Magna Charta -- the verdict cannot be that wars have been on the wane.

In the last 3,400 years only 268 -- less than 1 in 13 -- have been free from wars. No wonder that Plato, the wisest of all men, once exclaimed, "Only the dead have seen the end of war!" Every reasonable man knows that war is cruel and destructive. Yet, our civilization is such that a very little of the fever of war is sufficient to melt its veneer of kindliness. We all dream of the day when human conduct will be governed by the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount. But as yet it is only a dream. No one desires peace as much as the soldier, for he must pay the greatest penalty in war. Our Army is maintained solely for the preservation of peace -- or for the restoration of peace after it has been lost by statesmen or by others.

Dionysius, the ancient thinker, twenty centuries ago uttered these words: It is a law of nature, common to all mankind, which time shall neither annul nor destroy, that those that have greater strength and power shall bear rule over those who have less." Unpleasant as the may be to hear, disagreeable as they may be to contemplate the history of the world bears ample testimony to their truth and wisdom. When looking over the past, or when looking over the world in its present form, there is but one trend of events to be discerned -- a constant change of tribes, clans, nations; the stronger ones replacing the others, the more vigorous ones pushing aside, absorbing covering with oblivion the weak and the worn-out.

From the dawn of history to the present day it has always been the militant aggressor taking the place of the unprepared. Where are the empires of old? Where is Egypt, once a state on a high plane of civilization, where a form of socialism prevailed and where the distribution of wealth was regulated? Her high organization did not protect her. Where are the empires of the East and the empires of the West which once were the shrines of wealth wisdom, and culture? Where are Babylon, Persia, Carthage. Rome, Byzantium? They all fell, never to rise again, annihilated at the hands of a more warlike and aggressive people: their cultures memories, their cities ruins.

Where are Peru and old Mexico? A handful of bold and crafty invaders, destroyed them, and with them their institutions, their independence their nationality, and their civilization.

And saddest of all, the downfall of Christian Byzantium. When Constantinople fell, that center of learning, pleasure, and wealth -- and all the weakness and corruption that goes with it -- a pall fell over Asia and southeastern Europe which has never been lifted. Wars have been fought these nearly five centuries that have had for at least one of their goals the bringing back under the Cross of that part of the world lost to a wild horde of a few thousand adventurers on horseback whom hunger and the unkind climate of their steppes forced to seek more fertile regions.

The thousand years of existence of the Byzantine Empire, its size, its religion, the wealth of its capital city were but added incentives and inducements to an impecunious conqueror. For wealth is no protection against aggression. It is no more an augury of military and defensive strength in a nation than it is an indication of health in an individual. Success in war depends upon men, not money. No nation has ever been subdued for lack of it. Indeed, nothing is more insolent or provocative or more apt to lead to a breach of the peace than undefended riches among armed men.

And each nation swept away was submerged by force of arms. Once each was strong and militant. Each rose by military prowess. Each fell through degeneracy of military capacity because of unpreparedness. The battlefield was the bed upon which they were born into this world, and the battlefield became the couch on which their worn-out bodies finally expired. Let us be prepared, lest we, too, perish.

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