When Demigods Die: MacArthur's Men And Their Intelligence Failures In The Korean War
A brief history, 1950-1951
“The emperor came to him, he didn’t go to the emperor.”
John Russell Allison served Gen. Douglas MacArthur as a civilian economic advisor in Tokyo from 1945-1951. In his unpublished memoir, Allison alludes to the famous photo of the general with Hirohito, noting that MacArthur “didn’t even dress up for the occasion. He’s in open collar, and the emperor is in formal morning coat.”
“Why would he not have put on tie and jacket to meet with the emperor?”
MacArthur’s casual office uniform was a performative, purposeful humility that placed the man-MacArthur above the living god-emperor. No usual mortal in terms of personal power, the height and plainness of the general were a visual structure of power that further transformed him into something between earth and heaven, superior to the living god-emperor who personified heaven on earth. Psychology calls this countersignalling. Rob Henderson describes countersignalling as elite people “doing things that signal high status because they are associated with low status. It is a form of self-handicapping,” he writes, “signaling that one is so well off that they can afford to engage in activities and behaviors that people typically associated with low status.”
MacArthur’s plenipotentiary powers under the 1945 armistice were contained in the visual. It worked. When Truman fired MacArthur in 1951, “the Japanese turned out in millions to demonstrate their respect and disappointment that he should be deposed,” Allison recalls. Whatever his failures, MacArthur had conquered the hearts and minds of the Japanese.
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