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This Day In History: President Franklin Roosevelt Ordered Gen. Douglas MacArthur Out Of The Philippines

February 22, 2017

This day in history, February 22, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered General Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines because of the failing American defense on the islands.

When the Japanese invaded China in 1937 and signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940, the United States strengthened the defense of the Philippines. General MacArthur was called out of retirement to command 10,000 U.S. Army troops, 12,000 Filipino enlisted men who fought as part of the U.S. Army, and 100,000 Filipino army soldiers, who were poorly trained and ill prepared.

MacArthur radically overestimated his troops’ strength and underestimated Japan’s determination. The Rainbow War Plan, a defensive strategy for U.S. interests in the Pacific that was drawn up in the late 1930’s, required that MacArthur withdraw his troops into the mountains of the Bataan Peninsula and await better-trained and well-equipped American reinforcements. Instead, MacArthur decided to take the Japanese head on and failed.

On the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing, the Japanese destroyed almost half of the American aircraft based in the Philippines and amphibious landings of Japanese troops along the Luzon coast followed. By late December, MacArthur had to pull his forces back defensively to the Bataan Peninsula and began taking part in the original strategy. By January 2, 1942, the Philippine capital of Manila fell to the Japanese.

President Roosevelt had to admit to himself that the prospects for the American forces were not optimistic and that he could not afford to have General MacArthur fall captive to the Japanese. A message arrived at Corregidor on February 20, ordering MacArthur to leave immediately for Mindanao, then on to Melbourne, Australia to “assume command of all United States troops.”

MacArthur at first balked, but in March, finally obeyed Roosevelt’s order.