No Substitute for Victory - Visiting MacArthur

Today I visited the Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, where I found this inscription on an inside wall of the rotunda.  I’d like to bring to your attention the bottom paragraph, taken from an address to Congress in April of 1951, which reads,

“A great nation which voluntarily enters upon war and does not see it through to victory must eventually suffer all the consequences of defeat… War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.  In war, there can be no substitute for victory.”

I could not agree more.  I am dismayed by a trend in our society toward a political veganism that believes life can be lived free of sweat, free of insult, and without the shedding of blood.  This fantastical philosophy has extended itself into our sports, our schools, and even into the principles that govern our conduct of war.  War, we seem to have decided, can be – not fought, I suppose, so much as presented – in such a way that nobody dies, nobody’s feelings are hurt, and nobody suffers the humiliation of defeat.


I don’t buy it.  Not only do I not buy it, I reject it outright.  War, as far as I’m concerned, must first be declared.  After that it must be waged, prosecuted, fought – with ruthlessness, with brutality, and with certainty that nothing less than the total surrender of our enemies is sufficient cause to stop the onslaught of our forces.  


Does this seem harsh to you?  Does this seem heartless and cruel?  Let me explain it this way.  Neither this nation, nor any other, has the right to demand mothers’ sons for a cause unworthy of a declaration of war, and cannot in good conscience accept the sacrifice of their lives for a struggle too insignificant to see through to completion.  And neither this nation nor any other can reasonably expect an enemy whose sons have shed their blood to halt their exertions until good cause is given – cause persuasive enough to convince them that surrender is honorable and necessary.   


The Japanese surrender aboard the mighty USS Missouri was a necessary humiliation. Previously, the Japanese had indicated their willingness to enter into an agreement to end the war as long as the agreement would not,

“prejudice(s) the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler…” 

The American response was,

“From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the State shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.”  

This was a very un-twenty-first century kind of response.  I fear that in similar circumstances today, the Japanese terms might have been met.  MacArthur realized though, that just as necessary as the bloodshed that forced the Japanese to surrender was a dismantling, ceremonial and final, of the system that had necessitated the bloodshed in the first place.  Only after that very visible breaking of the authority of the Emperor could the Japanese people allow themselves to submit to the new system that was being placed in authority over them.  Only after that humiliation could they permit themselves to shed a religion, a culture, a centuries-old way of life, and adopt a system that could not have been more foreign to them.  So foreign was it that, only days before, the bulk of the population would have been more likely to commit suicide than to submit.  


War is almost the worst thing that can be imagined.  Not a single one of these words, if you are still following them, dear reader, should be construed as glorifying it.  The only thing worse than war, in its complete brutality, senselessness, and misery – the only thing I can conceive of as being worse – is to commit our nation’s best to a niggling effort, to get our children killed over something not worth declaring as a war, to squander their lives in an adventure we are not willing to see through to its conclusion. 


Not only is this a grave injustice to visit upon our own flesh, but it is just as harmful to our enemy, because the half effort, though it cost us both dearly, will never be concluded in a way that allows honorable acquiescence by the vanquished to a society that will then help them rise from their ashes – not as a reconstituted version of their same corrupt and evil society, but as something new and honorable, and hopeful, a nation that, in the future, will stand by us as an ally and a friend.


MacArthur crushed  the Japanese in war and humiliated them in their surrender – and then, when they were in danger of starvation during the winter, he gave them food, earning their admiration and trust, and laying the foundation for an enduring friendship.  He understood that in war, nothing less than unequivocal victory was acceptable, because without it, magnanimity in peace is meaningless.