RUSI HALL, VICTORIA BARRACKS BRISBANE
21 JULY 2012
On the 21st of July, 2012, the MacArthur Museum Brisbane, in conjunction with the Royal United Service Institute, Queensland, hosted a seminar to examine the role of General Douglas MacArthur in the development and growth of a wide range of disciplines and activities.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of General MacArthur’s arrival in Brisbane as the Commander in Chief of the South West Pacific Area during World War II. He had escaped from the Philippines on the orders of US President, Franklin Roosevelt, via a hazardous and taxing route involving PT boats, aircraft and, finally, trains, arriving in Melbourne in March, 1942, before moving on to Brisbane in July, a move that transformed the City of Brisbane, but one which has left few visible reminders.
US submarines and tender at New Farm
General MacArthur was one of the towering figures of the war. His famous, “I shall return” remark, made in the little South Australian town of Terowie while en route to Melbourne was a clear indication of his determination and resolve to take the fight to the enemy, and his subsequent planning and command left no doubt about his military and strategic genius.
But MacArthur was more than just a successful land commander, and this seminar investigated areas of his influence that are seldom exposed. To open the seminar we were honoured to have Professor David Horner deliver the keynote address. Professor Horner is a most respected military historian and acknowledged expert on General MacArthur. His Keynote address examined why this foreign general, who was in Australia for less than three years, made such a major impact on our history and explored the legacy of his involvement with Australia.
RAAF Beaufort bomber
Two other papers also concentrated on military activities, but looked at MacArthur’s influence on naval and air warfare.
Dr Ian Pfennigwerth examined the Royal Australian Navy under MacArthur’s command and its development from an element of the British imperial fleet to a full service navy, quite capable of ‘standing on its own two feet.’ RAN officers had more opportunities for leadership roles in combined operations with the Americans than they had had with the Royal Navy, and that experience has stood them in good stead in the enduring relationship with the USA.
Dr Mark Lax similarly examined the Royal Australian Air Force and he argued that MacArthur’s legacy was to develop it to the point that it could conduct expeditionary air operations across a quarter of the globe. By the end of the war the RAAF had been transformed from a "boy's flying club" to the fourth largest air force in the world.
Surprisingly, General MacArthur’s greatest impact on matters outside the military was arguably on the development of the Queensland railway. Dr Geraldine Mate from the Workshops Museum at Ipswich and Queensland Rail historian, Dr Greg Hallam, explored this topic and and showed how the General has come to be regarded as the single biggest agent of change in Queensland rail history, largely by "flogging us to death".
WWII US Steam engine,
Workshops Rail Museum
In similar vein, Swinburne University’s Michael Watson looked at the role of public relations in MacArthur’s headquarters and operations, and explained why he believes that the General is the father of modern public relations in Australia, a $1.5 billion dollar a year industry which employs over 15,000 people in the commercial, government and non-profit sectors.
Dr Chris Strakosch, who combines a specialisation in endocrinology with a passion for history, looked at the impact that MacArthur’s enormous medical footprint in the greater Brisbane area. Early operations in New Guinea were significantly affected by the number of non-battle casualties due to malaria, and Dr Strakosch examined the effort the Americans and the Australians put into research to fighting and treating this serious problem. He noted that most of the giant hospitals that were scattered around Brisbane were later dismantled and disappeared leaving little trace.
US Nurses, 1943
Finally, we were most fortunate to have Will Hopper to present a paper via video. Will was recently the co-author of The Puritan Gift, one of the Financial Times of London Top 10 Business Books for 2007. One of the chapters of the book deals with General MacArthur’s role in the regeneration of the postwar Japanese communications industry through the application of American corporate management and leadership principles. Will’s paper examined how this happened and why it changed the global balance of power, highlighting MacArthur's role in the birth of Sony and other companies who revolutionised the world.
General MacArthur and Prime Minister Curtin 1942
It was a stimulating and informative day across a wide range of interesting topics. We hope to have the seminar papers published electronically in the near future.