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MacArthur and the ANZUS Alliance

Americans and Australians fought side by side in World War I. Because the Australians were experienced and battle hardened, they took the lead and American troops learned the ropes from them at the Battle of Hamel. Although MacArthur was not part of that battle, he would have known the fearsome reputation of the Diggers in France, and was fulsome in praise of them. He himself was America's most decorated soldier of that war, known for his fearlessness in battle, easy camaraderie with his men and daring tactics. Between the wars he had been Superintendant of West Point, President of the American Olympic Committee and Chief of Staff for the Army.  He had gone to the Philippines to prepare the Filipinos to defend the islands and to get ready for eventual independence.

Douglas MacArthur's full biography 

Within days of his arrival in Australia after his dramatic escape from the Philippines through Japanese naval forces, General MacArthur laid a wreath at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance inscribed:

'To the ANZAC Forces - From their American Comrades-in-Arms -- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow'.

MacArthur in Command

Australian Prime Minister John Curtin had put U.S. General Douglas MacArthur in direct command of the Australian military, which comprised the majority of MacArthur's forces at the time. Understandably many people objected to this, particularly those who believed British generals had squandered Australian fighting men in the First World War and that the best way to avoid that was to ensure they never served under foreign generals again. But the advantages of having an American in charge outweighed the disadvantages.

It is surprising to note that the US did not have an embassy in Australia until 1943. Prior to that there was a Legation, with an Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Government of Australia. This is largely because Australia had not fully accepted its independence from Britain. Only in October of 1942 did the Statute of Westminster Adoption become law, though it was made retroactive to the start of the war in Europe, September 3, 1939. The US and Australia had begun diplomatic relations in January 1940. On March 1, 1940, Richard Gardiner Casey presented his credentials as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Government of the United States.

MacArthur and Curtin conferred directly.  They formed a surprising partnership for two such dramatically different personalities. Curtin was Labor, a pacifist and a modest man; MacArthur was from the American right wing politically, a lifelong military man and flamboyant. While most historians take the view that they had a close and effective collaboration, there are dissenting voices which you can read about here. Certainly the appearance of cordiality and mutual respect was maintained. Generally it is summed up with a MacArthur quote, “You take care of the rear, and I’ll look after the front.”

MacArthur's office in Brisbane was in the Queensland headquarters of the AMP insurance company.  The company's motto on the facade translates from the Latin to mean "A sure friend in uncertain times," which was most appropriate.

The ANZAC Pact

In 1944, the ANZAC Pact was signed. This agreement between Australia and New Zealand looked towards the postwar world and the need for security from future threats by formalizing cooperation with the UK and the US in the Asia Pacific region.

On a personal level, the relations between the locals and the American servicemen who were stationed here, or merely passed through were almost always cordial.  People invited them to their homes for meals or to a pub for a drink. Americans brought flowers or chocolates from the PX, often not available in ordinary shops.  There were outbreaks of ill-feeling, and ignorant comments made by both sides, but considering the crowding in the city, the widespread shortages, the young age of the soldiers and sailors and the high emotions of the time, it was quite understandable.

The Australian-American Association was established by Alan Campbell and his associates, headquartered originally in the AMP Building.  They offered a place for servicemen to come and receive invitations from locals, and provided introductions and formal occasions for what often happened informally and spontaneously.  The Association continues today, still providing hospitality to visiting naval ships, as well as helping Americans who come here for business or study to make friends in the city. 

ANZUS Treaty

After accepting the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, MacArthur led the Occupation forces in Japan from August 1945 until a new Japanese Government was created in 1949. Many Australians felt the Peace Treaty MacArthur proposed was too lenient, that Japan should be punished. They were not convinced that the Japanese had given up their dream of an East Asian empire, and wanted guarantees of US protection in the event Japan re-armed. Thus the Peace Treaty led to the ANZUS Treaty, which was signed in September 1951 and took effect the following April, to reassure Australians and New Zealanders. The treaty bound the signatories to recognise that an armed attack in the Pacific area on any of them would endanger the peace and safety of the others.

It stated 'The Parties will consult together whenever in the opinion of any of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened in the Pacific'. The three nations also pledged to maintain and develop individual and collective capabilities to resist attack.

Although Australia has been involved in most major American military interventions since World War II including the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and both Iraq Wars, these were NOT part of ANZUS obligations.

The Alliance has only been invoked once, in the “War on Terror” -- for the invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C..

Collective Security

MacArthur, like many generals who have experienced the horrors of war, wanted to ensure a world in which disputes could be settled without resorting to it. Among his public statements were:

  • I have known war as few men now living know it. Its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.
  • It is part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear.
  • The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

Collective security treaties such as NATO and ANZUS were supposed to act as deterrents, to prevent wars by making it obvious that the risks would outweigh the advantages. However, by encircling the Communist countries of the Soviet Union and China after 1949 with such alliances, the United States inadvertently touched off an arms race, the “Cold War”, which would dominate the rest of the 20th century.


MacArthur's proximity in Japan made it natural for him to command the UN forces against the North Koreans after they invaded the South in June 1950.  He had been strongly anti-Communist in his adminstration of Japan and continued to view them as a dangerous enemy.  The Koreans welcomed his leadership and must have felt some of the same sense of reassurance that Brisbane people felt in 1942. Australian RAAF units serving in the Occupation were among the first units in the counterattack against the North Koreans.

His most daring and brilliant military victory came at Inchon.  After this stunning success, he clashed with American President Harry S. Truman over the subsequent intervention by the Chinese.  Truman was convinced that a stalemated peace was the best that could be achieved.  MacArthur insisted, "There is no substitute for victory." He believed that war should only be used as a last resort, but once a nation resolved to use it, they should wage it decisively.

This led to his sacking as commander and replacement by General Ridgeway.  It did not diminish his popularity at home where he was given a giant tickertape parade and even invited to address Congress where gave his side of the argument, concluding with the famous "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."


Another look at Curtin and MacArthur  Peter Edwards, on the origins and evolution of the ANZUS alliance