One of the minor mysteries of World War II is why President Franklin Roosevelt not only ordered General Douglas MacArthur to abandon his troops in the Philippines, but went out of his way to cover up the $500,000 payment from Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon to MacArthur.
MacArthur Given $500,000
By Jim Warren and
KnightRidder; Copyright (c) 1980 Lexington Herald
January 29, 1980
The best place for a man as difficult, politically powerful and utterly troublesome as General MacArthur is as far away from Washington, DC as possible. What is farther away than the inside of an Imperial Japanese prison cell in Manchuria? Yet President Roosevelt went out of his way to give the order to General MacArthur to run to Australia.
The general answer from historians like Ian Toll and Geoffrey Perret is that MacArthur became an immensely popular heroic figure during the fall of the Philippines. And that fact combined with the fallout from Pearl Harbor made MacArthur’s loss a political danger to the Roosevelt Administration. This deus ex machina explanation has always been very unsatisfying to me as it’s just assumed with no underlying “why did that happen.”
It turns out there is in fact an easy explanation which the likes of Toll and Perret missed because there has never been a book-length biography of MacArthur’s chief signal officer, General Spencer Ball Akin, who was MacArthur’s “Bataan Gang Radio Man.”
It turns out that between the beginning of the war and MacArthur’s evacuation from Corregidor, then-Colonel Akin’s radio program, “The Voice of Freedom,” was broadcast to the world, three times daily. The Corregidor based broadcast facilities could and did reach San Francisco, California. These radio programs were then picked up by the Hearst papers on the West Coast and later by the American radio broadcast networks. These messages also reached Australia, when the radio atmospherics were good, either directly or rebroadcast from America.
In the utter desert of good war news in the first months of WW2, then-Colonel Akin’s stirring propaganda broadcasts of American and Filipino resistance to the Japanese onslaught — when compared to the fall of Hong Kong, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, plus the German Operation Drumbeat U-boat attacks off the US East Coast — was drunken down in the English speaking world like artesian spring water.
It was this turn of events shaping the publics of America and Australia that made General MacArthur’s loss to the Japanese a danger to President Roosevelt’s power as a wartime leader, thus forcing his hand to save the general he would have liked to do without.
While MacArthur’s quietest and most spectacularly talented member of his “Bataan Gang,**” General Spencer Ball Akin, went on to become Chief Signal Officer of the US Army from 1947 – 1951. Akin never got the wider public recognition his wartime accomplishments warranted…but that was pretty much as both Generals Akin and MacArthur preferred it.
** The “Bataan Gang” refers to the 18 military personnel including General Douglas MacArthur, who were rescued from Corregidor by four PT Boats in March 1942 and eventually traveled to Australia by B-17 Flying Fortresses and then by train to Melbourne, Australia.