A Very Short Story


Douglas MacArthur with his mother, “Pinky”

These reminiscences by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur would be remarkable if for no other reason than that they may very well comprise the only autobiography by a great man which is almost totally free of self-doubt. There is no soul-searching here, none of the moments of despair, inquietude, fits of gloom that are recorded in the lives of even the most self-possessed of heroic men. MacArthur’s solitary attack of desperation—so far as one can tell—occurred when he was nineteen, while still a plebe at West Point. The occasion was the investigation of a hazing incident, in which young Douglas had been one of the victims. Called upon to divulge the names of the upper classmen involved, he was naturally thrown into a state of anguish—all the more wrenching because of the presence at The Point of his mother, who had taught him stern rules about lying and tattling. This same lady (she was of an old Virginia family, and made her home for long periods with the General until he was past fifty) sent him the following poem during a recess of the court:

Do you know that your soul is of my soul such a part
That you seem to be fiber and core of my heart?
None other can pain me as you, son, can do;
None other can please me or praise me as you.
Remember the world will be quick with its blame
If shadow or shame ever darken your name.
Like mother, like son, is saying so true
The world will judge largely of mother by you.
Be this then your task, if task it shall be
To force this proud world to do homage to me.
Be sure it will say, when its verdict you’ve won,
She reaps as she sowed: “This man is her son!”

“I knew what to do,” MacArthur adds. “Come what may, I would be no tattletale.”

[Excerpted from William Styron on MacArthur Reminiscences, The New York Review, October 8, 1964]