An old general's words inspire 'Youth' of today

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

History has not always been kind to the man who helped guide the reconstruction of post-war Japan, but the late General Douglas MacArthur certainly could turn a phrase, even though he has been accused of borrowing some of them.

In particular, MacArthur helped turn a little known poet into an international man of letters in posthumous form. The poet’s name was Samuel Ullman, an American businessman and humanitarian who died in 1924. In retirement, Ullman ironically penned the poem “Youth,” which MacArthur quoted so often in speeches that it reportedly became known as “MacArthur’s Credo.”

As the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan from 1945-51, MacArthur was assigned the task of implementing sweeping economic, social, and political changes throughout the country, establishing the foundation for the nation’s rebirth after its military defeat. It was a monumental job, where the most effective tool at times was his way with words.

In one speech, MacArthur leaned heavily on Ullman’s poem in an attempt to restore hope for the Japanese citizenry.

“Youth,” according to MacArthur, “is not entirely a time of life . . . it is a state of mind. It is not wholly a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips or supple knees . . . it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life. It means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease.

“Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years,” he continued. “People grow old by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest, wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair – these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.

“Whatever your years, there is in every being’s heart the love of wonder, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing child-like appetite for what is next, and the joy and the game of life. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt, as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.

“In the central place of every heart there is a recording chamber, so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young. When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with the snow of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and then only, are you grown old.”

By all accounts, MacArthur had a considerable ego that had to be fed with regularity. He was viewed as autocratic and dictatorial in his command, yet he provided a hero when a hero was badly needed, supplying a strong and reassuring voice when the air was heavy with the sound of defeat.

A former neighbor of mine, who just turned 90, remembers MacArthur well, serving under the general’s command during the Korean War. The war, of course, didn’t turn out well for MacArthur, who was relieved of his duties by President Harry Truman in the spring of 1951 after making a series of public statements that ran afoul of administration policies.

Yet, my friend will be inspired forever by MacArthur’s accomplishments and his stirring farewell speech before Congress that has long been the envy of orators. In it the West Point product turned to the “refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade way.’”

As a decorated military vet, my friend is of no mind to “fade away” quite yet. In fact, he still embodies a “can-do” philosophy that has been widely admired and believes that “it’s a beautiful world out there” and that we should “enjoy it to the fullest.” He has little use for those, many years his junior, who “literally wear you out” with their somnambulistic approach to life.

Instead, he trumpets the virtues of a “positive attitude” as the vehicle for change.

“Set your good example and express your gratitude for your many God-given blessings,” he said. “You may be surprised at all the good that is produced.”
 

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